Malangatana Ngwenya



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In Tate Modern
Malangatana Ngwenya 1936–2011
Oil paint on hardboard
Support: 1095 x 1902 mm
framed: 1115 x 1925 x 49 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Africa Acquisitions Committee 2014


Untitled 1967 is a large oil painting on hardboard. The entire picture plane is covered with densely packed writhing figures which are outlined in black and painted in bright shades of orange, yellow, blue and red. The figures overlap, seemingly merging into one another and collapsing any sense of perspective or hierarchy. White gnashing teeth, claw-like hands and the wide eyes of humans and animals dominate the scene. Like most of Malangatana’s paintings from this period, the work depicts the concerns and struggles of ordinary people and the violence and barbarities endured while his native Mozambique struggled for independence from Portugal.

Malangatana was a prominent figure in Mozambique and also played an important role in imagining a broader Africanist aesthetic in Europe and America. His work was intimately connected with his politics and reflects the socio-political conditions of Mozambique, whether during the struggle for independence (gained in 1975) or later during the civil war (1977–92). By the mid-1960s Malangatana, who began exhibiting in the late 1950s, had already established his signature style, evident in Untitled.

Malangatana joined the Mozambique liberation movement FRELIMO in 1964. The same year he was detained by the Portuguese secret police for his involvement with FRELIMO and imprisoned for eighteen months. The period between his release and 1971, when he was awarded a grant from the Lisbon-based Gulbenkian Foundation to study printmaking and ceramics in Portugal, was an important one for his art. During this time he continued to depict the tragic consequences of war – violence, hunger and death – and was prolific in his output, holding numerous exhibitions in Mozambique and accepting commissions to paint large-scale murals. After independence, Malangatana became more active politically and his artistic production declined between 1974 and 1978. It was only after the civil war ended in 1992 that he introduced landscape images into his work and began to work with a cooler palette.

Further reading
Júlio Navarro (ed.), Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, Dar es Salaam 2003.
Joe Pollitt, ‘Malangatana Ngwenya Obituary’, Guardian, 17 January 2011,, accessed 8 May 2016.

Kerryn Greenberg
August 2013

Display caption

This painting depicts the violence and suffering endured by ordinary people in Mozambique during the War of Independence from Portugal (1964–74) and was made while the conflict was still raging. Figures overlap, seemingly merging into one another and collapsing any sense of perspective, a reflection on the importance of community and social relationships, shown here in meltdown. Three years before painting this, the artist had been imprisoned for eighteen months by the Portuguese secret police for his involvement in FRELIMO (the Front for Liberation of Mozambique).

Gallery label, November 2015

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