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Malangatana: Mozambique Modern

Art Institute of Chicago

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Malangatana Ngwenya, commonly known as Malangatana, combined the influences of European modernism, Ronga folklore and Christian allegory in his paintings of Mozambique life. This survey of his work from 1959–75 reveals how his style developed during the nation’s struggle for independence. Find out more from the Art Institute of Chicago’s website.

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The Fountain of Blood (A fonte de sangue) (1961), Cleveland Museum of Art.

The Fountain of Blood (A fonte de sangue) (1961), Malangatana Ngwenya. Cleveland Museum of Art

Malangatana Ngwenya was born in 1936 in rural Mozambique, while the country was still under Portuguese colonial rule. Early paintings such as The Fountain of Blood (1961) fuse European styles and influences, from Surrealism to Hieronymous Bosch, with local mythology – here, the Ronga belief that when one community (or colonising force) arrives in the land of another, their spirits wage war.

The Poet as a Child (O bebé poeta) (1963), Malangatana Ngwenya.

The Poet as a Child (O bebé poeta) (1963), Malangatana Ngwenya. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

In 1962, the Marxist-Leninist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) was founded by Eduardo Mondlane. Malangatana joined the guerrilla movement, and both his paintings and his poetry took on a nationalist thrust. In contrast to the prominent necklace around his mother’s neck, the artist’s Poet as a Child wears a crucifix around his own, suggesting the birth of a Christ-like figure destined to deliver its nation from captivity.

PIDE’s Punishment Room (Sala de castigo da PIDE) (1965), Malangatana Ngwenya.

PIDE’s Punishment Room (Sala de castigo da PIDE) (1965), Malangatana Ngwenya. Courtesy Estate of Malangatana Valente Ngwenya

In 1964, Malangatana was detained by the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police, and imprisoned for 18 months. This remarkable drawing vividly communicates his sense of confinement.

Remember Those Who Entered Bleeding (Lembras-te daqueles que entravam a sangrar) (1974/75), Malangatana Ngwenya.

Remember Those Who Entered Bleeding (Lembras-te daqueles que entravam a sangrar) (1974/75), Malangatana Ngwenya. Courtesy Estate of Malangatana Valente Ngwenya

Mozambique finally achieved its independence in 1975, one year after the Carnation Revolution had toppled Portugal’s Estado Novo regime. In this commemoration of the war, Malangatana reckons up the toll while also hinting at reconciliation and embrace.

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