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Georges Lilanga-di-Nyama

Lilanga di Nyama, Georges b early 1940’s

Born into the Makonde tribe in the Masai district of southern Tanzania, the African artist Georges Lilonga-di-Nyama grew up to become part of a long tradition of artists who carved animal and human figures firstly from soft cassava root and later, from mpingo, a hard black wood (ebony). 

When he moved to Dar es Salaam in the early 1970's, he was influenced by the rhythmic patterning and abstracted story-telling of the Tingatinga School of Painting. He stopped carving for a while to produce painted pieces on board and canvas... and sometimes on tin.

He presented canvases covered with swarming figures, both animal and human, items from everyday life like pots or sandals and foliage or just simple abstracted shapes..... all adding up to a representative, cultural or mythological tale of his people. The traditions of the Mapico dance rituals ( male and female initiations) are included in his art but in a caricatured way.

Social criticism underlays the somewhat comical, naive work. His background colours are often flat and monochromed.

His shetani sculptures are painted in brightly coloured enamels, a brave move away from the more traditional pieces where the textured wood is left to speak for itself. Traditionally, Shetani are folklore spirits (usually malevolent) and physically they appear as distorted animal and human figures.

He has had solo shows in japan, Italy, Switzerland and Tanzania and group shows in Belgium, France and Spain, Russia and Benin and his work has been purchased by many major collectors including Pigozzi. These days his work frequently comes up for sale on the major Contemporary African Auctions held by the likes of Bonhams, Strauss and Sothebys Auction houses to name a few.

His artistic development is noted by many styles and genres including drawings and etchings. As a person he faced many health issues but continued to be a mentor to other young artists and to create until his death despite his personal challenges.

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