Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Revolution is almost always stolen

The revolution is almost always stolen. Examine most big ideas that change the world, most were appropriated. The story is no different with the globally famous McDonald's, the fast food giant. This is the story told in The Founder (2016) directed by John Lee Hancock.

Michael Keaton is mesmirising as Ray Kroc, the man most people think of when they think of McDonald's. Kroc is a struggling 52-year-old salesman who will not give up a burning ambition to be a more than average success. But it seems like the stunning success he craves will never be his until he runs into two brothers Richard (Nick Offerman) and Maurice McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) who run a successful restaurant in San Bernardino, California.

The McDonald's restaurant is booming when Kroc stumbles upon it. The McDonald brothers have innovated a fast food system that ensues a customer receives their order almost as soon as they pay. Kroc wants in on what they are creating. The Founder is about what he does get first, a foot and then more, in. It is terrible and thrilling to watch.

Today, the McDonald's history barely mentions the brothers who gave it not just its name but the system that makes it so effective. The Founder, in part, is about how they were robbed of their creation. But it is also about business; what it takes to start it, grow it and ensure it survives all competition.

Do you know what is really strange about The Founder? You will fail to hate Ray Kroc. Or at least Michael Keaton's Ray Kroc.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Made in Uganda Bronze Sculptures Show

There is a fine, little, unpretentious show of bronze sculptures you must go and see if you are interested in the arts at the Uganda Museum.

The sculptures on show are by David Bwambale, Emmanuel Basaza, Eria Sane Nsubuga, Jon Buck, Peter Oloya, Isaac Okwir. I have never heard of them but a few pieces stand out that I will keenly follow their future work.

Isaac Okwir has a style all of his own that once you look at one sculpture, you will almost always be able to identify his work even if it is not labelled. He slaps together pieces of bronze to create his sculptures the way a painter dashes paint slabs on a canvas. Almost in a fury or from too much passion. There is a lot of emotion here. Unchecked emotion that the sculptures should be ugly. They are not.

His Lango Mama is a delicate tribute to motherhood, inspired no doubt by a familiar rustic scene of a woman with a child on her back. What makes the piece stand out for this art lover are the observed maternal touches: her head is turned away from our gaze in concern that the child on her back should be adequately shaded. In turning, she stands with one hip cocked. Forcing you to come closer to see this baby who has all her attention.

Jon Buck's The Clansman immediately reminds me, at least, of that memorable Christopher Okigbo portrait on Dr Ali Mazrui's grief memoir The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. Why does it do that? This sculpture has as much presence as that photograph of one of Africa's most revered poets. All superfluities shorn away, the essence of the man left. To see that sculpture alone is worth the trip to the Uganda Museum.

Nothing else Buck has on display matches the stunning power of that sculpture. But what a sculpture!

There are little takeaways from the show too. Art you can carry with you everywhere in form of key rings by David Bwambale. Bwambale's key rings are inspired by clan totems like the Pangolin and the monkey. He also has paper weights in the show.

Speaking about his work, Bwambale explains, "The paper weights represent the big five famous animals we have in the country and other animals people love a lot. These include the elephant, the rhino, the cheetah and the warthog."

Although the choice of what the sculptures will represent is based on consumer demand, Bwambale says the artists are also concerned to educate their audience that some of the animals are endangered. Hence the proliferation of animals like the pangolin throughout the show.

The exhibitors all work under the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation. This Kasese foundry has an interesting story all of its own we hope to share soon.

But for now, you can go any day of the week 10am to 5pm, free entry, to the Uganda Museum to see these sculptures yourself. But hurry. The show closes October 19. It opened October 11.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Empaako Monument Artist: Don’t Create Limits for Yourself

Stacey Gillian is a young artist who seemed to come out of nowhere to be the lead artist on creating the Empaako Monument in the centre of Fort Portal, Kabarole.

The Empaako Monument is fast becoming a source of pride for the people of Tooro and their Kingdom, a town identifier as immediately recognizable as the long horned cow that welcomes visitors to Mbarara town in south-western Uganda. Or the Independence Monument in Kampala.

Who is Stacey Gillian?
I'm Stacey Gillian, a recent graduate, Kyambogo University, graduated Feb 2014 and my majors are sculpture and painting. I have been active since I joined university.
The artist Stacey Gillian
This is what they told me when I joined University in our first year, to become an artist, you don't have to wait until you leave school. I  got inspired.

I would tag along with my lecturers in case they were going for exhibitions of famous artists. That is how it all started. It started by my getting to know them and them getting to know me. Asking if I could participate in a few exhibitions. It started like that, slowly by slowly. Then in 2012, towards the end of my first year I met Colin Sekajugo. He saw my work and he encouraged me to do something. That's when I did my first installation in glass. I did two glass sculptures in Masaka. When I did that more people got interested and asked, 'Who is this girl?' More people got interested.

Glass Beginning
In my sculpture class, I was the only female artist and in the department we were very few. Now that was a challenge for me. I was battling against these very many guys who were so good, I was also good in my own way, but then I needed to put in more. At campus they encouraged us to be unique, creative, and experimental. So I wanted to do something no one had thought of doing so I thought of glass. My lecturer was a bit skeptical. Honestly, when I went to him, I didn't know where to start from but when he said go ahead, I took up the challenge. So I said, let me go out and try.

But why glass
One is it is a challenge, I enjoy working with it because it makes me think and it is unique. I have grown to love glass. It is very fragile, when people look at it, they can't imagine how someone can work with it and make a three dimensional artwork with glass. And then it also needs a lot of precision and patience.

I love working with glass because there are very few glass artists around and in Uganda I haven't seen anyone do what I do.

Themes that Interest Me
My way of working is that I’m more into the semi abstract. My themes relate to community, society, gender issues. The works that I have done touch on gender equality, environment conservation (the work I did in Masaka), culture and heritage (the one I did in Fort Portal), social issues like peace and love (in Kenya).

One of Gillian's paintings

Ask and You Will Receive
Mostly, I don’t buy the pieces.  What I do is I go out to the hardware places, you know opposite Nakasero Market, I ask and they give me glass pieces they don’t need for free. Many times when I used to go there at first, they used to wonder what this girl wanted these broken glass pieces for. But now they know me and some, like a Muslim lady, when she sees me calls me and says, ‘Come, I kept some for you.’

In secondary, my parents were very supportive; I remember selling my first art work in form five, my first framed painting. Everyone was excited and like wow, you are so good you are even selling. Because I would sell to my teachers (Taibah High School), my relatives, and then my headmaster. They were encouraging. I really loved art.

Now come university, I did so well, I got 19 points. Everyone was like oh, you are going to become an accountant; oh you are going to do procurement because I was the best in my class. My mum was a bit skeptical about my doing art but she was supportive. The problem came up with my relatives; none of them liked the idea. In fact for months after I joined Kyambogo University, I got negative feedback. They did not have hope in me and believed I had thrown all my intelligence away for art.

That reaction encouraged me. Hurdles encourage me. When someone says something that hurts or puts me down, I feel energized to prove them wrong, to show them that I can do it. You don’t have to doubt me. Every time someone brings me down, I try so hard to get back up again. You just have to believe.

Empaako Monument
Bayimba is responsible for the Empaako Monument in Fort Portal, Kabarole. They had seen my work before, and they had been following what I do. They called me up and asked me if I could work on their commission. I wanted to do something different, unique, simple but dynamic. That is how I came up with the inverted cube in the monument.

I chose to work with artists based in Fort Portal. I wanted to give all the artists room and an opportunity to express themselves in their own way and in the materials they are most comfortable with. That is why you see on the monument there is very different material; there is wood, there is glass, there is cement. All those are from different artists. There are five faces to the monument and each artist brought their own creativity to it. Monument was completed in two weeks in 2014 starting in May and ended in June.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Compromises We Make As We Get Older

We try to convince ourselves that we do not matter enough. Our decisions affect no one but those closest to us. We make those decisions to better their lives and maybe what is left of ours. This is why we do the things we do.

We tell ourselves no one is looking. No one else really cares. No one ever seemed to care before. No one will care now. So it is alright. The decision has to be made.

We try to believe we are giving into a temporary situation. We will not be changed. We can go back to who we were when we need to go back. We are not changing at all. We will be fine. Everybody will see.

In the meantime, we learn to pray. We have not prayed for years.

We did not see that coming.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Most Important Art Exhibition of 2015 Is On

One of the most important art exhibitions Uganda will host this year is taking place at the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts right now. 

But you have to hurry, if you wish to see it because it closes on Saturday, June 6. 

The Ebishushani exhibition opened on Thursday, May 14, 2015, put together by HIP Uganda. 

HIP Uganda is History in Progress Uganda, an exciting, dizzying outfit that has been collecting historic Ugandan photographs for more than a year now. I would say more about them here but that would distract me and you from this important exhibition which you really need to go see before it closes. 

Ebishushani showcases the work of two Ugandan photographers, Musa Katuramu (1916- 1986) and Elly Rwakoma (1938-  ). 

HIP Uganda founder Andrea Stultiens has a soft spot for Katuramu bordering on the starry-eyed but I’ll talk about Rwakoma, who is still alive and hearty and as spell binding a story teller as he could be a photographer even at 76. (A hint: Stultiens believes Katuramu may have been one of the most gifted African photographers working in 1930s through to 1950s, a man who understood the value of the work he was creating with a very basic camera). 

But back to Rwakoma. 

Rwakoma is why I was interested in Ebishushani, Rwakoma is why I dug up my ageing Olympus recorder and placed it before his lips, Rwakoma is why I want to blog again, Rwakoma is why I’m suddenly going to exhibitions again. Rwakoma is why you should go see Ebishushani. 

If you do choose to go to this exhibition

1.       You will see the Yashica camera that took photos on October 9, 1962, on the sunny Tuesday Uganda was declared an independent nation, free of Great Britain rule. We can debate whether Uganda actually got “real independence” long into the night until Umeme turns out the electricity, but the camera is on display during the exhibition! A museum piece not yet tucked away for scholars to pore over. 

2.       You may run into Elly Rwakoma himself, Newsboy cap stuck firmly on his head, brown eyes twinkling behind thick glasses, grey bearded, with a walking stick but voice booming; ready to talk to anyone who asks a question about his photographs. Rwakoma, a qualified grade two teacher, still has a very sharp memory for dates and people he photographed or met. If you are lucky, he will tell you about some of his “camera-man” escapades in 1960s Uganda or more importantly…

3.       Rwakoma photographed nearly all Uganda’s Presidents from Milton Obote to Yoweri Museveni over 50 years, was fortunate to lunch or drink with them. Be a fly on the wall when some major political events were planned or just happened. Rwakoma walks around with 50 years of Ugandan history in his head and in his photographs and it is only when you go see Ebishushani and realise what is on show does not represent even 20% of what still remains to be developed from his film strips that you are forced to whistle in wonder. And hope Stultiens and her assistant Rumanzi Canon can quickly out more Rwakoma work. 

4.       Rwakoma “accidentally” documented an assassination attempt on President Godfrey Binaisa in Iganga sometime in 1980. Frame by frame. From just before the shooting started to the aftermath with a shaken President Binaisa brought out before the people again to reassure them the president had not been shot dead. But many died. Future President Yoweri Museveni was at the function and in the VIP tent when that shooting occurred, he was a minister of defence, and could have died too. The photographic evidence is on show in the Ebishushani exhibition. I could spend hours gazing at those faces and trying to identify the people in them and their subsequent fates. 

5.       You will see Uganda pre-1986. Pre-1962. Before the people who lived through those significant years knew they were living through epochal changes. Ebishushani is a chance you will not find anywhere since the destruction of the Uganda Television (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation) during the privatization fever of the 1990s. 

Come see the Ebishushani Exhibition. It is not just a once in a year experience, it may be a once in a lifetime event.