Milly Buchanan

Conflict, Contradiction and Consciousness: an artist’s evolution



Milly Buchanan was born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1944 to a German-Jamaican immigrant and a Liberian aristocrat of Americo-Liberian descent.  Milly’s artistry began in Vevey, Switzerland, where her talent was first noticed, at the age of 10, by a prominent Swiss artist, Guy Baer. In order to paint her portrait, Guy Baer gave her a sheet of paper and some charcoal-sticks and told her to draw the three eggs before her to keep her still--the portrait he painted of her, “Jeune Liberienne” was sold to the Jewish museum in Vevey. Thereafter, Guy Baer tutored a young Milly once a week for nearly a year, imparting his classical technique in oil painting, which still characterizes her work today.


Her early work, mostly still-life, landscapes, and portraits, clearly followed the great European Masters of 15th century, but Milly developed her personal style of Afro-Cubism in the late 70’s. Reminiscent of Picasso, Braque and Modigliani--her favorite artists to date--Afro-Cubism was her shattered-glass art expression of the social-political turmoil in Liberia.


Milly uses the African concept of “Self”--meaning oneself, within one’s tribe, and one’s culture and land--to express her observations as an artist. Her work became influenced and affected by the culturally uprooted society in Liberia, the practice of “converting the natives to democratization”, and her internal conflict of Christianity versus pagan ancestral worship. Her paintings vibrate with five or six layers of colors, a representation of the overlay of educated behavior atop the raw inner artist. And much of her work includes an “eye”, which represents witnessing the timeliness of art, a female breast indicating the progeny of art, and the “dove of spiritual peace” as the Holy Ghost.


The 27 oil paintings in her “Crying-out” series are Milly’s purest afro-cubist expressions and reflected the social, political, and economic turmoil that engulfed the Americo-Liberian society. The tumult drove Milly to other African countries in search of a common-denominator to art forms, and found inspiration as an artist caught-up in conflict, contradiction, and consciousness.


Truly a renaissance woman, Milly is also an architect, a conference interpreter and translator speaking five languages (French, German, Italian, Spanish and English), and a former model (including September 1971 Ebony Fashion Fair poster-model, Essence Magazine). Milly’s extensive sub-Saharan Africa life, coupled with her personal and professional relationships with Africans from all walks of life (the late President Sekou Toure of Guinea to recording artists Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba to uncelebrated market women, students, farmers, and fisherman) have produced a unique perspective from which to artistically represent the essence of the African struggle and spirit of resilience and hope. Milly is also a founding member of the Union of Liberian Artists an organization that creates a forum for the exchange of personal experiences in various refugee camps, motivates young self-taught artists to develop their skills, hosts art exhibits and promotes their works.


Retired since 1998 as Advisor on International Affairs to the former President of Liberia and mother of five adult children and twenty grandchildren, Milly now focuses all her time on painting. As she reflects on her artistic track record over some five decades, impressions of mindset redirection, national reconciliation, and reconstruction in her native Liberia can easily be seen in the vibrant colors of Afro-Cubism.