Since moving to Malawi 8 months ago, back to my roots, so to speak, to work on the family crocodile farm at Lake Malawi, I’ve come to realise that blessings come in many forms and change may well be a wondrous thing. When we arrived ,[November, aka ‘Suicide Month’]it was unbearably hot and humid and from a watercolor perspective, I had to adapt new ways to manage my washes, keeping the paper wet, getting the paint down before the paper dried, while at the same time sweat dripping down my nose making ‘cauliflowers’ all over the place.
Malawi is still a beautiful country, diverse in so many ways and full of dichotomies. So much of it is naturally unspoiled Africa, beautiful and vast while other parts are so intensely populated, one can’t help but wonder where everyone lives and how they exist. For an artist the choice of subject material is enormous, sometimes overwhelming in fact as one is faced with painting possibilities around every corner.
It’s not surprising then to discover that Malawi has some very talented artists, many of whom are self taught and many struggling to get recognition and exposure as they are faced by many challenges from economics to a lack of proper art supplies and tools. Most art supplies that are available are of a poor quality, very limited and expensive and many of the local artists are restricted to what they can get their hands on or make themselves. As a watercolorist, and there are very few of us here, I have to import all my materials. Covid and the consequent drop in tourism, which Malawi is very dependent on, has had a marked negative effect on any art market, but the Malawi artists are resilient , positive, never give up and take every opportunity to market and at least get exposure. The problem is further exacerbated by Malawi being a land- locked country and at present all the land borders remain closed and limited flights are available.
It is not surprising due to the above reasons art generally faces challenges in Malawi and there is a lack of general art classes, workshops etc. There is a hunger amongst the people, both in the ex-pat and local communities to be creative, have artistic input, learn techniques and have some professional guidance. There are some informal groups amongst friends who get together periodically and basically share ideas and experiences, but with limited art supplies.
Recently I held an Introduction to Watercolors Workshop in Lilongwe at a charming venue, Lark Cafe. The second day of advertising the workshop was fully booked. I was humbled by the enthusiasm and the desire to learn despite the tutorial being in a what is considered a difficult medium. The challenge of lack of decent art supplies forced me to provide all materials which I imported beforehand. The results were amazing, considering some had had no experience with watercolors at all, and even more important we had a lot of fun, despite some exasperating moments.
What is obvious is there is a need and a desire for both accomplished artists and beginners to promote the visual arts in this small country. People want to learn, broaden their experiences and awaken their creativity. Already there are plans for more workshops; I have been approached by the same venue to do more, and other venues in other parts of Malawi are keen to host.
Artists need to stay connected, drawing inspiration and encouragement from each other and how fortunate we are here in Malawi to be surrounded by an unending kaleidoscope of variety and natural subject material. I am humbled to be part of this journey.
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