Mzee Alphonce

Alphonce Saidi Manjonjo (b. 1947?), also known as Mzee Alphonce (in kiSwahili, Old Man Alphonce) is an artist practicing at the intersection of installation, sculpture and design. His art, made using recycled tins and spray cans, water bottles, found items, second-hand clothes, and discarded materials, falls under what is called ‘outsider art’ or ‘art brut’ (raw art), which is a term often applied to artists who have not received formal training and whose work possesses simple yet powerful expressions of vision and feeling.

In his earlier life, Mzee Alphonce was a practicing mason, but after a stroke affected the movement of one side of his body, he was unable to continue with his profession. In 2005, a learning programme for elderly people initiated by First Lady Anna Mkapa helped Mzee Alphonce to attend primary school in Dar es Salaam. He attended school for three years but didn’t graduate because a leak of test answers led all results to be nullified. After this, Mzee Alphonce began making art. He collected items around the Mwenge, Dar es Salaam and worked in public along the roadside.

In 2013, the artist Poni Yengi saw Mzee Aphonce and brought him to Nafasi Art Space, where previous director Jan Van Esch invited him to work. His collection of sculptures, hand-painted signs and maps, and newspaper clippings on current events posted on the trees around his makeshift studio have become a living installation that changes and evolves over time. Mzee Alphonce’s work has been exhibited in exhibitions in Tanzania as well as in Germany and has been collected by visitors to Nafasi from around the world.