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Kungoni Art Project - Mua Mission, MALAWI


Claude Boucher Chisale and Joseph Kadzombe - Mother of Cry, Baobab (2006)

Missionsärtzliches Institut, Würzburg, Germany


Mother of Cry, Baobab portrays everyday experience of death in Malawi and the remarkable sense of community support in facing death.

The centrepiece depicts the anguish of a mother and her family over the death of her last child. She holds the lifeless body against the setting sun. She pours down tears that mix with the sweat of her elongated body under the scorching heat of the fiery Malawi sky. In the abyss of her sorrow, she wishes she could follow her son to the land of the ancestors below.

The hands of her second born pulling her chitenje and the noisy cries of her other children bring her back to the world of the living. She senses the heartbeat of the new life she carries in her womb; she cannot go yet for they still need her as long as they live.

She joins her plea to that of the tormented baobabs that grow under the crude heat of the fiery sky. In her soul, she feels as barren as those giants lost in the thirsty land.Yet she stands erect like one of those colossal trees. Her hair mirrors their malformed branches that search for an answer under the mute vault stained with the blood of slaughtered innocents.

In her incommensurable pain, she is not alone. Next to her kneel her mother, her sister and the father of her many children. In their torment and abject poverty, they are as noble as kings and queens. They are neither the first nor the last that have had the privilege of welcoming death as their guest.

Suffering is made for all people under the sky. As elders often say, only two dates are important in the life of each person: birth and death. All around them, their neighbours encounter daily the same merciless visitor of terror who annihilates them one by one.

In the intensity of the deserted land rises the plea of their ancestors, which has been fossilized into long-standing baobabs with their countless tortured arms raised to the fiery sky. They voice the infinite depths of their longing prayer for life.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, flashes of light strike in the burning firmament. They announce the answer to their plea. People beyond the land of the colossal baobabs are stretching out their healing hands. They touch the lifeless child’s body. They shower joy into the heart of the Mother of Cry and that of the stout lamenting baobabs under the fiery sky.

The frame

Inspired by Malawi’s rock painting and Yao initiation ceremonies, the frame depicts dramatically how death infiltrates itself into the world: hungry crocodile, lack of child care due to poverty, victims of witchcraft, bees’ stings, a child falling from a tree, snake bites, drowning caused by a high wind while fishing on the lake, severe diarrhea, scorpions’ stings, AIDS, victims of wild animals while hunting, centipede bites, fire destroying the house where children are locked inside, car accident, cerebral malaria transmitted by mosquitoes, man-eating lion, breach of the sexual taboos (mdulo) and failure to follow the teaching of the ancestors, spider bites, alcoholism, danger coming from the wild, malnutrition and food shortage, fighting over a woman, death in child birth, drought, floods, storms, sexually transmitted disease, promiscuity, addiction to marijuana, juvenile delinquency and intense heat.

Description by Claude Boucher Chisale

The painting is reproduced together with this version of the description on pp. 33 - 34 of

ST-ARNEAULT, S. (2014), Kungoni. When Water Falls, Sand becomes Crystal. A Guide to Mua and the Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art, Malawi. Second Edition. Oxford: Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art