Tukimaliza Kucheza Hapa Kiwanjani Kila Mtu Aludi Kwao’ (When we finish playing here on the field everyone goes back home)
signed ‘Lilanga’ (lower centre)
George Lilanga di Nyama (c.1940s-2005) was an artist from Tanzania, were he lived and worked. He was born in the high plateau of Makonde, on the frontier between Tanzania and Mozambic, and known region for the Mapico dance and its sculpture traditions.
His career began in 1961, when he was initiated to wood sculpture carving by the famous Makonde sculptors. He then moved to the capital, Dar es Salaam, in 1972.
In 1973, he became involved with the Nyumba ya Sanaa (The House of Arts), a gallery and cultural centre established by local artists. There, he was taught drawing, engraving and lithography techniques.
From 1980s, influenced by the Tingatinga School, he began experimenting painting and his style changed noticeably. His early works presented very colourful animals. He rapidly added elements from his sculpture into his compositions, coming from his Makonde culture.
The work of Lilanga is a direct expression of his Makonde culture: it embodies a magical spirit with ancestors, genie and natural forces. Furthermore, the dances of Mapico are also present: the “Shetanis” characters, evil and good spirits personify humans’ strengths and weaknesses as well as celebrations and social conflicts.
His works are telling stories from the ancestors, mythological or mythical, and where the characters are played by people from the villages or the city.
The canvas is populated by highly expressive characters, forever moving and dancing.
The titles of the works are also significant: they really describe the scene represented. Here we witness the importance of the family, with children going home after having played.
Lilanga’s works illustrate the continuity of the Makonde culture as well as its renewal in today’s context.
Although influenced by traditional art, Lilanga was one the first African artist who managed to transpose it into the contemporary art. In fact, Keith Haring admitted Lilanga’s works had an impact on his own style. His works were included in the 1978 collective exhibition of African artists in Washington DC.
The early remarkable work presented here is a real rare opportunity to enjoy Lilanga’s joyful art, with avant-gardist attributes for its time.
Africa Now London, New Bond Street, Auction 19513
Gallery Watatu, Nairobi
A private collection