Arts View

Jun 2023 – Aug 2023

Tutemi Unandi Manyunya

Tutemi Unandi Manyunya – Visual Artist & Designer

Lilongwe, Malawi

A self-taught visual artist and designer, Tutemi was born in Lilongwe, Malawi. He has 2 half siblings who are ten or more years older than him.

Due to the nature of his mother’s work, they relocated a lot when he was younger and this saw him attend 10 primary schools.

The constant moving shaped most of his childhood and personality and he was very introverted and shy. Growing up in a house full of adults and having very few friends, Tutemi spent most of the time alone, reading books and watching cartoons.

Having a lot of time to himself enabled him to engross himself in an imaginary world. He credits this period as helping to nurture his artistic mind.

He went on to Daeyang University, Malawi to pursue a bachelors degree in Information and Communications Technology.

AGN; How did your creative journey start?

TUM; I didn’t start out by creating visual art or design but by writing short stories for myself as a way of expressing my thoughts. The stories were based on my daily experiences spiced up with a bit of fiction.

I kept my writing to myself because I often got discouraged by people whenever I tried to share it. Due to a lack of motivation my writing became sporadic and months would go by without me writing a thing.

During my time at secondary school a friend reignited my passion for art when he convinced me to join a Writer’s Club so that I could help him create newsletters for the school news board.

I started practising a lot of calligraphy and illustration in order to compete with the other newsletters that were being created by other students. Together with a group of friends, we also started doing graffiti (this was illegal on school grounds) for clout; all under the group name ‘Dreamers’.

At this time, I did not consider myself an artist or designer because I treated my work as just a hobby that anyone could do.

AGN; When did you transition from a hobbyist to a professional?

TUM; During my freshman year at university, I met a friend (A. Mnthambala Jr.) who encouraged me to start doing freelance work as a graphic designer and illustrator as a side hustle. It was very challenging because most of my inspiration came from introspection and I was also not used to handling pressure that came from clients and deadlines.


I did not enjoy making art and design for other people because I did not believe the work reflected who I was. I did not feel motivated and decided to quit so that I could only focus on my studies.

In 2019, I was selected to participate in a student exchange program in South Korea. The entire experience changed my world-view. I got the chance to meet professional designers and artists who saw my past work and told me that I had
potential to be great.

Being around a creative circle helped me to develop new artistic skills such as photography, abstract painting and video production. When I got back to Malawi, I reinvented myself as a professional visual artist and designer.

The same year I established my own brand (Dreamers) and got the chance to work with a South African Art Curator as a New Media Artist at CORA (an online art gallery) until 2021. I also became the College Representative and Social Media Content Creator for my University in order to expand my skills and influence. It was a lot of work but it helped to sharpen my leadership and creative skills.

In recent years, I encountered some personal and family issues which took a heavy toll on my mental health. It directly affected my well-being and work ethic. After getting some help, I was able to cope and overcome depression through
art by expressing my thoughts and feelings. I started to regularly post sketch stories and digital art on social media to rebuild my confidence.

After finishing my undergraduate studies, I put all my focus into working as a freelancer as a way to monetize my expertise. I also expanded my marketing brand to incorporate other creative fields like Information Technology, Music, Fashion, Talent Management, and Content Creation.

With the low employment rate and poor state of economy in Malawi, I now work as a self-employed artist, designer, and manager in order to build my own business empire and inspire others in the process.


AGN; What is the biggest challenge you face as a self-employed artist?

TUM; I encounter a lot of challenges but the biggest one has to be inadequate resources for production. As an artist and entrepreneur, I fund all my endeavours without financial aid from family, investors or the government. As such it is hard to execute some ideas that require a big budget and this forces me to stall projects that would have a larger impact.

How would you define the state of the arts industry in Malawi and what two things do you see as key problem areas that urgently need to be addressed?

TUM; The arts industry in Malawi has been on the rise in recent years with emergence of creatives who are producing high quality work but lack exposure on the global market. The Malawian government does not do enough to promote creatives and entrepreneurs to reach a desirable position so that they can compete at an international level.

There is need for more initiatives, programs and platforms in Malawi in order to discover, develop and promote local talent. However, a lack of internet penetration and accessibility is a hindrance.

AGN; What can you tell us about traditional art forms and practices that originate from the part of Malawi you are from?

TUM; I was born and raised in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi which is in the centre of the country.   The most common art forms I have grown up seeing are oil paintings, ceramics, and wooden sculptures. Lilongwe has the best oil painters and sculptors in the country. I am Yao by tribe and we are to be found in the Southern part of the country. Our traditional dance is called ‘Beni’. The dancers (mostly men) dress up in khaki uniforms with shorts and hats and they usually dance in a line with one or two drummers.

AGN; Are there any themes, motifs or styles from your tradition that you incorporate into your own works and if so, what are they?

TUM; I mostly use shades of brown in my paintings and illustrations to symbolize the colour of my skin and our connection to the earth (there’s a biblical reference that says God made us from dust/clay). It’s also the most used colour by local painters in Malawi.

I also like creating black female characters to allow people to appreciate the beauty of our African ladies. In terms of style, I incorporate a lot of styles from all over the world because I am well versed in many art forms and it also helps to show appreciation of art in general.


AGN; How do you define being successful as an artist and do you feel you have achieved it?

TUM; I define a successful artist as someone who is able to express one’s mind freely without fear. He or she should be able to break all boundaries and create something authentic and invoke a unique emotion in others.

A successful artist is a person who can bring new ideas to life and whose work can inspire millions of people for generations. I don’t consider myself a successful artist yet because I am still in my early phases as a creative, I have so much to learn and so much to give to the world.

AGN; Who are your biggest inspirations from the art world and what is it about their work that you find inspirational?

TUM; My biggest inspirations are Leonardo Da Vinci, Chinua Achebe, Josephine Cox, Pablo Picasso and Kanye West. Leonardo Da Vinci is the true definition of a creative genius. He was a painter, scientist, sculptor and so much more; all that without having formal education. He is proof that you can do anything as long you have passion for it. I idolize his work and I dream of becoming a polymath just like him. As a writer, I adopted my style from Chinua Achebe and Josephine Cox’s work.

They both are amazing writers with intricate word play that tell vivid stories that make the readers enter their world. They make people feel more connected with the characters in their stories. Pablo Picasso redefined painting with his unorthodox style. I consider him to  be the most unique visual artist this world has seen.

Kanye West is the personification of a free-thinker and artist. I’m inspired by his confidence and defiance because it helps him to break boundaries and bring new and authentic ideas to life.

AGN; You have visited South Korea on an exchange program. What marked differences can you highlight about their art scene in relation to yours in Malawi?

TUM; To keep it concise, the South Korean art scene is better in every conceivable way. They are currently one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world but they have found a perfect way of integrating modern technology and tradition. They value art a lot and their market is very competitive which motivates artists to produce very high quality work.

AGN; What would you say your biggest strength is?

TUM; I’m very creative. That’s why I am able to adapt to work in several creative fields. My current expertise is in digital art, graphic design, creative writing, film directing & editing, UI/UX design, web application development, system analysis, brand design, digital marketing and talent management.

AGN; What do you like to do to unwind?

TUM; I like to socialize with friends whenever I’m free as I am an outgoing person. Other than that, I play video games, watch TV shows and read books. Doing so helps me to relax and also acquire new knowledge.

AGN; What makes you laugh and how important is humour to you?

TUM; I enjoy joking around with my friends and watching stand-up comedy. As a person who has encountered some low points in the past, I value humour a lot. It radiates positive vibes among people and strengthens relationships.

AGN; Which family member has been most impactful in terms of helping you develop as an artist and what did they do that has been of assistance to you?

TUM; To be honest; none. But, my two cousins, Atuweni and Francis help out to build my business brand. We are all entrepreneurs so we support each other in our endeavours.

AGN; Is there a particular issue or social injustice that gets you fired up and which you seek to do your bit to address or intend doing so in future?

TUM; Widespread murder of albinos was an elevated issue in the past but thankfully the situation is not as acute as it once was. Albinos were being targeted for their body parts. This is something that absolutely horrified me. There is still much work to be done to eradicate this horror and this is something I would like to do more to address.

AGN; Is there an underlying ethos you seek to convey through your work?

TUM; I like producing thought provoking work. My current direction is to promote free thinking through my work.

AGN; What would you like to be remembered for in terms of your body of work?

TUM; I want to be remembered as a bold creative genius who broke boundaries and expressed his thoughts and ideas through multiple art forms. I want to leave a legacy that will inspire generations.

AGN; Is there anything else you would like to add?

TUM; hang on to your dreams.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

Ri Iyovwaye

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on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) – Jun 2023