Henry Tayali – Zambia’s greatest artist | Tunde Folawiyo

As a collector of African art, Tunde Folawiyo is probably familiar with the work of Henry Tayali, a Zambian artist who was famed for his extraordinary paintings and sculptures. Despite living quite a short life (he passed away at the age of 44), Tayali’s artistic style evolved rapidly over the years, gradually transforming from semi-abstract, to completely abstract, and eventually leaning towards minimalism. Although his approach changed throughout his career, his work always featured a fascinating combination of African and Western European styles.

Tunde FolawiyoBorn in Zambia in 1943, Tayali grew up in a very creative household; his parents encouraged him to read as a child, and his father was particularly passionate about storytelling, and sharing local folktales with Tayali. As a result of his upbringing, he was very politically aware, and exceptionally well-read from a very young age.

His artistic talent emerged during his teenager years, and he held his first exhibition shortly after he turned 15. By this point in his life, Tayali was deeply concerned with politics and social justice, two subjects which would continue to inform his artwork throughout his career, with many of his paintings depicting ideas relating to Africa nationalism.

Tayali’s gifts did not go unnoticed by his teachers; after finishing secondary school, he was awarded a government scholarship, which enabled him to accept a place at Makerere University in Uganda. He completed his studies here in 1971, after which he returned to his homeland, where he took up a job as a lecturer in African Art at the University of Zambia. Soon after he had begun working here, he was offered yet another scholarship; this time, a DAAD award, which allowed him to complete his Masters in Fine Arts at a university in Dusseldorf.

Following the completion of his postgraduate course, Tayali continued to paint and sculpt, exhibiting his work not only in his home town, but also in Toronto, Alberta, London, Aachen, Bulawayo and Lusaka. He was also involved in many art projects, seminars and workshops. Art fanatics like Tunde Folawiyo may be aware that after the artist’s death, the people of Lusaka decided to establish the Henry Tayali Visual Arts Centre in his honour; this gallery features a number of Tayali’s original paintings, as well as a library, a documentation office and a photography darkroom.

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