LISBON, Portugal – Malangatana Ngwenya (Mah-LANG-gah-tah-nah en-GWEN-yah), a Mozambican painter, poet and politician who became one of the African country's most famous artists for his work drawing on the country's rocky history, died Wednesday, a Portuguese hospital said. He was 74.
The Pedro Hispano Hospital in Matosinhos, Portugal, said that Ngwenya died there after a prolonged illness but declined to provide further details.
Jorge Dias, a close friend of Ngwenya, and former curator of the National Museum of Art in Mozambique's capital, remembers Ngwenya as a great storyteller.
"He had a massive collection of stories about Mozambican history. I learned a lot of our history from him," Dias told The Associated Press from Maputo.
Inspired by Mozambican culture and history, as well as his own personal life, Ngwenya was not only an artist, but also a musician and philosopher, Dias said.
Ngwenya left school at 11 when Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, and first worked as a shepherd and a tennis club ball-boy before taking up night classes and developing an interest in art.
Ngwenya took up painting and held his first solo exhibit in 1959. His work drew on Mozambican history, including the colonial period, the fight for nationhood and the civil war that broke out after the country's 1975 independence, and often portrayed human suffering and heroism.
He supported Mozambique's independence struggle and was jailed for 18 months by the colonial authorities.
Dias describes the renowned artist as "the father of Mozambican art", influencing practically every local artist who came after him with his "ethnic impressionism".
His work was exhibited in various foreign countries, including at the Smithsonian's Museum of African Art in Washington D.C.
Ngwenya was a Mozambican lawmaker from 1990-1994.
Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva paid tribute to Ngwenya's "role in the fight for democracy and the improvement of the living conditions of the Mozambican people."