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Monday, March 30, 2009

Art provokes emotion at Makerere


The guests moved about admiring the works of art in different ways. They smiled, they whispered, they nodded, with some staring long and silently. It was the deep language of art provoking varied emotions during the grand opening of the month-long exhibition at the Makerere University Art Gallery on Friday.

Entitled Different But One, this annual exhibition has been running for 13 years in a row. It started in 1996 when a visiting Israeli artist, Rivka Uziel, who was giving voluntary lectures at Makerere University School of Industrial and Fine Arts, fell in love with the “beautiful art gallery” there.

“I thought of doing something with the lecturers but they said it was very difficult; that artists don’t work together. And I said let’s try,” says Rivka.

Thus Different But One was seen as the best sticker that captures the idea of different lecturers coming together to showcase their works in a joint exhibition. Rivka says the first exhibition had only 15 contributors whose enthusiasm inspired her to retain the idea and take it to a higher level. And for 13 years, she’s been coming to curate this exhibition.

The exhibitors write about their works, and that information is contained in a colourful catalogue which is distributed in different art libraries and museums. This year’s theme is Personal Choice, inspired by the maturity the exhibition has attained over the years.

“It takes maturity and balanced judgement on the part of the artist to make a personal choice about his or her chosen work for the exhibition,” says Rivka. “It’s a tough choice because artists love all their works in the same way parents love all their children.”

The artists cleaned and painted the gallery before they hang up their pieces. Nowhere else is such exhibition by a group of art lecturers known. As the dean, Dr George Kyeyune said, the exhibition is now firmly entrenched in the consciousness of the shool and encourages artists to “think and continue on this right path.”

On display are 23 paintings and sculptures; a variety of forms and designs in as many colours and on many topics all by fine art lecturers who are not in competition with one another, as the Dean said, but “complement each other.”

Looking at the richness and general quality of the work, one dares to say the exhibitors are the cream of artists in Uganda. They included Dr Kyeyune himself with his painting of Daily Life inspired by the din of peri-urban life and “the sprawl of market activities” where “everything looks chaotic yet life goes on.”

Even Dr Lillian Nabulime, famed for wood and metal sculptures that capture gender inequalities and the plight of women living with HIV/Aids in developing countries, is exhibiting. And so is Rivka Uziel. In her small landscape pieces called Colourful Music, she marries the elements of music and colour by creating cheerful paintings that capture “the sound of music” and effectively reveal her passion for colour, form and music.

“Music you can’t touch but you can listen,” she says, “and in my works, I translate the music to paintings - my way of expression, my feelings for my work - they are like music, like dancing. And I love colours. I think that colours are the kind of language the artist has to know very well and use for his own purpose.”

In searching for “a new voice” and to echo the theme of the exhibition, Margaret Nagawa’s three paintings are aptly titled My Choice. “I seek to operate within,” she writes in the catalogue, “yet outside boundaries and expectations both of the physical canvas space and society.”

Her works show how much her style has changed, and Gen. Elly Tumwine, who has been attending the exhibition since it started, was impressed. “She (Nagawa) never used to paint some nets on the canvas,” he said. “That’s why I like coming here because every time you see something different: styles, techniques and new ideas; and I get inspired to do even better.”

Nagawa, like the other exhibitors, are showcasing works they feel; their own art, which has influenced many including Rivka, who confesses she’s inspired by the “immense talent of Ugandan artists and work that depicts African life and culture.” It’s the originality of the lecturers and passion that their art, which is imbued with calculated messages, generates conversation between the audience and the works.

In his opening remarks, the Makerere University vice chancellor, Livingstone Lubobi, commended the exhibition because it keeps “bringing out new ideas and I think that’s the spirit of progress”, although he also admitted he doesn’t understand most of the work. It’s understandable.

Many people find art very enigmatic and difficult to comprehend, the reason being they don’t take their time to look at the works keenly, according to Dr Nabulime.

But the view of Sigal Uziel-Karl, the guest of honour and daughter of Rivka, is that you don’t have to understand what the artist means. “You should find in every piece your own self,” she says. “Some of them will move you because you have experienced similar things or you like the colours. But you don’t have to get into the head of the artist.”

Overall, the 13th edition of Different But One, which ends March 20, is unique because the artists were given all the freedom to choose their medium of expression, the materials, and topics.

And so these works are deeply personal and we are given an opportunity to peer into the lives of 23 very learned exhibitors to determine the state of art in Uganda.

--Sunday Monitor, March 1, 2009