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 Abe 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.