The perseverance of Samuel Banda, artist

July 10, 2014

There’s a man who will live eternally in my memory as the most impressive example of human triumph over adversity I may ever know. His name is Samuel Banda, and I met him on my first trip to Malawi in 2008. He stood near my living quarters in Lilongwe alongside several paintings of his own, beautiful landscapes and wildlife, and smiled at me, imploring me to notice his work. Notice them I did, and then I noticed something truly remarkable. The man had no hands.

Curious about how a man with no hands could create such beautiful art, and frankly somewhat skeptical, I asked him how he could paint without hands. He invited me to his home, where he showed me how he gripped his paintbrush between the two stubs at the ends of his arms. His brush strokes ranged from fine and delicate to broad and bold. I wanted to know more of his story.

When he was a child, he told me, he was caught stealing food. His punishment was swift and terrible: the police chopped off both of his hands at the wrist. I couldn’t imagine the agony – from the immediate pain and shock, and then from the long recovery over the months it must have taken for such traumatic wounds to heal. And finally – the realization that without hands, he couldn’t work. Without work, how would he survive?

On my next visit to Malawi, I asked Samuel for as many paintings as he could paint in the week I was there. For an order that large, he needed more paint, so once I had fully stocked his paint supply, Samuel completed nearly 20 paintings for me. I admire these pieces often, for the quality of Samuel’s artistry and for the lesson his artwork continues to teach me about strength, perseverance and finding beauty in the world despite the ugliness that the world sometimes delivers.