22 February 2013

Uganda: Politically Charged Art

The late Butaleja District Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda Arioru, whose death in December last year sparked a furor has been immortalised in an installation being featured in a collective art exhibition dubbed "Different But One 17".

The exhibition is by lecturers of the Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts at Makerere University in Kampala.

The artist, Amanda Tumusiime pays tribute to Nebanda by using a white fabric with inscription invoking sections of the 1995 constitution that exemplify her as a heroic politician and feminist in areas such as Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of thought and conscience, and the full and equal dignity of women.

The artist also creates a strong visual impact on her audience with the drawing of the Ugandan map inverted and in the middle of it is a black stiletto the artist refers to as Nebanda's shoe. Other features on this fabric installation are finger and foot prints in brown and red representing the struggle for power and authority, and violence respectfully.

The other political installation in exhibit is by Dr. Angello Kakande, who is married to Tumusiime. Like his wife, the seasoned art critic plunges into political debate with his ceramics "Powerful President"; a white pot decorated with graffiti raised on a dais which is covered with a black cloth.

In this installation, the artist is probing the relationship between the legislature and executive hence the white colored pot which represents the state and the black cloth that represents the legislature. According to the artist, he uses a multi-disciplinary approach on contemporary art, culture discourse and legal analysis in his installation.

Through this approach, the artist seeks to create debate among his audience about the ongoing turbulent relationship between the President and the members of parliament. This trend can create an atmosphere of "powerful president" perhaps insinuated by the talk of a possible "coup" by the military.

Aside from this political exuberance, Dr. Lilian Nabuliime's earliest sculptures of "Teenager" and "Glasgow Lady" are well executed. Both the sculptures crafted out of hard wood and found objects (empty cans of sodas, beers, keys, bottle tops etc) are a manifestation of a social critic she is.

Nabuliime has over the years looked upon society as an inspiration for her art. The two sculptures represent the transitions in society in terms of age, culture, morality and Art.

"I executed "Glasgow Lady" when I was in Scotland. There people did not think that I could do a sculpture with hardwood and scrap metal. I did this sculpture to show them that it was so possible," says she.

She hinges her Teenager sculpture on what she observes in society now.

"These days young women love to dress skimpily perhaps as influence from the western media. But they need to be guided by their parents," she says.

Different But One 17 is unique in its representation. The curator, Rebeka Uziel choose the theme of presenting the earliest and most recent works of the artists alongside each other. Hence the exhibition presents past and present side by side and enable the audience to appreciate the impact of time on art.

Interestingly though, the earliest works by artists seem to have a very strong message and aesthetic meaning unlike their most recent work. This can be attributed to the fact that the former works were produced as theses for their academic pursuits and considerable research went into their execution. It can also be argued that during that time, the lecturers had not yet become too busy with their teaching and administration itinerary.

The latter factor inspires the concept of Different But One according to Dr. Lillian Nabuliime.

"The exhibition helps the lecturers to continue producing art and not concentrate only on teaching and research."

This initiative by the Faculty lecturers is very relevant to the needs of the students. The students need to be inspired by their lecturers and there is no better inspiration than what is practical; in this context an art exhibition showcasing the works of the lecturers.

In its 17th year, Different But One has inevitably become a tradition which every lecturer wants to identify with. For those who did not produce any work this year, they feel challenged to do so next year.

The exhibition is showing now at Makerere Art Gallery and will last until 8th March.

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