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Friday, November 21, 2008

Uganda’s prolific sculptors in grand exhibition


Ugandan sculptors have not earned the recognition that’s due to them and have for a long time lived in the shadow of artists who specialise in portraiture and other paintings. Saturday was the opening of the Grand Sculpture Exhibition at Makerere University art gallery with the hope that it will change the situation. The exhibition runs up to November 30 and will be an annual event.
On display is a variety of what the gallery administrator, Ms Rita Namayanja, calls the “finest works from the very cream of Ugandan sculptors.”

The artists used natural materials such as wood, bronze, leaves, polythene bags, scrap metal, plastic, glass, and horns to come up with terrific creations, most of which are functional. For example, Isaac Sulah’s Cow Horns is designed to act as fluorescent bulb holders. The light emitted through the softened translucent horns from which it’s created gives out beautifully relaxed radiance.

Henry Ssegamwange’s Look Through is a circular piece made out of bamboo and glass and holds a mirror that every woman would love to have in her dressing room.

Another untitled piece curved out of wood is an idealised representation of all the clans in Buganda and their totems. Geometric lines separate the totems and the lifelike portrait of the Kabaka is included. The piece is large enough and would do great decorating a cultural centre wall.

The exhibitors are experienced sculptors but a few good enough university students were given a chance too. It explains the presence, at the gallery, of the work of Brian Wambi, a student but a master in his own right. His creation, titled Like Margaret Trowell is made out of bronze.

A note on the painting explains that iconic figures in society breath the same air like us, walk the same path, and are as human as we are; that’s why the artist sculpted his portrait with his heroine’s face partially unmasking her skull on the left to prove his point – that you can, if you put your mind to it, achieve like Margaret Trowell, after whom the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts is named.

Koona Dance depicts a dancing couple. Allan Mwebe’s Misery is made out of sponge. Mama Africa has exaggerated lips and Dr. Lilian Nabulime’s curved wooden piece shows a woman with thick red lips and eyes that stare at you unblinkingly. These and more explore the subjects of beauty, revelry, misery, neighbourliness, feminism, disease, and politics that evoke mixed emotions.

Lucus Ogwang, a third year art student, summarised the exhibition: “These sculptures are simply incredible. Their different shapes and their roughness and smoothness represent the sculptors’ unique styles and the messages they are putting across. Anyone interested in art would be inspired!”