Art in the 'new' Angola

September 2003 -

A group of young artists in the Angolan coastal city of Benguela sees an important role for itself in the ‘new’ Angola. For them, art is a medium for conveying a message. The artists also give workshops to children. Without financial support, but with a great deal of passion.

Eighteen faces, painted on the map of Angola, cry for peace. José Delgado Gomes painted this colourful, cubist painting in January of last year. This was a month before rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was murdered by the government army. That ended almost thirty years of civil war in the country. The painting conveys a great deal of emotion. ‘The faces symbolise the 18 provinces in Angola’, explains Gomes. He is one of the founders of Núcleo dos Jovens Pintores de Benguela, a studio shared by five young artists. All the weapons are lying in a pile in the corner, like old junk. ‘At last we can say that there is peace.’

The artists’ collective has accommodations at the French cultural centre on the boulevard in Benguela. The wooden building offers a beautiful view over the sea. Every afternoon the collective give drawing lessons to children in the neighbourhood. Today there are six boys sitting in a row between the paintings, each with a drawing pad on his lap. They are hard at work on their assignment while José Delgado Gomes gives them pointers. ‘These children have a lot of talent’, he believes. ‘But unfortunately we can offer them very little. We have hardly enough materials and paper for ourselves. It is difficult to keep your head above water as an artist. There is virtually no market in Angola. There are no tourists and the people are more fond of whisky than they are of art.’


Workshop in Benguela

The artists sometimes sell works to Europeans who happen to pass by the studio. They also paint murals on restaurant walls in the city. Their work can be found in virtually every eating establishment, usually romantic African scenes. Last year they took part in the Prémio Enarte exposition in the capital city Luanda. Gomes shows the catalogue. ‘We have big dreams’, he muses. ‘We want to give an exhibition abroad. Because the radio and TV are not the only media that convey messages about what is going on in Angola. We are also conveying a message. Our paintbrushes are our microphones.’