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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Art that carries the spirit of God


The paint brush makes light leaps across the canvas. After a few minutes, we see a thickly painted abstract piece with bright colours and intertwined things called 'Love Is Greater Than Power'.

“Each brush of the paint is a reflection of the beauty of the love of Christ,” says the artist, “because I believe this love is a truly beautiful thing that binds the world together.”

A painter of portraits, landscapes and events, Rolland Tibirusya Roldan, inspired by daily happenings and the magic of the moments, claims to have pioneered expressive live painting in Uganda.

“I began this functional art in church, where I would interpret sermons and take time to capture the message in a piece of art,” he says. “I’ve not seen any artist who has challenged me in this creative idea. I’ve even tried to encourage others to do this but they say they can’t paint on a live event.”

What his colleagues have shunned, he has continued to do. When Kirk Franklin was performing at the Kampala Serena Hotel earlier this year, Rolland was working vigorously to illustrate the mood and emotion of the day. He enthusiastically shares his unforgettable experience: “As the music was playing with people singing and dancing with Kirk Franklin, I was capturing everything on canvas with my paint brush. Later on, Franklin came and signed on the paintings. He said, “Good work brother,” then he gave me a hug. Other important people like pastors and MDs signed on the portraits but the signature of Kirk Franklin with my paint brush is the one that really was so amazing.”

The two paintings were auctioned and fetched Shs32m. Ten percent of that belonged to the painter and the rest to the African Children’s Choir but up to now, he has never received his share.

“They keep dodging me and I’ve taken them to courts,” he said dejectedly.

His other live paintings have generated millions of shillings for unprivileged children. When the Soweto String Quartet (SSQ) performed here in a Mulago Heart Benefit concert, his artwork raised 17 million shillings. And at the Nyaka concert earlier this year to raise money to build a school for HIV/Aids orphans in Kanungu District, another of his works generated 4.75m, which went to help the cause.

Rolland also participated in the Chogm charity walk organised by the Charity Walkers Club. During the walk from Entebbe to Kampala, he was on a pickup car painting, and his final product sold for $500. In all, his live paintings have this year alone raised over Shs80m for different causes.

“I’m not a philanthropist,” he says of his big-heartedness. “It’s just more of a blessing to give than to receive. When I use my art pieces to fundraise for noble causes that make a difference in young people’s lives, I’m just sharing the love of God and honouring Him for saving me from wickedness. I used to do paintings of nude women, and now that I’m born-again, my only heart’s desire is to do art that carries the spirit of God.”

As a boy, Rolland was apprenticed to his elder sisters, who are professional artists as well. The 26-year-old says he was an art champ all through school and has a BA Industrial and Fine Art degree from Makerere University.

“As a Mukiga from Kabale, where I grew up seeing men enjoying togetherness around a pot of Bushera, I believe in the communal doing of things,” he says. This belief in communism is reflected in his art, with the symbol of the cross and the prismatic colours of the rainbow dominating.

“As a born-again Christian, I recognise the cross as the greatest exhibit in the history of humanity and it helps me share my faith with the world through by paintings,” he says. “The colours of the rainbow are symbolic of hope and renewal that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

Rolland’s work is simple but radical. At the time masked homosexuals demonstrated in Kampala demanding equal rights, he joined the prophetic gathering at Kampala Pentecostal Church to cry out to God to save the land from getting befouled by what he views as an abominable act. His painting showed multitudes with red tears and a panga reflective of the blood of Jesus and the sword of the spirit respectively, which would cleanse the land.

Another piece displayed at the recent WAPI concert at Hotel Africana had this expression: “Do not lie with a woman as one lies with a man; that is detestable!” – Lev 18: 22. This was displeasing to gays.

“Many were asking me why I was doing this to them but I used the chance to tell them that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve; that homosexuality is a dishonour to God and that there is no way we can raise generations through homosexuality,” says the artist. “One of them was touched and told me, “Truly the God you serve is real,” and asked me to keep him in prayer as he works on his salvation.”

Rolland is perturbed by the nearly inexistent appreciation of art in Uganda. “I’m always burdened when a muzungu comes and buys a piece at $1000, then some Ugandan who cannot buy it at Shs50,000 calls it junk,” he says. “I urge Ugandans to respect our work because every piece of art is a brainchild in itself; even if you repeated it, it would never be the same; we put in so much and this art comes from the soul.”

It would also please him to see the creation of a national archive, where the best Ugandan art pieces are preserved for future reference as is done in Kenya.

Meanwhile, Rolland will stay put at the Makerere-based Mitchell Hall Armour Arts Gallery, wearing his helmet of salvation and spreading the goodness of God further through art.

--Sunday Monitor, September 7, 2008