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Already made art

Local creators courting art of appropriation

| DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | When Henry Marcel Duchamp in 1917 showcased a toilet component in an art exhibit, the art world at the time went berserk. There was a frenzy of criticism from art scholars and critics that alleged that what the artist had presented was not art.  To these opponents, art entailed “to do thing” like had been the norm with earlier artists like Leonardo De Vinci and Michelangelo.  For an artist to flip over the practice, like R. Mutt (the initials he signed the artwork with) had done, was unconventional and was not going to be accepted. In fact, the installation, which included a porcelain urinal propped atop a pedestal, was finally rejected by the Society of Independent Artists. Despite such a verdict, the artist had sub-consciously birthed the movement of conceptual art where the art of appropriation falls; turning an already made object into art. This avarte-agarde creation soon provoked interest and inspiration from his 20th century contemporaries like Pablo Picasso, John Kasper, Andy Warhol and most recently Jeff Koons with his reproduction of banal objects such as balloons into creative works of art.

In the local context, several artists have adopted the technique of appropriation and this is visible with a showcase of artworks in numerous continental and local exhibits or competitions. One of such artworks that easily springs up to mind, is Matt Kayem aka Michael Matthew Kayiwa’s installation, `Stuck Traveller 2016’ that featured in the Kampala Art Biennale 2016. The installation comprises an old desktop computer, worn-out chair, desk, heap of earth with grass, and gourds. The artist says the installation contributes to the theme of virtual mobility; highlighting how technology (digital era) has impacted our movement as people of the 21st Century.

“The chair fixed in the soil bears a burnt marking of a person’s bottom, indicating that the sitter has been there for too long to the point that their buttocks have singed the surface of the chair. Similarly, the grass growing in the soil where the chair is fixed is symbolic to the time the person has been sitting on that chair working,” explains the artist.

Wasswad aka Donald Wasswa’s installation titled Specimen X that competed in the Barclays L’atelier Art competition in South Africa in 2016, which comprises Mulokonyi (cattle foot bones) capped in a glass bottle, is another example of “already made object” or “found objects” showcased as an artwork.  The artwork explores the subject of human life.  “The nature of human is brittle but the greatest strength lies deep within. It is the inside that distorts the outside,” reads part of the manifesto to the installation.  Incidentally the artwork won him a prize at the fete.  Wasswad has in the recent past been experimenting with diverse techniques in his art to reach out to varied audiences and integrate his creative practice in new art spaces.

With an emerging trend to shift from the traditional art practices like painting and sculpture, and the onslaught of new technological inventions, artists are left with little options but to be relevant to the demands of post-modern society.  This implies that more artworks created from already made objects will continue to be showcased in regional and continental festivals as a means of responding to the contemporary environment.

The notion of  adopting  “the already made” into art demands creative ingenuity that may not only  require and artist’s adept skills but a knack to be innovative with what everyone may consider the ordinary.  Matt Kayem, Wasswad and a few others command the lead here.


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