The best of Ugandan art showcased in Nairobi

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The Little Art Gallery brought together three artists from Kampala, Uganda, at an exhibition titled ‘Vitality From Kampala’ at the Village Market in Nairobi.

Curated by William Ndwiga, the exhibition featured Collin Sekajugo, Mark Kassi and Patrick Mulondo, and showcased their different styles with Kampala being the main theme.

Mulondo is a sculptor and his pieces are a result of a research he has been doing about Joseph Kony and the terror and trauma he left on the people of northern Uganda.

“I have been trying to explore the scenario and everything that has been happening and trying to find a solution to these problems through my art,” he says.

His material is scrap, or anything that seems to be considered as waste.

“I see life in junk, that is why I refer to my studio as where junk is brought to life again,” he says, adding that he starts his process by sorting out junk to pick out what he will need.

He then conceptualises what he wants and creates models with clay.

“I will starting working with my welders with live models, mostly women, scaling and working on proportions to get the form and figure as I want,” he adds.

One of the pieces, Invisible Beauty, is a sculpture of a woman who is proud to claim her beauty even though not many people see it.

“I went and interacted with so many people who experienced the trauma. This piece was inspired by one of the girls I met. She was very proud to be a northern Ugandan girl despite the fact that she lost her lips in he hands of Kony’s people,” he says, adding that Kony’s soldiers would traumatise and brutalise women to force men to join the Lord Resistance Army. Many men joined LRA to save the women from further violence and even death.

For him, the piece is more of a portrayal of the confidence the girl showed, even though the people were despising and mocking her and others because of this. The same is seen in Rebuilding Identity, a woman’s bust without ears, and lips. Made from scrap, the bust also features a headgear made from fibre glass, fabric and old newspapers.

“This is for rebuilding the identity of the northern Uganda women who went through this. The women are not only building their culture and their beauty, they are working on their faces and putting on lipstick even if they don’t have lips and earrings even with half-cut ears,” he adds.

Most of Mulondo’s pieces seem incomplete, but this is a deliberate move.

“Less is more. I always work with the aim of leaving it to the viewer to appreciate and finish it with their eyes,” he adds.

Mulondo is not self-taught; he does his artwork as a professional, having graduated from Makerere University.

“I did recycling, with metal, fibre glass, plastics and others. I carry my research in the field,” Mulondo says, adding he believes that all artists who have the opportunity should go to art school for skill and knowledge.

“We still need a lot of creators, and that they go to school to learn the skill and principles of art and design. This allows them to judge, to reason, and to identify the skill to create something new,” he adds, saying opportunities for artists to showcase their works are enough for all artists.

For Kassi, most of his art is influenced by the things he sees and experiences, and his studio in Kampala gives him some of the best views for his work.

One of his paintings, Joining The Ranks, takes him back to where he saw the scene. Around his studio there are a lot of street children and over his balcony this scene caught his eye. The title speaks for itself as it is a bunch of younger children trying to be part of the group of the older boys.

A lot of Kassi’s paintings come with popping shades of warm colours.

“I dont’ know why, but in Kampala we have very sunny days, and the colours brighten up. So, subconsciously it shows up on my painting,” he says.

This is also seen in the painting, I Wish, where he uses bright colours to portray three children, a girl carrying a baby on her back and a boy looking at them, yearning to be carried as well only that he is too old for piggy back.

Kassi, who has an interest in photography, says all his paintings starts with what catches his eyes. He uses the help of his camera to capture as many pictures as he can, but the pictures in the cameras are not what end up on the canvas.

“I manipulate, change, remove couple of things so that I can have the focal point on the things I want to focus on,” he says, adding that he starts his painting by sketching on the canvas, and then use a marker to create distinguished outlines, which he eventually fades out.

“I then make a palette of very viscous washes of black or a bit of black and brown to apply onto the sketch according to the tone and shadows on the painting,” he adds.

After toning the shadows, he wets the canvas, then sprinkles the washes of colour on the canvas. These colours will then mix, and how they will set is how Mark will work on the painting.

“If there’s a brown, I will paint with brown and so on. Something I like about it is the accidental effects of washes. I cannot control or repeat it,” he adds.

In VIP, Kassi takes a satirical look at the presence and treatment of the so called “very important people.” His signature warm colours makes the painting pop and his subjects stand out.

“We see VIP this, VIP that, but I always wonder who are these VIPs,” he says, adding that his subjects in the painting are headless to maintain the mystery of the ‘vips.’

Most of his paintings are of children, or have children as the main subjects.

“I believe that artists paint what they see or what you can imagine. While I have painted so many things over the years, children have been of interest to me because I see a lot of freedom in their lives,” he says.

One of his paintings in cool colours is Owning Their Freedom, which speaks of the sense of fun and burst of energy that children have.

“These days kids are either locked up in the houses or restricted from doing a lot of things. But when you finally let them go, there is a burst of energy as they own this freedom and enjoy it while it lasts,” he says of the painting, which he worked on overnight.

“I was not sure how the colours would look like as I was painting at night. When I saw it in the morning, I just signed it,” he added.

Generally, he adds that Africa’s art scene is very vibrant right now, with a lot of artists and opportunities for artists.

“I think it is the artist’s work to look for these opportunities to showcase their work. The opportunity will not look for you.”

Collin shares the same sentiment that Africa is seen as the next big thing and art should not be left behind.

“Artists are seeking recognition and I think people have started identifying new talent in the continent. I also think that stakeholders are doing a good job to put out the work to the world,” he says.

A self-taught artist, Collin has been focusing, over the past two years, on road safety in Uganda as the main factor in his work. His is also a social activist, and has realised safety is a big issue in the country, and a lot of his work depict these. His piece Kampala Metro shows how the authority is handling the problem of boda bodas, and the way the public is dealing with the issue.

“The chaos and events involved is depicted in this painting. There is a lot of movement and people in different activities,” he says, adding that it symbolises what Kampala portrays at the moment.

Collin uses shades of warm colour and a little of green as it is the colour of Kampala, but on the canvas they turn into a bit of pale pastel to symbolise the negative side of it, which is the pollution from the fumes from the vehicles in the city.

In terms of preparation, Collin considers himself as a random painter.

“I do not sketch. I like being very spontaneous because when I plan too much, it loses the soul. I play around with stuff but at the back of my mind, I know what I want,” he says.

His other painting is The Bride, which was inspired by the fact that Kampala is an events city, where every weekend there is a function or the other. And to pay ode to this, Collin features a bride and her maids in traditional attire called busuti.

In Oasis, he pays homage to the convergence of people at watering points. In his signature colours, he uses silhouettes to create shapes and images of women and jerrycans as they fetch water.

One of the key things about Collin’s paintings is that they all come with a grey background.

“It is a way for me to create contrast between dark colours and bright ones, and to make my subjects pop out. Grey is also one of my favourite colours,” he adds.

His background as a social activist makes him handle issues and themes that people can relate to as well as current issues facing the society. This is seen in Fishers, the silhouettes of three men. As much as it refers to fishermen, it is also Collin’s personal piece interrogating the male figure in the society and how they ‘fish’ for new ideas.

“It shows how the male figure goes out of the box to seek out new opportunities and inspirations,” he says.

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