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Friday, February 13, 2009

Defending nature through art


"We can't survive without nature but nature can survive without us." Those words by Ugandan artist Louis Ssemalulu summarise his resolve to continue advocating for the preservation of the environment through art. From his on-going exhibition at the National Theatre, you can tell that the painter is a man in love, if not obsessed, with nature.

His impressions of waterfalls, forest glades, mountains, crater lakes, clouds in the sky, open savannah and generally flora and fauna, are convincingly captured on large canvases. And when I examined them from a distance, I was amazed at how real they appeared.

Katwe Crater Lake, Bujagali Falls, Botanical Gardens Entebbe and Matada Volcanic Lake are part of the physical features and other scenic spots the painter brings to life in a simple but very impressive style that would appeal to anyone who finds abstract art too sophisticated to comprehend.

"Nature speaks; nature mesmerises me. And as you can see, my favourite theme is Idealistic Landscape," he says. "My concern is the way nature is being defiled and all other greens encroached on by man."

The painter's distaste of environmental abuse is best depicted in one of the paintings showing a typical Ugandan setting; a dusty road on which is a lorry overloaded with sacks of charcoal, with men atop, emitting fumes – which of course are dangerous to human health.

"I'm worried about where we are going with all the global warming, forest fires, floods, poaching, polluted environment and all such things," he says. "And in my work I give people a glimpse of the joys of nature, hoping that my work will convict them to stop corrupting nature."

His paintings also extend to other vulnerable groups in society like the disabled and the children. My Heart Weeps for example, is a moving portrait of a pretty little child wet with tears.

A diploma holder in art and design (specialising in drawing and painting), Ssemalulu says after touring sceneries, it takes him over two weeks to finish a painting: "I don't sketch; I do everything realistically," he says. "I view myself as a simplistic and impressionist kind of painter, and sometimes a romantic because I like experimenting with colours."

You will find it peculiar or interesting, but Ssemalulu paints only at night: "It's calm then and that's when I'm in a state of mind to exercise my calling in the best way I can."

--Sunday Monitor, December 14, 2008