Nothemba Mkhondo
Nothemba Mkhondo
Image: Supplied

On my first trip to Maputo, what captivated me about the tropical capital was the rich canvas of art that punctuated its unassuming cityscape. Graffiti-inspired art, paintings, murals, and a plethora of galleries and artistic spaces, are all part of Mozambican artists’ visual history book of the city’s lengthy civil war and continued urban revival.

After a comfortable, swift SAA flight to the city and a night at the sea-facing, island-style getaway of the Southern Sun Maputo, my love for Mozambique and its art began. A personalised city tour by Maputo a Pé took us to Galeria De Arte at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. This small gallery offers a brief snapshot of Mozambique’s finest artists and cultural activists, including paintings and drawings by the renowned Malangatana, and towering wooden sculptures by Alberto Chissano.

As we travelled though the city, Malangatana’s graffiti-style paintings became a melodic visual repeated throughout Maputo. From the university gallery, to the Ruth First Memorial at the Centre for African Studies, and again behind the Natural History Museum, the city was Malangatana’s canvas. The painter and poet, who is often described as the “African Picasso”, emblazoned walls with his signature art of abstract visages, inspired by the mood of the times.

Then, within the walls of an inconspicuous, peach-coloured house on a busy Maputo street, my intrigue with the profundity of Mozambican art reached a new high. As I walked through Gonçalo Mabunda’s scrapyard-like workshop and art-filled apartment, I got an intimate look at the work and mind of the man turning the history of a war-torn country into pieces of art. Mabunda moulds, solders and welds deactivated AK47s, rocket launchers, pistols, and other recovered remnants of war into human-like, metalwork faces and thrones of art.

Driving along the coastline on the way to lunch at the city’s famous fish market, I watched the history of Mozambique dance past my open window as a tiled mosaic mural, titled Ode a Samora Machel, unfurled for nearly a kilometre parallel to the shoreline. This piece of art, created by Mozambican artist Naguib Elias Abdula is a dedication to Samora Machel, Mozambique’s first president after independence.

Even seated for dinner at one of Maputo’s most popular restaurants, Zambi, we were surrounded by artworks by Pancho Guedes, the Portuguese architect and painter, who spent most of his creative life in Maputo, painting and designing a number of the buildings that stand out in the cityscape. In Maputo, if you look around you, there is art everywhere.

Mkhondo was a guest of South African Airways and Southern Sun Maputo.

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