From nature to politics


Colonialism, which Malawi exiled to the United Kingdom in 1964, has never been seen again.

But, even after ‘sending’ colonialism away, some elements— notably administrative and political systems of the colonialists— have stuck with us. And visual artist Kenneth Namalomba sees no problem with it.

The only problem, Namalomba observes, is that some socio-political problems that characterised colonial rule have outlived colonial rule,continue to affect the country and, yet, visual artists have allowed such ills to persist without recording them.


ome positives to co-exist with negatives such as social and political ills.

No more, he says, expressing his willingness to turn the page and start his visual art life anew.

He is like the artist who, inflamed by self-inflicted suffering perpetuated by politicians and other oppressors, turns his anger at, not the people who fan it, but art— turning one’s profession into a tool for socio-political change. This is what the University of Malawi graduate seeks to do from now on.


At Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, he double majored in Philosophy and Fine Arts. He claims that philosophy acts a backbone to his art, while his hands bring about a pictorial translation of his philosophical ideas.

His artworks vary from traditional naturalistic and realistic paintings to contemporary art styles such as cubism and abstract expressionism.

“For a long time, visual artists in the country have concentrated on raising awareness about the environment and, in so doing, they have been bringing human consciousness to issues such as environmental conservation,” Namalomba presents his case.

“But, if the truth be told, nature art is losing its value. I, therefore, want to be tackling socio-political issues. I have, therefore, established a movement called Socio-Political Art [movement]. To do so, I had to find a strategy, a strategy that will help us raise our voice through art. We want to use art as a voice of the voiceless,” Namalomba said.

Namalomba, known for such artworks as ‘Sunset in Malawi’, ‘Abolition of Slavery’, ‘The Way You Make Me Free’, observes that too much focus on objects such as grass, hyenas, elephants, crocodiles, trees and mountains has diluted the real purpose of art— which is to enlighten as well as serve as a record-keeping tool.

“The country is faced with a number of challenges, among them human rights abuses such as the killing of albinos. But what has art done about that? By not doing anything, it means we [artists and Malawians at large] have lost a record of what is happening in the country and generations to come may have nothing to refer to.

“Socio-political art seeks to fill that gap. This art movement aims at changing the society. The objective is to have no room where nothing is being done about things that are going wrong in society. It is about doing something about wrongs in society. Decorative beauty of artwork serves no purpose if social ills go unrecorded,” Namalomba says.

Meanwhile, Namalomba has created over 20 artworks depicting socio-political tools, one of which is titled ‘Broken Love’.

It depicts clean water pouring into a pot. However, the water turns red as it gets out through cracks at the bottom of the pot. Not only that, the pot’s top is green in colour, but the green fades into red as one gets to the bottom of the top.

“I looked at ills in society and thought of coming up with this piece. Now, that was me, in my studio. If I tell you about the value of this painting, its value is not in what has been depicted; its value lies in what it represents. The value of the painting is K7.5 million because it marks the beginning of a movement that seeks to change things in this country,” Namalomba says.

The artist once sold an artwork to President Bingu wa Mutharika.

The artwork attracted a number of views, but the common interpretation is that the country has everything it needs but greed and selfishness spoils the party for every citizen.

For example, visual artist Upile Phiri suggests that the red symbolises tragedy, water stands for something good, while blood symbolises the cries of the people of Malawi.

“In short, while we have everything— including Lake Malawi and other natural resources— we are failing to put them to good use,” Phiri says.

Visual artists in the country have often been faulted for imitating foreign artists. For example,

a significant part of artworks is Western, perhaps because artists create works with the idea of selling to tourists.

The local visual artist faces another challenge. For example, there is no National Gallery in Malawi and, without it, artists are lost.

In addition, there is no national art museum— a place that would give art powers to serve as a reflection on different eras and events, thereby serving as an important record of the country’s history.

Perhaps artworks that Malawi can lay claim to is Mipini Art.

While other parts of the world started developing art academies as far back as 1791, Malawi has no art academy.

But Namalomba is keen on moving on. In so doing, he is just continuing with the work his father, Samson Wills Namalomba, started. His father was a prominent visual artist in Malawi.

One of his greatest achievements came when former president, Bakili Muluzi, served as chairperson of the Sothern African Development Community. During the Sadc convention held in Malawi, all the visiting heads of state and government were given Samson Wills Namalomba’s paintings as a welcome gift into the country.

His death, in August 2013, has not reduced his greatness into dust.

Instead, one more ‘like-father, like-son’ story unfolds through Socio- Political Art movement.

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