Written by: Sam Banda Jnr, Malawi
Amazing and simply splendid, is what can be said of Malawi’s young portrait artist Dalitso Disi Chirwa who recently took part in the National Art Exhibition held at French Cultural Centre in Blantyre.
Imagine sitting in-front of Dalitso and under three hours he presents you with a carbon copy image of yourself which you can frame and display in your house. Using only a pencil and paper, he sketches the best portraits Malawi has ever seen. He is one of the most popular and busiest portrait artists in the country. His portfolio includes images of US president Barrack Obama, Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika, reggae maestro Bob Marley, George Bush, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, among many. “Before elections I made a portrait of the state president (Bingu wa Mutharika) and I submitted the work. I am told the president loved the work and I hope I will meet him one day,” he says.
His work is highly respected in Malawi, that’s why it was no surprise when he was asked to sketch the controversial Madonna adoption court case in Malawi, when the pop star was fighting to adopt a second child Mercy Chifundo James. “You know cameras are not allowed in court, so I was given the task of sketching everything for them to show on TV around the world,” explains Dalitso. “I produced four portraits but they only took two.”
Dalitso doesn’t only draw portraits of celebrities and statesmen; his clientele includes ordinary people from all over the continent. “I have customers who come from other countries and [they often] tell me to do self-portraits within a day so that they can take it back to their home countries, so I am always busy,” he says. On a busy week he sketches three portraits a day. He’s done so many portraits he’s lost count. And it’s because of this success and his incredible talent that he has been chosen to represent Malawi next year at the World Exposition in China.
Some of you may think a man who can produce work of such high caliber must have graduated from the University of Malawi with a fine art degree but nay, he has never stepped his foot in the corridors of the university. “I didn’t go to a university to learn this art and neither have I read any books,” he explains.
Born in Malamulo, Thyolo, in 1985, Dalitso had ambitions of becoming a pilot when he was growing up. But he later changed his mind and after completing secondary school he studied computer engineering, graphics and design at New Horizons in Blantyre. After finishing his studies he worked for a few companies as a company administrator, but later realized what he really wanted to do was to draw portraits.
“Even though I was working I still practiced my art and I was also teaching arts part-time at Kabula Hill School,” he says. Dalitso, who says his art is in-born and that it started when he was just three years old, is now a full-time portrait artist. However, despite his achievements he still believes he still has a lot to learn.
When asked where he gets inspiration from he laughs before saying: “God is my source of inspiration and I cherish and adore Him for giving me such a precious talent which I am able to use to make money.”
Dalitso currently operates outside Mount Soche hotel in Blantyre.
Bob Marley and Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika portraits used in this article were illustrated by Dalitso Disi Chirwa