2 November 2017

Uganda: Kampala's Chaotic Landscape Through the Eyes of Artists

Kampala the capital of Uganda is a city synonymous with ever mushrooming enterprises and growing population. This duo surge has had consequences, including a haphazard landscape and scenery. In the eyes of artists like George Kyeyune, Ismael Kateregga and Clifford Kibuuka, the chaotic scenes and frenzied atmosphere are figurative representations of the social and economic connotations like poverty, women empowerment, and corruption that are vividly captured in their drawing.

In George Kyeyune's exhibition, 'The Kampala I will Always go back to (2015)', the artist suggested that Kampala is a city filled with energy and creativity in spite of the economic hardships that prevail.

His paintings of road-side vendors selling roasted maize and plantain (Ggonjja) on braziers (Ssigiri) and boda-boda motor-cyclists ferrying passengers evoke the day-to-day economic struggles of urbanites.

On the other hand, the rather nostalgic oil paintings conjure the current social terrain where there has been a shift in the roles played by the woman in the home.

In the present day; especially in urban centres, women are increasingly being seen leaving their homes and going out to work; a departure from the traditional norms of African society. This cultural alternation is mainly attributed to the increasing demands of contemporary society and the crusade for women emancipation.

The realistic depiction by Ismael Kateregga of hovels as dwelling for urbanites within and outside the city is a metaphor economic strife that has dominated Uganda in recent years.

Paintings like Kibuye Market with shacks littered across the railway line suggest wallowing poverty and corruption that has stifled economic progress for the locals. In spite the city authority's intervention to demolish such settlements in the past these have kept re-merging; a sign of persistence by the traders to eke a living in such brutal situations. The ruthless eviction of the merchants from these sites symbolizes the violet nature of the state and lack of respect for the tax-payers. Kateregga also responds to the innovative nature of Kampalans by painting Boda-boda cyclists. The cyclists are a regular sight in the city and are an easy alternative to the nauseating traffic on the city narrow roads while also providing employment for many young people.

Kampala's chaotic character is well- captured in Clifford Kibuuka's series of paintings Kampala at Night that showcase boxy and shanty settlements crammed together with interplay of light and darkness randomly distributed on canvas.

The haphazard construction on canvas conjures the untidy nature of the city with structures overlapping each other and several in road-reserves. The failure by the city authority to regulate this confusion represents the corrupt tendency of the organisation and the overall despotic nature of the regime.

This dilemma inspires the present day aggression by the habitants towards the state with a belief that this hostility will reverse the trend of poverty and exploitation. Nevertheless, the poor are happy in Kampala like Kyeyune suggested in 'The Kampala I will Always go back to'.

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