Malawi - Private Collection
Thomas Mpira works in many idioms: Chewa and Ngoni, Christian and African Traditional Religion (ATR). For this piece he was commissioned to represent (for the first time in art) the severed head of Mbona, the rain priest who is commemorated in Nsanje (in the far South of Malawi) as having undergone death that his people might have rain. There is a seminal account of the Mbona cult by Schoffeleers, J.M. (1992). River of Blood. The Genesis of a Martyr Cult in Southern Malawi, c. A.D. 1600. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. (This work began life, incidentally, as an Oxford D.Phil. thesis: 1975.) Thomas Mpira's Mbona has closed his eyes in death but retains a striking dignity of visage.
The work has had two unexpected outings onto the stage. In June 2017 it appeared at the Greek theatre of Kamuzu Academy as the severed head of Pentheus in a production of Euripides' Bacchae. And in December 2018 it re-appeared as the severed head of the eponymous character in the production of Macbeth by Marymount Catholic Secondary School (Mzuzu) for the Shakespeare Schools Festival – Malawi II. A photograph of the Bacchae appears below and there is a recording of Macbeth here. (Thomas Mpira's work is seen at 27:31.)
Artist: Thomas Mpira
Title: Head of Mbona
Themes: ATR, Men, Rains