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Art that cares

`We have lost our capacity to empathise; to ask what if it were me’

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | For his boda boda helmet project, artist Collin Sekajugo creatively decorates works motor-cycle rider helmets using textile collages or paintings in a campaign against road accidents. Kampala has narrow roads that are quite busy and accidents are common.

The boda- boda helmets are Sekajugo’s way of responding to menace. He targets boda-boda because the motorbike taxis have been identified as the biggest cause of road accidents for all road users; including pedestrians, passengers and cyclists themselves. Sekajugo’s project is driven by his need to demonstrate affection for the victims. It’s empathy in art.

Understanding and sharing another person’s experiences and emotions is difficult. Increasing cruelty and hatred against immigrants, in war and human epidemics shows a global deficit of empathy.

“We have lost our capacity to empathise; to ask what if it were me,” says Wandia Njoya, cultural analyst.

Sekajugo is a social entrepreneur. He wants his art to contribute to solving a problem. He creates awareness on different pertinent issues. In the past in this has been on recycling and dumping. Now it is boda boda and road safety with art and entertaining layered therein.

Sekajugo has appointed himself to be a boda boda road safety “ambassador”. He wears the helmets. He thinks this will inspire others to do the same.

Most boda-boda riders shun shared passenger helmets. They consider them dirty. In some cases people; especially women, reject them for aesthetic reasons like fear of messing up their hair.

Artworks of empathy are evident in Lilian Nabulime’s series of hardwood sculptures that navigate the subject of HIV and Aids in young women at universities. A university lecturer at Makerere Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Art, Nabulime’s figurine spark diverse conversation on the epidemic and its related taboo topic of sexuality in young women on campuses.

Statistically, young women at higher institutions of learning are more likely to be infected by the disease because of their active lifestyle and little knowledge on how they can prevent themselves from acquiring the disease.  In her exhibition “Dreams and Consequences” she re-ignited the awareness campaigns on the disease.

“I feel it is important to have conversations going on that warn young women so that they can avoid some challenges, and manage their womanhood effectively,” she says.

Such art which focuses attention to critical issues in the community promotes the plurality of voices which is an essential component of good art.  In the case of empathy in art; it endorses divergent views, opinions and interpretations of artwork. It allows the artist to give voice to others to re-tell their stories through over-representation of some and under-representation of others. It builds bridges with people who are distant from each other.

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