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ARTS: A brainy affair

Artist attempts to talk politics without propaganda

Kampala, Uganda |DOMINIC MUWANGUZI| The painted brains come in many colours; they are white, blue, red., and occasionally green. They are the colours of the flags of countries like the USA, France, UK, Syria and Libya and, for artist John Baptist Ssekubulwa they are metaphors of conflict in the brain and in the world.

The title of his exhibition is `Brain Damage’. It is his maiden solo exhibition and it has sparked critical conversations on global social-politics with the brain- a critical human organ- as a recurring motif.

Ssekubulwa uses brains as `tools’ that represent communities that are either victims or villains of human evils like war, corruption, racism, and forced migration and displacement. He wants viewers of his art to experience the vulnerability of the human beings in communities where conflict prevails. So he presents the brain as a solitary tool to suggest its vulnerability.

When the brain stands alone, it becomes vulnerable. It is a metaphor of helpless people, lacking control on the incidents that happen to them. The conflicts they suffer are presented as results of systems, like capitalism, that are difficult, if not impossible, to resolve at an individual level. But at other times, he shows the brain linked to other body parts; alluding to co-ordination and ability to act on the conflict.

Adoption of such `tools’ in his work is typical Ssekubulwa who likes the tools best when their attributes occur naturally in the community. He deploys the figure of a crow, for example, to suggest exploitation as the bird is renowned for its intelligence and adaptability, yet it is a scavenger bird that lives off dead carcasses.

Among his Baganda people, the crow is linked to bad luck. Seen in his art, the crow suggests evil looming large. In a surrealistic metaphor, the crow is depicted carrying away the brain; a metaphor of a community succumbing to evil! But he also paints white flowers; symbol of hope and a new beginning.

In one painting, `Amour Fashionsitas, 2018’, world leaders and senior executives of multinational companies meet at international conferences to endorse policies, treaties that have perilous implications for vulnerable nations; especially in sub-Saharan Africa. They make a show in international and regional peace agencies like United Nations and African Union. But they are silent as fire-arms are peddled from Russia, USA, and China to sow instability, discord, and pain in African states.

In another painting; ` Who Controls the Media, 2018?’ the international media is deaf and dumb. It is complex irony as these global mouth-pieces, owned by rich nations, perpetuate the notion of “exotic corruption” that is played out by the West.

Nothing is new. The injustices we see today are a replication of yesterday’s tragedies like racism, slavery and colonialism. International news shows images of dead African bodies washed up on European shores as thousands of refugees from Syria, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and many Sub-Saharan African countries endure untold suffering on the seas; just like in the slave trade days. Those who make it to the other side are faced with racism, humiliation, and deportation.

The works on show are bold, researched, authentic and relevant to our times. It is a brainy approach by an artist communicating vital messages.


Brain Damage is showing now at Afriart Gallery.

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