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Exhibition with a purpose

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It has been a while since Kungoni Cultural Centre at Mua in Dedza exhibited works in Blantyre.

The last time Kungoni held such an exhibition was in 1994.

Led by Father Claude Boucher, commonly known as Achisale, Kungoni is an artistic and cultural hub that has been in the forefront in promoting Malawi’s culture.

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Kungoni Cultural Centre has so many cultural artifacts, yet not many Malawians have been there.

Holidays come and go and no Malawian chooses to spend time at Kungoni to appreciate arts and culture.

The irony, however, is that some people travel from far and wide to visit the place and learn more about the country’s culture.

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Achisale—who has lived in the country for decades—values Malawian culture and has stunned many people with his fluency in local languages, particularly Chichewa.

When Kungoni in 2016 celebrated its 40 years of existence and dedication to culture, Achisale lamented that Malawi has neglected its culture.

He pointed out that a country without culture is as good as dead.

Since last month, Kungoni Cultural Centre has been exhibiting at Jacaranda Cultural Centre and Maison De la France in Blantyre under the theme Malawi At A Crossroads.

In an interview last week, Achisale said they held the exhibition, which ends later this month, to, among others, tell the importance of culture to the society.

“This is not just an ordinary exhibition, but it is an exhibition with a purpose. It’s an exhibition that is speaking about culture; we need people to respect and value the country’s culture,” he said.

The ever-smiling Achisale last year also observed that Malawi has lost direction and its people have neglected culture.

That neglect of culture, he said, is manifest in the numerous ills that have infected the society such as corruption.

This was captured through a play titled Kulemera Sikufika, Kachirambe Anaombola Malawi, Chikhalidwe Chathu Chibwerere (Accumulating wealth is not the only purpose worth living for).

The play delves into a Bantu and Yao folktale that features a redeemer in the name of Kachirambe.

This is a story that tells of a society and its people that have been swallowed by a nasty monster in the form of a giant pumpkin. Only a young girl and her mother escape and hide in a forest.

The monster moves from village to village, expanding its base by swallowing the people’s good behavior as well as devouring the best of their life and traditions.

It destroys people’s humanity and changes them into greedy creatures deprived of mercy, humanity and freedom and, as the story unfolds, Malawi becomes prey to corruption, greed, injustice, famine and murder.

“This exhibition is an extension of the play we staged last year and from this exhibition we have carvings that also speak highly of culture,” Achisale said last week.

One of the carvings on display is titled To Be Alive is to Eat by Charles Lekereni and, according to Achisale, this is a Chichewa proverb Moyo Ukoma N’kudya.

“In every society, from the post industrial West to small-scale subsistence farming communities, there exists the very basic need to eat and through this artwork we are celebrating this communal necessity,” he said.

There is also an artwork by McDonald George that looks into the issue of girls’ initiation.

This work tells it all that in Chewa society, the final ritual of childhood is chinamwali which is an initiation ceremony.

These rituals mark the transition from childhood to adulthood and give the initiate a definite status within the adult community.

The female initiation takes place in stages from the time of first menstruation to the first pregnancy. Unlike that of boys, the girls’ ritual is held inside the village, since in a matrilineal society the women are the owners of the village and children.

Achisale said the work depicts the second, more public stage of initiation, the chinamwali cha mkangali.

The other work is that of The Porcupine (Mkanamwano). This is a mask that portrays a porcupine, an inoffensive and shy animal protected by quills on the upper side but with very soft meat beneath.

“People also have their own quills, which may be used in self-defense when others approach without invitation. Like the quills of the porcupine, sharp words must be understood within the context they were used, people must not be held to account for words or actions used in self-defense,” he said.

Then there is No More Big Five by Christopher Saizi, which presents the Big Five—elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo and rhinoceros.

All these animals can still be found in the country although some are quickly disappearing.

“In neighbouring countries tourism is built around the Big Five and so through this work, it reminds people of the importance of respecting and investing in game conversation,” Achisale said.

Saizi also presents another artwork titled The Last Chambo.

Chambo is a fish common in Lake Malawi. This fish references the way in which the lake is becoming exhausted for a number of reasons. Fishing methods involving removing smaller fish instead of letting them grow, pollution, rubbish from tourists, large volumes of plastic and the use of treated mosquito nets to fish contribute to the problem.

“The rise of consumer culture threatens to leave Lake Malawi devoid of even the very last chambo. We are under threat because tomorrow we may not have this unique chambo which is admired outside the country,” he said.

There are several other works on exhibition that delve into different issues.

He said that through the exhibition they are leaving no stone unturned in bringing to light the so many ills such as chiefs being corrupt, bribed and failing to resolve cases as well as selling land to rich investors.

He observes that the poor are denied rights with the corrupt justice system.

But in all this, Achisale said culture will always have the power against all other influences.

“Throughout the over 40 years of Kungoni we have been trying to tell people the importance of culture. We are losing our culture and tomorrow we may end up crying, we are accepting a lot of things from the Western world,” he said.

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