George Lilanga was born in the high, arid plateaus of the Mozambique- Tanzania border. Known for being the centre of Makonde culture, it is especially noted for its Mapico initiation dances and rich sculptural traditions.
In 1972, he settled in Dar es Salaam and, in 1973, he became associated with the newly founded Nyumba ya Sanaa (House of Arts), a gallery and cultural centre established by local artists. In 1980, he encountered the works of the Tingatinga School (established by the followers of Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga, 1939 – 1972), where Tingatinga’s exuberantly abstracted paintings had a profound effect on his work.
Lilanga’s art, animated by a keen sense of social critique, illustrates the continuity of the artistic vision amongst the Makonde and its renewed context in the present day. In many ways his sculptures and paintings follow Makonde conventions. Indeed, his playful figures might be best understood as heirs to the Makonde shetani, the unruly spirits of Makonde cosmology. Similarly, the complexity of his paintings can be compared to the Makonde ujamaa (tree of life), which signifies unity and solidarity.