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Art of rebellion

One painting depicts the recent controversial stripping by Makerere University don Stella Nyanzi, in protest against alleged unfair treatment by her supervisor.

By Dominic Muwanguzi

African identity, pride and beauty, and the politics around them are the subject of Samson Ssenkaaba aka Xenson’s exhibition at Afriart Gallery in Kampala. Dubbed the `Pro Afro exhibition’, it conveys the message of African identity against a background of neo-colonialism, human excesses, and material culture. With the black continent caught up in the web of political, economic and social tyranny, this multi-disciplinary showcase is a tool for Africans to emancipate themselves from all these types of oppressions.

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Afro hairstyles and naked black bodies abound to portray positions and symbolize views. Both have since time immemorial been used as tools to protest against brutal establishments.

One painting depicts the recent controversial stripping by Makerere University don Stella Nyanzi, in protest against alleged unfair treatment by her supervisor.

Afro hairstyles and black bodies take aim at human excesses

Xenson’s style of blending contemporary and traditional elements in his art is also seen in this exhibit. A hip-hop artist and activist, the conceptual artist adds poetry- one of the three elements of hip-hop- to his paintings. Poetry is also central in African traditional culture as a medium of knowledge and wisdom.

Additionally, he fuses fashion- one of his many genres- in his painting to stimulate a broad visual narrative of the subject matter. In his series of Wale-Wale paintings, the artist paints the famous Kitengi fabric that is symbolic of African identity.

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The Afro hairstyle is a central motif in this exhibition. The paintings on the walls of Afriart gallery dot this theme.

The notion of the Afro hairstyle popularised during the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s, has since become a symbol of rebellious expression with key figures like Wole Soyika adorning it. The Afro like the dread-locks is emblematic of the African identity – although sometimes it’s interpreted as a fashion statement.

The artist also uses the AK 47 motif to represent the despotic tendency of the government. According to the artist, the soldiers wielding guns on the streets of Kampala during and after the general elections are a sign of a state under siege by the military. In his performance at the opening of the exhibition, the artist decried the continuous pillaging of the state resources by government aristocrats. He wondered what Kintu- the forefather of Buganda Kingdom- would make of the present situation. The art performance, a segment of the exhibition provided a dramatic visual narrative to the display of the artwork.

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Afriart is located in Kamwokya along Kira Road. The exhibition opened at Afriart gallery on May 13 and will show for three weeks

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