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‘Dancing the Dance of Change’

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People sampling some of
the works

Art is a powerful weapon for disseminating information, apart from the other important element of offering the much needed entertainment.

This is why politicians, whenever they are holding rallies, do not skip using artists as a tool of attracting the masses, although they end up using and dumping them.

The use— is it abuse— of artists by politicians has started in the country ahead of the 2019 elections and some musicians have started composing songs praising different parties. That is the power of art.

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It is, therefore, unfortunate that art is not given enough support in the country despite showing potential that it can uplift Malawi’s economy.

This is what brings us to an art exhibition set to take place at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre Saturday.

JCC has done well in offering a platform for different artistic activities, ranging from music, poetry, storytelling and book launches.

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This time, it is set to give a platform to an art exhibition that will feature the works of Kungoni Arts Centre of Culture and Art, which is under Mua Mission in Dedza District. The centre is led by Fr Claude Boucher, better known as Achisale.

Kungoni Arts Centre of Culture and Art has always valued culture. This is a place which has been instrumental in the promotion of culture and it is here where Achisale, who founded Kungoni in 1976, is found.

There is a lot to learn at Kungoni and Achisale, who speaks Chichewa fluently— having come to Malawi from Canada in 1967— tells it all. Here is Malawi’s own cultural hub, which is there to show the beauty of preserving culture.

The place is mostly visited by people from outside Malawi, who end up appreciating culture and not Malawians.

And, so, in order to reach out to Malawians, Kungoni has been going out of its comfort zone to hold exhibitions.

Last year, Kungoni hosted an exhibition at JCC. The good news is that it is back with an exhibition titled ‘Dancing the Dance of Change: Adapting to the Rhythm of the Search for Identity’.

JCC and Maison de la France’s deputy director, Daisy Belfield, said this is the third exhibition in 2018.

“This is an extraordinary exhibition, a surreal and, at times, satirical commentary on current issues in the country. Entry is free as ever. The exhibition provides an accessible commentary and much food for thought. Many pieces are dark, others humourous – all display extraordinary craftsmanship unique to Malawi,” Belfield said.

She said the full exhibition will run for two months.

The JCC deputy director said the exhibition is an extraordinary assembly of sculptures and panels from Kungoni.

Belfield said Kungoni began as a craft centre, particularly to mentor the works of local carvers. Overtime, a recognisable and unique style of carving emerged, reflecting the synergy among the church, traditional beliefs and artistic practices.

Achisale said they were happy to partner JCC to exhibit works from Kungoni as well as tackle different issues.

He said Kungoni artists come from many tribal backgrounds, including Chewa, Yao and Ngoni, and are known for their evolving styles.

The centre has produced several carvings which can be found across the country and in private collections throughout Africa, Europe and America and even at Buckingham Palace and the Vatican Museum.

During the 40 years of its existence, Kungoni’s capacity has been enhanced by an award-winning museum, research library, extensive landscaped gardens, cultural courses and performances, making it the indisputable heart of cultural preservation in Malawi.

Belfield said Dancing the Dance of Change is a reflection of the social and religious landscape of Malawi over the last year, through the eyes of the rural community of Mua.

“Meditations span from power failures to bloodsuckers to Shoprite shopping trolleys to witches’ winnowing baskets, humour and hope and all this underscores [importance of] the exhibition,” Belfield said.

She said the exhibition will offer people an insight into contemporary Malawi, unparalleled in its creativity, verve and sagacity.

Achisale, who has always asked people not to neglect culture, said the pieces in this exhibition explore Malawi’s attitude to change.

“There is a fascination for modernity and a general tendency to give a ‘face-lift’ to many traditional practices and localised institutions,” he said.

He added that the pieces on display are inspired in part by historical events— for instance, the Mwabvi ordeal of 1920— and in part by contemporary phenomena such as bloodsuckers, power failure, socio-economic and health problems, shortcut diagnoses such as witchcraft and the country’s fascination for prestigious objects and recent telecommunication devices.

“The eye of the chameleon faces both forward and backward. We must remember our past in order to evolve into our future,” he said.

Achisale said many people search for a new identity by adopting emerging technology as well as subscribing to the consumer world. Some people also pretend to be wealthy while others embrace churches that preach prosperity and sometimes satanic movements.

“This new identity corrodes the solidarity of the group and encourages individualistic trends such as alcoholism, corruption and infidelity,” he said.

The veteran cultural player said many seek status and promotion and fall into naïve imitation of others without being aware of its tragic consequences.

“Several carvings on exhibition are inspired by traditional folktales, warning against imitation and greed,” Achisale said.

He said society is now characterised by the gold rush, rise of prophetic voices, pop stars, musicians, artists, church leaders and legislators who preach the gospel of mercy, justice, environmental care, foresight, family planning and the sanctity of marriage and life.

“They remind the people of cultural and Christian values forgotten by many. Change does not seem to frighten Malawi or cause apprehension; instead, it is somehow integrated into our own traditional worldview and attuned to our beliefs,” he said.

Achisale said the exhibition also explores the issue of creativity of the mind and conveys the country’s sense of caricature and humour.

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