They say music is the universal language, but art may even be more so. And one of the best communicators is Cabo Verde is Tchalé Figueira, whom I have had the pleasure to getting to know. Vivacious, talented, opinionated, outspoken, friendly, fun-loving are just a few of the adjectives to describe Tchalé–and I am sure there are more!
One of the most sought-after artists in the African island nation, he also has a major international following. “I love painting. I paint every day. I can not go a day without painting. I can’t,” he admits with a hearty chuckle.
Born in 1953 on the Cabo Verde island of São Vicente, when Cabo Verde was still colonized by Portugal, Tchalé left his beloved country at the age 17 so he would not have to fight in the colonial war. He wound up in the Netherlands where he worked on a boat. Not much later he traveled to Switzerland and it was in Switzerland where he discovered his love of painting, inspired by an older brother living there and who himself was a painter. In the late ‘70s Tchalé already had his first exhibition.
“My family got me out of Cabo Verde when I was young. Those times were really bad and oppressive in Cabo Verde at the time,” he recalls. “I enjoyed being overseas. Working on a boat. It was eye-opening.” The move would lead him to his art career. Through art, Tchalé found the perfect way to relay his feelings, his observations about the humans and the Cabo Verde experience. “For me, art is a way for me to not just tell a story, but how I feel about a story,” he says. “And art is a way to talk about stories that aren’t told.”
Now back in CV, based in both Praia (on Santiago island) and Mindelo (on the island of São Vicente), Tchalé also manages a home-based gallery called PauTcha Arts with his wife, Paulina Teixeira Figueira. PauTcha Arts not only showcases Tchale’s work but that of other African artists. Tchalé art work is in high demand, and he also has a following as a write. “If I am not painting, I am writing,” he says. “I love reading and I also love writing short stories. Like painting, I try to write everyday. For me it’s another way for me to express myself, for me to tell stories, and hopefully people will want to read these stories.”
Even though Tchalé is in demand, he wishes there were more of a spotlight on and support of the arts–fine arts, music, visual–by he government “Being an artist is extremely hard but we play a major role in a society. Imagine a world without the arts? There would be no world. And I feel artists should receive support and recognition for their work,” notes Tchalé. “Cabo Verde is known worldwide for its music, yet musicians are not compensated well here. And until just recently there was very little in the way of music education. This to me in unacceptable. Governments should support the arts for art is the window into a society. Cape Verde has some globally recognized painters, yet they have very few galleries to showcase their work. This is a major challenge and a shame.”
Still, more and more people worldwide are finding out about the artists of Cabo Verde, albeit slowly, and Tchalé is more than ready.