The paintings in a current exhibition at Makerere University are large. Everywhere one turns to view Kizito Maria Kasule's one man show in the Exhibition Hall leads one to gaze upon a large canvas. The viewer feels himself submerged into the painting. But there is more.
Despite the strike by academic staff that led to the university being closed, Kasule, who lectures in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Industrial Design, persisted with staging his exhibition.
To add fuel to the flames, the paintings on exhibition at the Makerere University Art Gallery belong to the politically charged sort with titles like "Genesis and the Legacy of Democracy". They are a fitting hint to the business on hand.
Kasule's works are commentaries on abuse of human rights and corruption; two society ills that have become emblems of the government. His exploration of these themes using caricatures of individuals many of us are familiar with is astonishing and tickles the audience mind to make interpretations and reach conclusions.
In one painting a familiar figure is depicted teargasing a man in the nude who is lying down- according to the artist nudity is a symbol of innocence and purity, but in the context of this composition, the innocence has been desecrated.
In another, he paints the body of a man wearing a crown with the Buganda emblem on it lying in a casket. The casket wrapped in the Buganda flag is lowered into the grave.
There are also several drawings of human caricatures- with exaggerated features- standing defiantly perhaps as symbols of demonstration to the abuse meted out on them.
The paintings conjure feelings of anguish, bitterness, anger, and fright, and their presentation is laudable from an artistic perspective.
Are the large canvases the artist uses intended to deliberately stir up debate between the painting and the viewer? Could the large canvas also be interpreted as metaphors of the greed, opulence, and 'living large' of the political class of the day?
Conversely, the artist's use of melancholy colors symbolizes the somber mood inspired by such unjust acts of abuse.
"These incidents of demonstration among the public are examples that people now know their rights," says the artist.
He goes on to observe that perhaps with such atmosphere, democracy is growing. However, he is quick to point out that he is not a politician but an artist who's interested in art of social perspective and as such, his work raises debate and asks questions.
On a light side, Kasule engages his audience on the concept of human life which is formulated by the ovary and sperm. In the attempt to analysize this concept the artist has painted life size graphic images of the ovary on canvas to enlist the audience to his philosophy. "My belief is that dialogue between women and men should not stop at conception, but should continue throughout their daily life experience."
Continous communion is a thread that runs through all Kasule's concepts; from respect of human rights to promoting dialogue between the government and its citizens. In can be argued that without dialogue, there's certainly to be chaos which can escalate into violence as can be seen now and then on the streets of Kampala city. But why would a university lecturer of fine art, who is obviously interested in politics, be reticent about it?
In his past life, Kasule was influenced by politics when he served in the army and experienced firsthand the abuse of human rights there. He escaped death after being saved from the firing squad by someone who knew him. He later took interest in studying Fine Art at Makerere University and he's one of the most illustrious art lectures on campus.
Previously, he has exhibited at the same venue on the rot he saw in the Kampala City Council Authority. It was a hot topic that evoked diverse opinion. Some section of his audience thought he was "mad" when he made installations out of garbage collected from the streets.
The other half lauded him for his witty technique especially when handling such sensitive issues. This quality has enabled Kasule to put across his message without being confrontational and somehow dividing his audience.
Nevertheless, some art critics like Dr. Angello Kakande think the downside to such technique is making the message blunt. "Sometimes the message is never understood and if it's understood, it's often amplified," Kakande says.
This exhibition will run into September at the Makerere University Art Gallery.