Who was Henry Tayali?
Henry Tayali was a Zambian fine artist and sculptor. He was one of the foremost artists from Zambia to have achieved major recognition in the international art scene. Born in a town near the site of the Nsalu 12,000-year-old rock and cave paintings, he grew up in a culturally rich environment and was exposed to native literature and folklores, as well as the writings of Western authors like Alexandre Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. He developed a love for fine arts and literature early on due to the environment he grew up in. He started painting as a school student and held his first exhibition when he was just 15. Alex Lambeth, who ran the African Affairs Department of Bulawayo City Council, recognized the boy’s potential and encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts. Henry also developed a strong social and political conscience as a teenager and matured into a well-read, hard working and talented young man. He earned a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship and did his Masters in Fine Arts from the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, West Germany. After completing his education he held exhibitions all over Zambia and in other parts of the world. He was a brilliant artist, and also a keen photographer and lecturer
Childhood & Early Life
Henry Tayali was born on 22 November 1943 in Serenje in the British Colony of Northern Rhodesia (present day Zambia) to Edward Nkole Tayali and Esnati Mumba Tayali. His father worked in the Department of Housing and Amenities.
Henry was the eldest among seven siblings. His hometown was situated near the site of the Nsalu 12,000-year-old rock and cave paintings, and he grew up in a culturally rich environment.
He developed a love for painting at a young age, and his parents supported him in his endeavors. He started painting seriously while he was at school during the 1950s.
He produced his work ‘Destiny’ while he was studying in the Mpopoma High School in Bulawayo. The proceeds from his paintings went to the Henry Tayali Painting Fund which would be released in time to pay for his university fees.
After completing his schooling, he was awarded a Zambian Government scholarship to study at Uganda's Makerere University in Kampala, from where he graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
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After completing his graduation, Henry Tayali returned to Zambia and found employment at the University of Zambia as a lecturer in African art at the Institute of African Studies in Lusaka, and later as University Artist.
He received a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship to study for a Masters in Fine Arts at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, West Germany, in 1972. It was a big honor for him as he became the first African artist south of the equator to be awarded an Arts scholarship by the DAAD.
He was a very hard working and diligent student who earned the love and admiration of his teachers at the institute. Already well versed in several languages such as English, Bemba, and Ngoni, he became fluent in German too over the course of his stay in the country.
He graduated in 1975 and returned to Lusaka to the Institute of African Studies. He was welcomed home as a genuine artist, native to Zambia. As an artist he effortlessly applied the modern tools and techniques of art to traditional art forms and produced innovative and beautiful works of art.
Even though he was primarily a painter, he was also skilled at sculpting. As his prominence as an artist grew, he painted, sculpted and exhibited his work not only in his home town, but also in cities all over the world like Toronto, Alberta, London, Aachen, and Bulawayo.
He was also a skilled photographer as he had studied the art of photography in college. Always equipped with a Leica SLR camera, he loved to click creative and poignant photographs which he often developed himself. His favorite subjects for photography were people and artifacts. Some of his photographs were later turned into postcards.
He returned to Germany in 1978 in order to pursue a Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Akademie für Bildende Künste. However, this plan could not materialize as planned and he was forced to return to Zambia, a disappointed man.
Henry Tayali’s influence on the development of art and culture in 20th century Zambia has been immense. He also served as the president of the International Association of Artists in Zambia (which fell under UNESCO) and headed the Art Centre Foundation, the National Craft Council of Zambia, and the National Museums Board.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Regina Mary Birungi Kivubiro in 1971. They were blessed with a son the next year. Unfortunately Regina died in 1976.
He developed a relationship with Rosemary Kaluwa and had two children with her. The couple eventually got married.
Henry Tayali was visiting his eldest son and family in Germany in 1987 after attending his younger brother’s wedding in England. He died on 22 July 1987. His untimely death, at the relatively young age of 43 shocked the world.
The Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC) was established as the national organization for visual artists in his honor, and its headquarters at the Lusaka Showgrounds was named "The Henry Tayali Visual Art Centre".
The "Henry Tayali Award" for Best Two-Dimensional Visual Artist is presented by the Ngoma Awards, sponsored by the National Arts Council of Zambia.