Artworks of Panji Tembo


Panji Tembo is well known in the world of visual arts in the country and has helped in its growth.

This is a field which has received little attention and has played second fiddle to a lot of arts fields and, yet, its products stand out.

Its products are not cheap and, although many locals do not buy them due to what they claim to be exorbitant prices, foreigners simply value them.


Outside the country, these products have fetched huge sums on the market during exhibitions but it is a different story here at home.

Recently, female visual artist Eva Chikabadwa came out to announce that she was seeking K4.5 million for her heritage project— which is part of her Master’s Degree project at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The project has seen her producing a M’bona statue cast into bronze, among other things.


But, despite making calls that would help turn the important project into reality and contribute to the preservation of history and culture, there was no form of assistance.

That is the situation visual artists find themselves in and, yet, on the international market, they continue to brighten the nation.

With inadequate resources, not many visual artists can hold exhibitions to showcase their works and, yet, there is more to be shown out there.

Nevertheless, some platforms have come out to offer artists, including visual artists, the stage to display and sell their works.

There are places such as La Galleria in Lilongwe, driven by artist Elson Kambalu, which have given artists the platform to sell their works.

In Blantyre, there is La Caverna Art Gallery, which has been instrumental in selling artworks and holding exhibitions.

But most of the exhibitions held in such platforms are patronised by foreigners, as most locals have the mentality that artworks are targeted at foreigners.

Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) is another platform that has turned itself into an artistic hub by opening up to all artists.

The place has opened up to performances such as music, poetry, storytelling, theatre and exhibitions.

And, last Saturday, the hub opened its doors to its first exhibition in 2018 titled ‘Traditional Tales of Malawi’, featuring the works of Ellis Singano and Panji Tembo.

The two acts shined brighter on the opening day at an exhibition that will run until March 10 2018.

While Singano was in the limelight last year, Panji was not.

He exhibited after a long time and, yet, he has been there all along.

The seasoned artist glittered with his works, which told stories about, among other things, music and dance from the Northern Region.

It seems Panji’s inspiration and dexterity with brush and colour on canvas is largely influenced by his nomadic upbringing, and he says that he remains an ethno abstraction artist at heart.

The fine artist appears to have discovered his artistic bent while in kindergarten.

He says his childhood toys were colour pencils and drawing pads and, apparently, he was lucky to have gone to primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions where fine arts was part of the curricula.

The artist traces his ethnic origins to Zwangendaba Ngonis who trekked from Southern Africa and finally settled in various places in Central East Africa.

Born in Kitwe Township, Zambia, in 1970, the artist eventually found himself studying at Nkhata-Bay Secondary School, where Canadian fine arts teachers enkindled his love for fine art.

Later, with distinctions in fine arts from Livingstonia Mission School, Panji went to the University of Malawi, where he continued to study fine arts under the tutelage of the country’s legendary fine artists such as Key Chiromo.

Panji’s sojourns in fine arts were also influenced by Mozambican Malangatana Ngwenya and Ethiopian Effewerk Tekkle.

“I have learnt a lot from other artists. I am an artist today because I was shaped by other artists,” he said.

As his artistic talent budded, Panji held his first and second solo exhibitions at Blantyre Cultural Centre, formerly French Cultural Centre, in Blantyre in 2000 and 2001.

His cultural ethno works were noticed by the government— Ministry of Culture. He was consequently commissioned to mount a Cultural Fine Arts exhibition at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) heads of state and delegates in 2002.

The artist has taken his solo art exhibitions to Lusaka, Zambia, Harare, Zimbabwe, Cape Town, South Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Bonn, Germany and Tokyo in Japan.

Under a British Council scholarship programme, in 2005 Panji studied, practiced and exhibited fine arts in various avenues in the United Kingdom.

Some of his paintings hang on permanent exhibition in Libraries around Norwich City.

In 2006, Panji formed the Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam) and became its chairperson and president until 2010.

During this period, Panji organised various fine arts training workshops in collaboration with University of Malawi – Chancellor College Department of Fine and Performing Arts– to uplift the creative industry in the country.

He also served as a board member of the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) between 2007 and 2009.

Panji also reveals that the Government Directorate of Culture and Arts commissioned him in the cultural fine arts decoration of the Malawi Parliament Building in City Centre, Lilongwe.

“Some of my life size fine arts paintings of Malawi’s first four heads of state and government hang on permanent exhibition in the Parliament House,” Panji said.

The artist says there is need for more support to the creative industry, which has been sidelined for a long time.

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