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.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lissingmink Is Dead!


Lissingmink is dead!

That is what flashed through my mind when I read the death announcement for Joy Masaba in Monday’s New Vision (May 4, 2015). Not the Joy Masaba name I was reading but Lissingmink! One of the funniest, best bloggers I had ever read, started to know in 2006 and was reading right up to 2010 when her interest in blogging, like many of us petered out as Facebook, then Twitter, then all the rest consumed us and juggling between the many blogging platforms that came up was no longer worth it. 
She was bold in print. She spoke tenderly. She loved. She was fierce. She wrote like this…

Monday, May 08, 2006
so sick of love songs...

he is leaving... i am trying to figure out what i am feeling.

"what do you find in him, he is soooo annoying, can you believe who she's going to see...? and the usual grumbles and mutterings went on and and on about this new fellow in my life...well, this was the second phone call, I was going to hook up with him...he just drove everyone nuts with anger, irritation or jealousy- "my God" i thought- "he must be like an enigma of sorts- jackpot!". this is just too interesting to pass over; should keep me on my toes.

After the first date...well, it wasnt a date date- but yeah, there was no looking back... the attention was flattering, his arrogance refreshing, his outlook endearing- till the moon came out, and that was it! like the annoying itch that you can reach- then it was just pain... stumped my feet, lashed my toungue, hissed, pulled silent treatment... but always had amnesia of sorts- yeah must have been, why did i keep on going on 'not a date dates'?

settled into genuine camaradarie... enjoying each others company and knowing when to scream "red flag!!" and the other party sounding the retreat... soon lulled into distant camaraderie... and after 3 weeks, "oh hi, ...ok let's hook up" or bump into each other at one pub or the other...and "where u seated ? what you drinking..." pretty cool.

Then silence... 2 months " want to lose at pool?" cant resist a challenge ok a dare; meet old friends laugh, argue, get really really drunk- was a good night... then the question comes "when did you say you were leaving?" he clears throat, and mumbles something about going to take a piss ...i think hell no "you taking the piss!" "what?" he asks- did i say that out loud? i must be pissed..." see you guys; when do YOU leave? "

he is cowering- weird coz he is like really tall- 'in two days"




"miss me?"

"does it make a difference?.. take care, was great.."

phone ringing..." what?" "what do you mean... am I ok...oh you leaving.. no cant see you off, fucking, write if you can, bye"

ok, you cannot cry. why, he was a good friend... so, he didnt... doesnt matter!- can someone turn off that goddam radio!

phone again... "jazz tomorrow? baxmba and austrian jazz string quartet..." "ok.. what time?"

we back- yeah, how did you guess? no one likes him either- ...and i aint sick of love time to move on.

posted by lissingmink @ 5:16 AM

Notice how she ignored all the grammar rules and you did not mind? She was idiosyncratic like that.

Do you really need to write a carefully written love story, an anthology piece, after reading that? I did not and begin to believe, for Uganda, the best writers were blogging. 

Now that she is dead, died Saturday, May 2, 2015, I see condolence messages on her Facebook page that bring rushing back so many of her poignant posts and I see how steeped in the truth of her life they were. 

When I told a friend that I had just learned Lissingmink was dead, she was surprised and asked me, “I thought she was Kenyan? Isn’t she?” 

No, Lissingmink was not Kenyan but Castro Ambiyo in his grief stricken remembrance gives me a clue why so many thought Lissingmink was Kenyan…

That Joy Masaba went to be with the Lord is sad. Joy was my sister. You see, one night I woke up and decided to go to Uganda to search for opportunity that was in 2006. I got myself living at Wandegea flats just opposite Makerere University main gate and within the estate was this tuck shop where we all shopped and engaged with Professors in discussions through the night. But there was this lady, brilliant in thought and with such a big heart. She had lived in Kenya and had all the mannerisms of a Kenyan. We hit it off, we shared books, watched loads of movies, had gin and tonic together, argued, played chess and scrabble together, she became like my sister so we had those sibling moments. But all else, Joy had a big heart I remember the beef peppered with sugar, cabbage and ugali. RIP Joy Masaba. — feeling sad. (Castro Ambiyo) 

I learned through the tearful reminiscences on her wall, she was not simply showing off when she blogged, “Clearing book shelf now, and what do i see, my piano sheet music- i was supposed to get back to that. drat missed the exams this year! sigh...soon, very soon- stroke favorite music book lovingly, hum a few notes, and oh well, where's my Kaweesa CD(topping my charts at the moment).”

Music was a very real part of her life and she had her faithful companions in that activity too like Joan Ngarachu, “This is distressing! You were loved by many. I loved your humor, energy, your smile! and insight. I loved harmonizing with you! This is a tremendous loss. I rest you in God's loving arms! May you rest in peace.” 

Here comes the “couple” she blogged about who were in an accident, and omitted, in her post, her kindness to them or how much her visits meant to them, the joy she brought them. First Felly Juma, angry at her friend’s demise, “Pain...gut wrenching, throw up, can't believe it kind of pain! Joy Masaba, we survived a nasty accident and boarding school and all the ish in between!!! Can't believe it you are gone. R.I.P Love. Sleep with angels. May the Lord welcome you safely in His arms.”

Cheek-o Dread was in Lissingmink’s life, in nearly all the windows she opened up, and they made music and merry and he tells us, “Joy Masaba you have been my one true pal since the mid 90s, and I recall the chat we had soon after my accident when I flew to Kla and you had just been discharged from hospital.
I remember the drum sessions & drinking over by that pub near Phoenix, and the many bars we haunted in South B.
I remember the bitchsessions about Touch FM, and the many drinks in Wandegs!!

You my dear friend will sorely be missed!!
May you R.I.P!!

Julliet Opondo speaks for all the rest of us, too busy, absorbed in our lives, who let the important people fade quietly out of our lives, “Lord knows, I enjoyed my 20s. The mischief, the partying...its the kind of stuff memories are made of. The best bit is the fact that you are surrounded by like minded friends that made those years priceless. So it breaks my heart, almost 100 times over when I find out, through fb, that my dear friend passed away on Friday. I am so heartbroken right now, but for the most part I am overwhelmed with guilt. Because if our friendship meant so much to me, I should have kept in touch...All I can do now is cry and slowly process this reality. Joy Masaba, we had some of the most fun times ever. And my biggest regret is that we did not get to pick up and continue this in our 30s. Sleep well dear friend. Today I mourn from the deepest part of my being.”

From her blog, when she used to blog, Lissingmink lived her life fully. She loved, was loved, cherished and was cherished, remembered and is remembered, “I have vivid memories of you, and yes, we should have hooked up in Kisumu when you suggested it, and you have come to Kampala that time- and should have made it to Mombasa too.
I am stuck with your cell number which is off! you shant log on to your IM again and we shall not share another 'piano bar' moment'.

This saturday as you take your final earthly journey, listen out for Beethoven's 'moonlight sonata'- dont make a face, I played that better than you (Dr. Fr. Okello can bear witness!). We can share one last moment.

Rest In Peace Ramu- (you said it came from ramulus right- shall read up my greek mythology, till then, i will still crack up when i hear that name), and thank you for all the moments we shared; they were happy and carefree moments.