Arts in Malawi


What are the local arts practices in Lilongwe, Malawi? The Culture and Bodies project aims to work with communities to identify how arts can be used to spread awareness of how people can reduce their risk of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

We wanted to work with people in Area 25 Lilongwe, so I set out to find out more about local arts practices and learn from the residents how we could attract people to take part in our upcoming Culture and Bodies workshops and events.

We drove around the area to get a feel for the place, noticing that many of the shops and grocery stores had been branded using paintings. We identified two artists at a sign-writing stall along the road and had chat with them.

They told us that they were fine-art artists, who ran a sign writing business to make a living. There was a more substantial demand for signs than there was for general artworks.


On the second day as I was chatting to another artist at the local Nyamithambo Arts Palace, I noticed a group of about five youths, listening to music on a portable Bluetooth speaker just outside the gate.

I spoke to one of the older youths. He explained that he and his friends were part of a dance group that danced to mostly dancehall and hip-hop genres. They were waiting for some of their friends, so they could rehearse at Nyamithambo .


I also saw various groups of men in different parts of Area 25 converging around games of Bawo, a traditional game evidently very popular in the area. Residents I spoke to also talked about Bawo.

Other local arts

I also wanted to know what other forms of arts were popular in the area.


This came out in the discussion with the two artists. One person mentioned that his brother made flower pots from clay as a business, and gave me some pictures of the various pieces.


In most of the discussions, residents spoke about music.  People mentioned local bands, and how many people played and even recorded music for various reasons including fame, money and just for fun.

Bracelet-making, crafts

We also found out that some people make and sell all sorts of bracelets. Pictures of these were again shared with us.

Attracting people

How could we attract people to our events? People suggested we use a very common local advertising technique with project members walking around the community blowing whistles and screaming out the details of an event.

Someone also suggested that we make T-shirts and have a designated day where people would wear them to walk through the markets to generate intrigue and curiosity from marketgoers. They would then be given information about the project, including specific workshops and events we wanted them to attend.

Other ideas put to us were sticking posters up around the markets, and broadcasting digitally-recorded messages through PA systems on the back of a minibus or pick-up truck.


Malawi workshops – an update

Sharon KalimaSharon Kalima is the Make Art/Stop AIDS programme officer at ArtGlo Africa, and the Culture and Bodies arts facilitator for the project.

In May, she helped run three workshops in Lilongwe, Malawi. Here, she talks about those workshops and what she found inspiring about them.

Malawi workshops – an update

Sharon Kalima is the Make Art/Stop AIDS programme officer at ArtGlo Africa, and the Culture and Bodies arts facilitator for the project.

In May, she helped run three workshops in Lilongwe, Malawi. Here, she talks about those workshops and what she found inspiring about them.

“The conventional workshops are usually mainly talks—where we sit people down and talk to them about non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and how to prevent them.

“People find them boring, and do not pay attention. When we use art to communicate, we use a universal language. We hoped the workshops would allow us to use art to explore participants’ experiences of non-communicable diseases and to work with them to develop interventions that would really resonate with local residents.”

Focus on hypertension

The workshops took place in February and May  2019. Two were creative workshops where women and men separately used arts-methods to portray non-communicable diseases and their risk factors. The third workshop brought the men and women together to design interventions aiming to encourage local people to improve their own risk factors.

“At our workshops,” Sharon continued, “there was a feeling that we should definitely be using the arts. The participants told us that drama was the arts-based method most people understood. There was also a suggestion that we use poetry.

“A poster was also one of the art forms that the participants chose to do as part of their intervention; participants will create posters from scratch and add in their own messaging around non-communicable diseases.

“During the creative workshop, we asked our participants to use their bodies and senses to express diseases like hypertension and cancer. What did they look like? Sound like? From there, we developed performances.

Arts ‘really powerful’

“Arts-based methods help us explore what people know about conditions such as hypertension and cancer, and they told us they had never thought about those conditions in this way. Arts-based methods can be really powerful.

“What I found fascinating was people’s understanding of what causes non-communicable diseases. Participants came up with many different reasons, which allowed us to think about how we could put across preventative messages such as the importance of exercising and eating a low-salt diet.

When Sharon and the other workshop organiser asked where the best place would be to perform their intervention activities, the participants suggested the market. This event will happen at the beginning of July, and Sharon is confident it will attract a big crowd.

What had Sharon enjoyed the most from running the workshops?

“Traditionally, art isn’t something people in Malawi take seriously, so I enjoyed seeing how much value our participants took from the workshops.

“One of the groups created a poem together—writing one stanza then and there. They created such a powerful poem and it was really fun watching them come up with it. It was so exciting! I wanted to hear more.

“It’s an exciting project to be part of—and I can’t wait to see the next developments.”




Sciencing the arts – a poem by John Lwanda

John Lwanda Culture and BodiesWe gathered at Sol Farm, most from different parts

A motley crew of scientists social and those from the arts

Experienced steady hands discoursing with young upstarts

And the usual suspects of greying and aged old farts


Were we here to solve the problem of science in the arts

Or the arts in medicine, a debate that stops and starts

Ideas thrown into the stew like tentative pub darts

Suddenly blown off in the wind like vulnerable hats


Exploding and exploring ideas, concepts, methods and crafts

Uncertainty holds supreme,

The social scientist, transient, data and theory laden departs

Leaving the dancers, singers, dramatists, locals to their arts


©John Lwanda