Later this year, on 2nd November, Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art will celebrate its fortieth anniversary. Mua Mission (between Salima and Balaka / Mangochi, just off the Lakeshore road), where Kungoni Centre is situated, dates further back, to 1902: its church, mission house, schools (including a deaf school) and hospital are significant institutions in their own right. However, it is Claude Boucher, now in his seventy-sixth year, and originally from Canada, who has made Mua distinctive among other religious missions in Malawi, and a necessary part of the itinerary of any visitor to Malawi with cultural and artistic interest.
Claude Boucher (himself an artist) attracted to Mua a number of artists (mostly carvers, but also painters and potters) to form what is now Kungoni Centre. The quality and invention of their work have won just renown, not only throughout Malawi but also across Africa and the world. It is in many styles: Christian and traditional (Chewa, Ngoni and Yao), offering not least a cheerful and satirical, sometime insightful, commentary on life in rural Malawi; but it is perhaps most stimulating to observe the attempt to translate ideas learned from missionaries into local idiom. Christ of the Kungoni Centre is definitely an African! The artists’ work is available for sale either at Kungoni Centre’s art gallery and showroom or at Lakeshore lodges and outlets in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Commissions are also accepted.
Kungoni Centre is famous also for the Chamare Museum, which must count among the most insightful ethnographic museums in southern Africa, and for its cultural troupe, which performs traditional dance not only for visitors to Kungoni Centre but as far afield as the Nc’wala Ceremony in Zambia. Last August Kungoni Centre came to national attention when, as part of its annual Open Day, it staged a play, incorporating Gule Wamkulu, which related the environmental devastation that is being worked in Malawi to the Chewa myth of creation. If you have not made the journey to Kungoni Centre, come to see what it has to offer; and be sure to spend a night at Namalikhate lodge, where the chalets are themselves works of art!
As Kungoni Centre began to reflect on forty years of achievement, it seemed right for a small body of friends to attempt the record of what will otherwise be lost together with its oral memory: we call this work the Kungoni Art Project. We have (thus far) collected the biographies of over 220 artists who have lived and worked at Kungoni Centre (incorporating often several generations of the same family); and have recorded some 3500 examples of their work throughout Malawi and in over twenty other countries. The variety of subject and approach is extraordinary, but time is running out! On the night of 15th November 2015 the church at Nyungwe (between Blantyre and Zomba) burned down: it was a fine example of Kungoni work dating back to the 1980’s; and it contained paintings by Claude Boucher and his (now deceased) collaborator P. Tambala Mponyani. It is fortunate that we had already recorded Nyungwe, but there is other work that is known only from old photographs or can be reconstructed only from Claude Boucher’s written notes and memory; and time, neglect and theft have all too often exacted their toll on what remains.
Our purpose is to create an archive of material, which will extend from Claude Boucher’s earliest artwork in his native Canada in the 1950’s, through his arrival in Malawi in 1967 and his encounter with the men who would become Kungoni Centre’s first artists, to the four decades of activity, each with their own emphases, that succeeded the establishment of Kungoni Centre in 1976. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE – PDF FILE
Picture: The Kungoni Art Project records this figure of Ngaliba, the Great Circumcisor of the Yao people of Malawi, by Thomas Mpira, which was commissioned for Sun’n’Sand Holiday Resort, Mangochi (2015). It stands before a frieze, also by Kungoni Centre, depicting the initiation ceremony.