Parody, conceptualism at block printing exhibition
By Dominic Muwanguzi
Printmaking may be a traditional art practice much familiar with African traditional artisans but contemporary artists continue to embrace it because of the studio technique and depth of concept that underlies the genre. It is a type of art that involves the rigorous use of a screen placed against “canvas” and a palette of monochromic acrylics is applied following a particular pattern. The artwork, unlike painting, has elements of three dimensional images because of emphasis on form and perception.
An exhibition celebrating the genre opened recently at AKA gallery in Kamwokya in Kampala. Titled simply `Block printing’, the exhibit showcases some of the big names on the local scene like Ssendagire Paul, Yiga Robert, Ronald Ronex Ahimbisibwe and Ddamba Ismael. Featured in the exhibition is Joseph Cartoon; a Kenyan artist whose black and white prints on show are catchy because of their cartoon style.
Joseph Cartoon like the name suggests uses feminine cartoon-like figures to convey his message on the subject of womanhood. In the prints, Cartoon interrogates themes like motherhood and femininity with specific attention to the role of a woman in society: as a mother, family provider and role model. The employment of coarse, dark black, and white palette with cartoon images, gives the artwork an attribute of child-like drawings. Nevertheless, the work cannot be interpreted as simplistic because of its strength to stimulate visual dialogue on the style and technique employed.
Ssendagire’s caricature imagery on canvas stimulates the narrative on the function of woman in society. The cartoon female figures-although not similar to Cartoon’s sketchy drawings-explore and interrogate the day to day activities of both the rural and urban woman. In one drawing, the artist presents a woman returning from the well carrying a water pot. On her back she carries a baby who seemingly is naughty: it’s playing on its mother’s back yet she’s burdened with the task of balancing the water pot on the head. This composition is a metaphor for the burden rural women go through to make ends meet daily.
The technique of artistic parody by both Ssendagire and Cartoon in form of caricature drawings evokes the strength of such practice in captivating the attention of the audience. In both scenarios, the artists’ artworks are attractive not only to an artistic audience but also to those who have little knowledge on art.
Unlike the semi-abstract prints of the latter artists, Ddamba and Ronex’s artworks are conceptual created with primarily a monochromic palette. With an introspective niche, unlike the former artworks that convey a specific message, these images are a showcase of the artists’ subconscious. Here, the artists emphasises the use of primary and secondary motifs to question and interrogate the status quo. This is evident in Ddamba’s drawing series `Reflection 1 &2’ where he uses the fish motif as a symbol for peace. On the other hand, Ronex’s Untitled drawings are evocative of his sculptor background. The artist wedges thick lines on canvas-sculpri-and abstract human figure to invite artistic dialogue and interpretation from his audience.
Such an exhibition offers the public an insight into the past of Kampala’s contemporary art scene. As many artists and audiences make haste to embrace new art forms like video art, film and installation, it is important to look back and appreciate the traditional genres and how they influenced artists like Ronex who is so keen to work with non-traditional art forms. The exhibition also contributes to the conversation on how different artistic tools and techniques can be used to explore day to day themes. This is a manifestation of the creative and innovative minds of artists from time to time.
The exhibition opened April 8 and runs to May 6 at AKA gallery, located in Kamwokya next to the Goethe Zentrum Kampala offices (UGCS) and Alliance Francaise Kampala.