24 November 2012

Uganda: The Man in the Hat

Too many questions; few answers at Daudi Karungi- Paul Ndema latest things

The prototype painting of Paul Ndema in the gallery lobby of Afriart gallery could probably be used as a lead to the exhibition he and Daudi Karungi have named, "Daudi Karungi- Paul Ndema showing their latest things".

The painting, which has his current image with features of a scholarly fellow; cleanly shaven head, heavily bearded face and pensive eyes hidden behind a pair of Malcom X glasses; stares at you as if probing for answers to the many questions that may be asked by the guests to the exhibition.

This exhibition, quite like many others that are organised in this art space, is about creating debate.

"We want to create art that can provoke debate in the mind of the viewers," says Daudi Karungi.

And debate is what these two artists get from their audience with the depth of their creativity and innovation. The duet approaches each piece of work differently with a palette that often shifts from dark to light, an intense use of symbolism and metaphor.

Daudi Karungi's many paintings dotted with a man in a hat can be interpreted as a metaphor to a certain politician who has a soft-spot for the hat. The artist creates different roles for the man in the hat. To the artist, the hat could be a symbol of many things like a crown of authority and absolute power, hypocrisy and deception- trying to hide something beneath that head etc.

Nevertheless, this could be one angle to the meaning of his series "the man with the hat" just like Ndema attests in his painting he has named "Uganda at 50". The painting has a fetus of a human being lying vertically and above it is a print of part of the national Anthem. The artist has boldly marked out particular words in the Anthem like God, Future etc.

While explaining to me the meaning of this composition, he says that the fetus represents Uganda as a country which he thinks is still at an infancy stage. He says that the future of this country lies in the hands of all Ugandans. "It's up to us to see if we turn it into a better place or not", says he.

His other painting which I find astonishingly interesting is "untitled". This painting lies next to the former. Its composition is of fetus in horizontal position, an unbuckled belt, a peeping bra in the background and a sliced orange which the artist says represents the different flavors of condoms on the market today.

The artist says that it was deliberate to not title this painting because he wanted his audience to think of as many meanings as they can.

"I want to engage my audience in a dialogue with my work. A painting can have as many meaning as people looking at it," Ndema says.

This element of dialogue is much facilitated by the lack of manifestos at the exhibition. Unlike many exhibitions at this gallery where the artist and curator/ gallerist writes sheets of material explaining the work on display; sometimes cluttering the mind of the viewer with unnecessary information, this exhibition has nothing like this; its literally free of any possible distractions.

In trying to hinge this exhibition to the esthetics of art, I find that these two expressionist artists are quite disciplined and put a lot of thought into their work and its possible outcome. Though each of these artist has had a show this year ; Paul Ndema had a show called Cemeteries of Hope in June and Daudi collaborated with Mzili on DaudiMzili: Dichotomy of Creativity in September; none of their latest work on display has fossils of their former exhibitions.

The current exhibition is a fresh handiwork borne out of an intense study of what surrounds them and those expectations from their audience.

This approach can be a tall order for many an artist who often is predominantly conditioned by the survival whims of post-modern society. The latter two artists have fortunately escaped this classification by knowing what do and when to do it.

The exhibition "Daudi Karungi- Paul Ndema showing their Latest things" started on Nov. 08 and will end Nov. 26 at Afriart gallery.

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