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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ugandan art mirrors the emotions of independence


As Uganda celebrated her 46th Independence anniversary slightly over two weeks ago, the country’s contemporary artists convened at Nommo Gallery and exhibited works depicting the emotions that followed the attainment of self-rule.
On display was an intrig
uing repertoire of abstract and semi-abstract paintings, metal and wooden sculptures that evoked the deep sorrows of what the country endured on her road to independence, and of course, the revelry that accompanied this achievement.
The words of one critic that authentic art must ignite an argument between an artist and his audience struck the mind by just looking at Yusuf Ssali’s painting.

Aptly titled Africa and the Struggle for Her Independence, it depicts a white and black cock menacingly staring at each other like sumo wrestlers before a bout. The black cock’s beak is sealed with a padlock. A note next to the painting explains that the black cock represents Africans and the white cock symbolises the white colonial masters.The black cock’s padlocked beak shows that Africa’s claim to independence is false since Africans don’t have the freedom “to determine anything before the colonialists approve it” and that “Africa is in a deep state of sorrow for the lost independences she had before she was colonised by the powerful colonies…”
Ssali’s painting arouses disturbing reflections: Is the continent truly free? And if not, what then is the meaning of the annual independence celebrations?
Pinned on an adjacent wall was another painting showing two little figures, predominantly done in national colours and titled Independent Minds. The painter, Bwabee Malik, is the same creator of the Independent Choir. The latter shows a trio of animated sketches playing the flute and other musical instruments, probably to say independence came to the ears of many like a sweet melody.
The Crested Crane, the national bird, was there too, painted meticulously in oil by Ssensalile James under the title Darling Bird. But most outstanding, though it was difficult to tell what it had to do with independence, was a painting by Olsaam Ponika sophisticatedly titled Yellow Mode.
It portrayed a nude woman complete with an inviting cleavage and a luscious figure. It’s not clear if it was a painting or merely a drawing but art connoisseurs say a successful drawing is that one which is not fluent.
Drawn on white, Yellow Mode gets you wondering if the painter used water colour or coloured pencils. You also wonder why the artist employed yellow colour. And is that how an independent woman looks in the nude – delicate and glossy? What was the painter’s motivation? I could not tear my eyes away from Yellow Mode for before me was a rare work of perfection; clearly created with utmost diligence; it looked wet as if it had just been finished, and I wanted to throw my arms in the air and cry out, “Behold a Ugandan Mona Lisa in the nude!”
The overall mastery in the use of colours and the general ingenuity behind the art works on display was amazing. Some of these were made by combining a multiplicity of articles like bark cloth, paper beads, cut-offs from old jeans, candle wax, cassava starch and thread; to form some of Uganda’s finest art inventions.
It’s this complete ability to put in perspective, through works of painting and sculpture, the joys and fears of attaining independence that every art lover must without inhibitions applaud.