The strange scenario surrounding the wood carver, Augustino Malaba, of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, could never have been predicted. All his working life he has been carving; a skill he learnt from his senior brother. In turn he taught the internationally recognised local artist, the late George Lilanga, his sister’s son.


Malaba works on a long log reshaping it with his chisel and mallet.


Now there was a time Malaba worked at the Nyerere Cultural Centre in the City Centre. During its heydays he was part of a group of artists, who produced colourful carvings. Each one made a section of an item.


Lilanga drew a picture for which Malaba would carve out an object and then Noel Kapanda would paint it. This suited all, even after the Centre encountered financial difficulties and the three left there. They went looking for another place to operate from.


Augustino Malaba, of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, puts the finishing touches to a carving.


Fortunately Lilanga’s name had broken through on the international market so they agreed to continue with the above mode of operating but to use his name, so as to be certain they would attract the market.


The thing is Lilanga enjoyed international exposure and had a number of successful exhibitions in Europe, Japan and the US behind him by then. In the years that followed he was seen as a representative of local paintings. Later he was acknowledged as one of Africa’s major contemporary art representatives.


All went well for the group until Lilanga passed away three years ago. Then suddenly Malaba and Kapanda had to build their own name in a market that had been flooded with carvers and their style was relatively un-known to the international art world.


Malaba points out some of the features in an artwork that is much taller than himself.


Confusion came into the picture when the late Lilanga’s children accused Malaba of stealing their father’s style of carving. Despite his explanation that he is the originator of the carvings’ style and their late father was a drawer, the children refuse to listen.


Malaba, who has five children himself, never envisaged then that by agreeing to sign the works with his nephews’ name then, it would cause such confusion today. However, what really troubles the carver is the children do not want to have anything to do with him or his family.


And to add salt to the wound, they went and brought the police to his home, demanding that he stopped putting his name on certain artworks, which they claim their father had the exclusive right to. It is the children’s attitude that hurts him and not having to change his style.


His nephew might have passed away three years ago but it has been 19 years since he left the art centre. Yet, somehow he has found a way of putting food on his table. He hopes one day soon his nephew’s children would come to their senses, so they could sit down to find an arrangement that would suit them all.


For more information about artists who made artworks for George Lilanga, go to:

Author: Iman Mani
Date: 03.11.2008