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ARTS: Bark-cloth gets artistic break

Artists experiment more with media on synthetic surfaces

|DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Bark-cloth has become global as part of a trend that has seen organic fabric featuring on European fashion runaways. In international art festivals the showcase of artwork integrated with bark-cloth has prompted positive criticism for artists like Sanaa Gateja and   Xenson at the PIASA art festival and Johannesburg Art fair.

In academia, lecturers like Dr. Venny Nakazibwe of Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art Makerere, have conducted research on the subject of bark-cloth as part of their doctoral thesis (PhD), while Tusiime Mathias and Fred Mutebi Kato are experimenting with major innovations on the material.

Now a show on barkcloth is on at AKA Gallery in Kampala featuring some of the prominent barkcloth artists like Yakuze Ivan, Lubega Felix and Nakisanze Sarah.

They are showcasing art integrated with the fabric and other media like hardwood, metal, and synthetic fabrics. Yakuze’s figurative artworks laced with bark-cloth and found objects, specifically, metal debris and household items, suggest a social commentary on themes like recycling, humanity, and women empowerment. The artist’s employment of bark-cloth as a primary “canvas” for his work instead of the synthetic material  illustrates the  experimental nature of his work, inviting audiences to engage with the artwork in a deeper way; appreciating the visual aesthetics and cultural relevance of the bark-cloth.

This experimental approach is also evident in Lubega’s installations of hardwood, metal, sisal and bark-cloth. The untitled series of artwork, in abstract style, offer the audience a visual inquiry into the relationship between the contemporary and traditional, the fusion of organic and synthetic material into one artwork and preserving and integrating hardwood in its natural form. The evident use of battered wood- a recurring theme in his art-partly illustrates the appreciation and exploration of elements like depth and form that are evident with hardwood sculptures, while on the other hand, it can be interpreted as a potential tool of interrupting the thought process of the public with the unusual leading to a deeper appreciation of the art.

The technique of not titling the artwork suggests the artist’s motive of communicating the process of creating the artwork rather than conveying a particular message.

Besides the bark-cloth theme, other artists in the exhibit work with metal to construct installations or sculptures that explore and interrogate the subject of experimentation while tackling issues of power and authority, unity and human anatomy.

John Odoch’s sculptural figures; sculpted from casted metal, convey the artist’s exploration of the human figure in the context of beauty and shape, while employing these figures as a symbol of diverse social and cultural practices.

`The Thumb Pianist, Pipe-smoker’ and `Elegant Lady’ images are evidence of figurative representation. In the same manner, Peter Mafabi’s installations created from wires (metal) highlight a metaphorical demonstration of the political-social aspects of day to day life. `The glory of Leadership’ is an installation of a group of ants moving upwards a tree trunk. The insect in the lead has a golden enamel coat symbolising the splendor associated with being in-charge. The strength of this artwork lies in its simplicity where the artist uses wires to construct his objects. This medium is familiar with young children who use it to create imaginative objects to play with.

This exhibit reflects the diverse artistic exploration of artists in the context of studio skills and experimentation. Through such works like integrating bark-cloth with synthetic media or employing sculptures as figurative imagery of day to day life experiences, the artists are enable to inspire their contemporaries into innovations as much as  tackle issues that affect them on a day to day basis.

Other exhibitors are Nakisanze Sarah, Ronex and Paul Kintu. The exhibition is showing at AKA gallery, located on Bukoto Street, Kamwokya.

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