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Mozambique's best known visual artist, the charismatic Malangatana Ngwenya was named UNESCO Artist for Peace in 1997.

Born in 1936 in Matalana village, southern Mozambique, Malangatana 's early years were spent attending mission schools and helping his mother farm. At the age of 12 he went to Maputo (then Lourenzo Marques) to find work and in 1953 was employed at the tennis club as a ball boy. This enabled him to resume his education, attending classes at night, and it was at this time that his artistic talents were recognised.Tennis club member Augusto Cabral gave him materials and helped him sell his work. In 1958 Malangatana attended activities of the artists' organisation Nucleo de Arte, and he received support from the painter Zé Júlio. The following year his work was exhibited publicly for the first time as part of a group exhibition, and two years later Malangatana held his first solo exhibition at the age of 25. In 1963 his poetry was published in the journal Black Orpheus and the anthology Modern Poetry from Africa. The following year Malangatana was detained by the Portuguese secret police (PIDE) and spent 18 months in jail. In 1971 he received a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation and studied engraving and ceramics. Since 1981 Malangatana has worked full-time as an artist.

Malangatana at his studioAmong his achievements Malangatana has been awarded the Nachingwea Medal for Contribution to Mozambican Culture, and has been pronounced Grande Oficial da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique'. He has exhibited in Angola, Portugal, India, Nigeria, Chile and Zimbabwe, and his work is in collections in Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Switzerland, USA, Uruguay, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and Portugal. He has also been commissioned for several public art works, including murals for Frelimo and UNESCO. Malangatana has also been active in establishing cultural institutions including the National Museum of Art; the Centre for Cultural Studies; the Centre for the Arts; a youth skills training centre in Maputo; and he was also one of the founders of the Mozambican Peace Movement.

Malangatana 's works have always projected a bold vision of life where there is a communion between human, animal and plant life. He draws on his indigenous heritage whilst simultaneously embracing symbols of modernity and "progress", synthesis of art and politics. Recognition of his stature is implicit in the statement made by UNESCO's Director-General Federico Mayor when he presented the UNESCO award. Mayor noted that Malangatana is "much more than a creator, much more than an artist- someone who demonstrates that there is a universal language, the language of art, which allows us to communicate a message of peace, of refusal of war."

source: "Contemporary Africa Database"

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