George Lilanga was born in 1934 in Kikwetu village southern Tanzania and passed away in June 2005. Like most Makonde youngsters, he learned to carve on soft cassava root; later he graduated to carving the hard black wood made famous by Makonde artists. He later came to Dar es Salaam where he joined a group of carvers. But his big break came when he was hired as a watchman at Nyumba ya Sanaa now called Nyerere Cultural Centre. Cleverly, he took the opportunity to show his carvings to Sister Jean, one of the management staff, who recognized his talent and immediately changed his duties. He added drawing to his repertoire, producing work used on batiks, on murals on canvas and as paintings on goatskin. Today Lilanga's creations can still be seen at Nyumba ya Saana on the painted metal entrance gate and on the cement-cast decorations around the patio.
A major step in George Lilanga's career occurred in 1978. A group exhibition organized in Washington D.C. featured 280 pieces of art 100 of which were Lilanga's. From then on George Lilanga enjoyed international renown and a continuous and impressive number of exhibitions in Europe, Japan and the United States. After having won praise from western audiences, the Tanzanian artist has become a representative of the vividness of Swahili paintings.
This exibition had a big influence on the work of the new pop generation, specialy Keith Haring. (from the book, tribute to George Lilanga). All of this has never taken him from his country but has allowed him to contribute to the maintaining of his tribe and at the same time bring outside attention to his culture and country. Lilanga presents the culture and mythology of his people through canvases swarming with figures, vibrant colours and a rhythmic movement representing Mapico dance, typical of his people.