(1958-1968 first years: Pancho Guedes, Julian Beinart, Ulli Beier, from L.M. to Ibadan, London, Bombay)
(tradução a rever)
Malangatana (1936-2011) had a studio at his disposal at Pancho Guedes’ house since January 1960 and it was Pancho who organized with the Núcleo de Arte (an artists association founded in 1936) his first individual show of paintings, in April 1961, on the very official headquarters of the “Economic Entities” (Actividades Económicas) inaugurated in the presence of military and civil authorities.
Inauguration April 1961 (Photo archive Guedes)
On 1961 also, the Ibadan flyer (Ulli Beier, 1961) mentions a collective exhibition at Cape Town, organized by students (certainly via Julian Beinart) at the local university, including Susanne Wenger — “but apart from that his work has not been seen outside Lourenço Marques.” Furthermore, the upcoming publication of an article on Malangatana by Julian Beinart in Black Orpheus magazine is mentioned (issue nº 10, 1962, which also includes two poems translated by Dorothy Guedes).
Pancho wrote in the catalogue (April 1961), as A. d’Alpoim Guedes:
“The complete painter
These paintings are the result of little more than a year and a half’s work by an ex-waiter.
Malangatana is a natural and complete painter. With him, composition and the harmony of colour is not an intellectual game; they occur to him as naturally as stories and visions do.
He knows without knowing.
His vision has odd parallels with the European tradition. Certain paintings are close to the primitive Catalonians; some are like the macabre apparitions of the Dutch visionaries, while others suggest an involuntary, direct and magical surrealism.
He seems to come from that tradition without ever having had access to it or any form of training.
He is visited by spirits; certain paintings are hallucinations, fragments of a hell that once belonged to Bosch.
Malangatana has a thorough understanding of man’s subterraneous reasons, which, combined with his extraordinary formal vision, produces painting of such a rare totality that, despite being a beginner, he is already one of Africa’s major painters. “ (translated from the Portuguese)
In the 1961 flyer Ulli Beier introduces the beginning of Malagatana’s painting, patronized by Guedes, as follows:
“(...) his artistic potentialities were recognised by Amâncio Guedes, the brilliant architect, who met Malangatana when he was working as ball boy in the Lourenço Marques club. Through the friendship with Guedes, Malangatana blossomed forth as a painter. It is not so much that he was taught things in a conventional sense. But for the first time in his life Malangatana found that his work was taken seriously. He had an audience and encouragement. He lived in surrounding where art mattered and was practiced. More over there was an affinity of spirits. Guedes – when he is not designing buildings -– is a surrealist painter. Malangatana’s work does not show the slightest influence of Guedes work – nor of anybody else’s work. But seeing it may have confirmed Malangatana in his aspirations.”
Malangatana by Ulli Beier, 1962, with a self-portrait (flyer/invitation - photo Archive Guedes)
In fact, Malangatana was already attending the Núcleo de Arte, since 1958, as an occasional student with João Ayres (a modern master), protected by Augusto Cabral and José Júlio, when, at the end of 1959, Pancho Guedes visited him with Frank McEwen and offered to buy a painting a month from him. A while later he invited Malangatana to occupy a studio in his house at Nevala Street (The Smiling Lion), making him get out from under the influence of the Núcleo artists.
To this version of the story, often told by the painter, Pancho adds an earlier episode:
“And then Malangatana came, adopting a kind of ironic, humorous attitude. Feigning that he was a bit mad (within accepted limits) permitted him to behave in an extraordinary manner towards white people. He came into the office and asked me to design a house for him, speaking in a quite distorted but flowery Portuguese. Then he said that he was going to become a painter and that I should come to look at his work.” (U.B.’s interview, 2009. See also Pancho Guedes, 1998)
Inauguration 2009, Malangatana at Pancho Guedes retrospective show, Lisbon . With portrait of Dorothy Guedes and the Saipal Bakery (Photo A.P.)
The two men will be friends until the end: it was Malangatana who spoke (and sang and danced) at the opening of Guedes’s big retrospective show in Lisbon (2009) – and it would not be wrong to see Malangatana and Tito Zungo, a outsider artist from South Africa, to some extent, as Pancho’s alter-egos.
As soon as 1962 (June) Malangatana has a solo exhibition at the Mbari Ibadan (“Exhibition of Paintings by Malangatana”), repeated at the gallery at the Mbari Mbayo club, which opened in Oshogbo in the first half of 1962 (U.B. remembers it in the aforementioned interview, 2009).
Beier writes in the flyer/invitation (“Valente Malangatana”, signed U.B.), but the text (like the 1961 notes) is not referenced in the extensive bibliography published under the title The Hunter Thinks the Monkey Is not NOT Wise, a Bibliography of Writings by Ulli Beier (Obotunde Ijimere & Co).
Catalogue, with a drawing by Ibrahim el-Salahi, 1963
Malangatana’s paintings then travel to London to be shown at Roland Penrose’s Institute for Contemporary Art, along with works by Ibrahim El-Salahi (b. 1930, Sudan). The 4-page catalogue of “2 Painters from Africa. Salahi & Malangatana. ICA. Dover St.” includes a poem by Malangatana and autobiographical extracts from both painters, out of Black Orpheus nº 10. Malangatana’s work had been shown in Salisbury, at the International Congress of African Culture (ICAC’62), a show Penrose attended, but not El-Salahi’s work.
This groundbreaking London show is not mentioned in the catalogue of El-Salahi’s retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2013, precisely 50 years later, although it made for an absolutely revealing juxtaposition of the questions which where then posed to the new African art of the 1960’s – to “Neo-African art” (a designation proposed by Janheinz Jahn, in 1958), or to the “renaissance of African art” or “modern art in Africa”, as Beier writes in the preface and conclusion of his 1968 book: “Nor does it matter how we label them” (Contemporary Art in Africa, p. 169).
In his seminal book of 1960, Art in Nigeria, Beier said that those that are called then “modern african artists were European trained and were merely copying Europe”. But “the African new art forms have been evolved independently of European teaching and influence” (p. 4, Introduction). He writes:
“Art teaching suffers from the same failing from witch the whole of Nigerian education suffers: it is foreign-orientated. If independence means anything at all, it will mean the Nigerianisation of education” (p. 24 Conclusion).
Malangatana came from the “jungle” and Pancho Guedes’s studio; he was an attentive and supported self-taught artist. El-Salahi had graduated from Slade School and was a scholarly painter, although he had already altered the “modern style” he learned in London, as a consequence of an unsuccessful return to Sudan and the contact with Ulli Beier’s Mbari Club, reacquainting himself with local influences, in search of a possible synthesis.
In a recent interview published in The Guardian, El-Salahi recalls a visit to Nigeria in 1961, when he “met the writers Chinua Achebe and Soyinka Wolke, and became aware of a renaissance under way across the continent, with writers and artists in areas from all over taking from traditional art to create new forms for a new era” (naming Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko and Malangatana).
“It was Africa's great modernist moment, and Salahi’s work fitted the bill”, Mark Hudson writes in “Ibrahim el-Salahi: from Sudanese prison to Tate Modern show”, The Guardian). However, “modernism” is an ambiguous word, which should be scrutinized and avoided – is not the same as modern art (as African modern art or Modern art in Africa).
The approach chosen by the commissioner, Salah M. Hassan (Tate Modern), was to integrate El-Salahi in a generic ”modernist movement in African visual arts", aimed at “interrogating and repositioning African modernism in the context of modernity as a universal idea” – and in a near nominal reference includes Malangatana among the pioneer African modernists (p. 11). This is about the existence and valuing of a mainstream international modernism that African modernism would fit into, especially when it is based on academic training, and when “in form, style, and aesthetic sensibility, their art reflects the strict adherence to the Western academic schooling they receive in Europe” (p. 14) But this kind of analyzes that claim to be post-colonial and anti-ethnocentric ignore the tensions and ruptures that exist in the dominant panorama of institutionalized modernism of the Cold War’s 50’s (ignoring the Cobra artists and Dubuffet, in particular) .
In the same catalogue, the Chika Okeke-Agulu’s text identifies in right terms, I think, the Beir’s complex attitude between the promotion of artists trained in workshops and the interested approval of those formally trained as contemporary artists - but he doesn’t talk about Malangatana.
Later, 1963 and 64, with the addition of Uche Okeke (Nigeria), there are three painters in an exhibition that travels to India and Pakistan, organized by the Committee for Cultural Freedom. A small 8-page catalogue with a text by Ulli Beier is referenced at worldcat.org: “Exhibition of African Art: Salahi * Malangatana * Okeke”, Exhibition held at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay 1964. Ulli Beier always mentions the Committee and the Congress’ grants for the publication of Black Orpheus and the activity of the Mbari Club; the exiled South African writer Ezekiel Mphahlele represented it in Nigeria in the 60s. In 1967 that support would be terminated for relying on funding from the CIA.
Ulli Beier’s 1968 book Contemporary art in Africa features Malangatana at length, and Chapter 4, “Finding the short cut”, is almost completely devoted to him (pp. 62-72):
“Malangatana may have been the first African artist to find the short cut – to become a sophisticated artist while bypassing education.” (p. 72).
On El-Salahi he writes (Chapter 2: “Without a tradition...”):
“No artist could create a more perfect synthesis of the cultural elements that make up the modern Sudan, the Islamic tradition and the wider all-African orientation of today. Yet Salahi is not a self-consciously ‘African’ artist, he is no preacher of Négritude, he is no preacher of anything; he is a dreamer”. (pp. 30-31)
Malangatana does not travel in those years, even though that has been printed. At the end of 1964 he is imprisoned (for 18 months), accused of being a member of Frelimo, but it should be noted that in the same year he won the first prize at the Lourenço Marques City Exhibition and that he painted mural panels for the headquarters of the very official Banco Nacional Ultramarino.
Only in 1971 will he receive a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation to come to Lisbon to study ceramics and printmaking (he holds his first exhibition in Lisbon in 1972), travelling through Europe then.
Ulli Beier, 1960, Art in Nigeria 1960, Cambridge, at the Universitary Press, in collaboration with the Information Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ibadan, Nigeria. (24 pages + 77 plates)
Pancho Guedes (A. d’Alpoim Guedes), 1961, “O pintor completo” (The complete painter). In catalogue “Malangatanha Goenha Valente”, Lourenço Marques, Exposição organizada pelo Núcleo de Arte”. April. (Archive Guedes - photo)
Ulli Beier (unsigned), 1961, “Seen in South Africa”. In Flyer/invitation published by the Department of Extra Mural Studies, at the “Opening of an Exhibition of Photographs documenting Art and Architecture in Mozambique and the Union of South Africa”, at the Mbari, Ibadan (September 22nd to 7th October). (Archive Guedes - photo)
Julian Beinart,1962, “Malangatana”, Black Orpheus, issue nº. 10 ( includes two poems translated by Dorothy Guedes)
Ulli Beier (U.B.), 1962, “Valente Malangatana”. In 4-pages Flyer/invitation “Exhibition of Paintings by Malangatana”, June 25t, Mbari Ibadan. (2 photos) (Archive Guedes - photo)
National Gallery Salisbury, 1962, Exhibions to be held on the occasion of the First International Congress of African Culture, August 1 - September 30. Catalogue.
Institute for Contemporary Art, 1963, “2 Painters from Africa. Salahi & Malangatana. ICA. Dover St.”. 4-page catalogue, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Malangatana (poem and autobiographical extract).
Ulli Beyer 1964, “Exhibition of African Art: Salahi * Malangatana * Okeke”, Exhibition held at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay, February 24-29. Catalogue. ( http://www.worldcat.org/title/exhibition-of-african-art-salahi-okeke-malangatana/oclc/40393513&referer=brief_results ) (unknown)
Ulli Beier, 1968, Contemporary Art in Africa, Pall Mall Press London.
Ulli Beier, 1996 (1975), The Hunter Thinks the Monkey Is not NOT Wise, a Bibliography of Writings by Ulli Beier, Ed. Obotunde Ijimere & Co. Third edition. ( http://www.thorolf-lipp.de/publications/documents/TheHunterthinksthemonkeyisnotwise.pdf )
Pancho Guedes (Amâncio d’Alpoim Guedes), 1998, “Lembrança do pintor Malangatana Valente Ngwenya quando ainda joven”, in Júlio Navarro org., Malangatana, Lisboa, Caminho (exists English edition).
Ulli Beier (and Pancho Guedes), 2009, “Interview, Joannesburg, September 19th 1980, in Pancho Guedes, Vitruvius Mozambicanos, Ed. Pedro Guedes, Museu Colecção Berardo, Lisbon. Catalogue.
Graça Gonçalves Pereira (org.), 1912, Malangatana, Painéis e Murais, ed. Consulado Geral de Portugal, Maputo. Catalogue.
Salah M. Hassan, 2013, “Ibrahim El-Salahi and the Making of African and Transnational Modernism”, in Ibrahim El-Salahi A visionary Modernist, Edited by Salah M. Hassan, Tate Publishing in association with the Museum for African Art. Tate Modern, London (July- September). Catalogue.
Chika Okeke-Agulu, 2013, “Ibrahim El-Salahi and Postcolonial Modernism in the Independence Decade”, idem.
Mark Hudson, 2013, “Ibrahim el-Salahi: from Sudanese prison to Tate Modern show”, The Guardian, July 3rd. ( http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jul/03/ibrahim-el-salahi-tate-modern )
“Suddenly I understood what colonialism meant: arrogance based on ignorance, sniggering condescension towards people one had come to 'help', an arrogance which reduced whole cultures to the level of curios.” Ulli Beier