9 March 2018

Uganda: Canon Griffin Makes Case for Street Mannequins in Art Exhibition

Everyone has probably seen a street poser, usually belonging to a different race, day in day out. The owners dress them up to attract buyers to the commodity they adorn.

Known to many as dummies/mannequins but known to artist and photographer Canon Griffin as posers, they became the subject of his exhibition currently on the show at the Kamwokya-based Afriart Gallery.

Aptly titled Posers, the show easily comes off as Canon's most conceptualised work in years - an experimental artist, he has had works with themes that always went from place to place and in the middle lost the viewer.

Whether he is talking about history, lifestyle or politics, he always maintains a brilliant skill with both the brush and the lens yet, for some reason his topics find meticulous ways of being too abstract.

With Posers, whose inviting tag line is 'Come Float With Us', Canon was more in the right place of mind while thinking about it. A body of work that went from the Netherlands to East Africa, he manages not to simply tell a story of the world's most renowned street models, the dummies whom he humanises as posers, and while at it, tackles a story of violence, human violation and exploitation.

With each photograph of these posers, his attention to detail will begin to unsettle the inner person of the viewer noting the injustice humans put a mannequin through as they force it to make money even after it's time.

Some of them lack heads, hands and at times legs and yet the retailers still put clothes on them with expectations of them looking good and attracting buyers at all costs.

Canon's exhibition is one that can easily be treated as 'too abstract' if a person has not read between the lines though if one does, it's one mirroring human erring on things like justice, race, human rights and violence.

Many of his posers were photographed between Wandegeya YMCA to Kabalagala, and 32 East - an art trust where Canon is a residential artist. If these posers had been mixed with those in posh malls like Acacia Mall, Oasis or even Garden City, the taste, look and feel would tell a lot of how an ordinary Ugandan carries about their own life.

Instead, a mixture between African city posers with those from Europe where used, a selection which still presents a contrast, photos of posers in Europe are more intact which may prove that people there probably see a value that supersedes their doll being.

An exhibition that combined visuals with miming had Canon dressed as a multi-coloured poser in an outfit designed by Helen Nabukenya.

This helped Canon to become the art himself but also pass onto as many emotions that were carefully entangled in different parts of the costume - some were burdens people put up with, while others had a message of achieving success after a struggle.

It's almost the same story of the posers photographs that you meet as you walk through the gallery experiencing Canon's exhibition, that the weather, man and other conditions may have been hard on them, taking their head, limbs or even noses, but they struggle to achieve a purpose of looking fabulous and above all attract people to the seller's product.


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