Gallery of African Art, London, United Kingdom
20 Feb 2014 - 05 Apr 2014
The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) presents The Matalana Visionary – a solo exhibition of works by one of Africa’s most distinguished contemporary artist Valente Malangatana Ngwenya (commonly known as Malangatana). The exhibition – a collection of pencil works, ink drawings and paintings – spans more than four decades of Malangatana’s career as an artist, poet, musician and activist.
In a little over two years after his first group show in 1959, Malangatana was considered as one of the most exciting artists in Africa. Critics were impressed by his strong compositions, compelling imagery and gift as a storyteller. Dated from the year of Malangatana’s first one-man show and on view at the gallery is a 1961 composition on masonite. The work ‘Untitled’, considered a masterpiece, reveals his stylistic hallmarks – the bright palette, dense composition and bold forms, which set Malangatana on course for a major international career.
Early themes in Malangatana’s work drew upon his childhood upbringing in rural Mozambique. Folklore, mythology, religion and family life – his mother worked as teeth sharpener (a fashion of the time) – provided the inspiration for much of his art during this period. It was not until later in Malangatana’s career that his work became more politicised, as his own consciousness developed. Many of his paintings from this point were commentaries on the socio-cultural and political events in Mozambique from life under colonial rule to eventual independence, and the years of civil war that followed.
A highlight of the exhibition is an example from Malangatana’s blue period – a short but rather beautiful phase in his career in which works were much calmer in tone. The large canvas is a rarity from this period, before Malangatana returned to his more earthy tones.
The Matalana Visionary also includes rare early pencil drawings that depict the suffering and hardship endured by ordinary people under the oppressive colonial rule. Men appear as zombies – barefoot and in rags, in an ‘Untitled’ work dated from 1965. In later works from this decade, figures are drawn with their mouths wide open, baring their teeth. Figures with sharp white teeth or fangs were recurring motifs in Malangatana’s work, as were those with pronounced eyes.