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ARTS: When elephants kiss

Kitimbo’s unusual go-green art

Art has long been a catalyst for social change, from the anti-war Dadaists during World War I to the music of Nina Simone during the 1960s civil rights movement in America. For as long problems and tragedies remain, art appears to always seek to play an intervening role to surmount them. At present, the environment appears to be the centerfold of artistic advocacy all over the world, including in Uganda.

Ugandan artist Ibra Kitimbo’s show, the first on the calendar of AKA Gallery in Kamwokya, Kampala, is showcasing under the theme ‘Nature determines our Culture’.

Kitimbo uses images filled with forest greenery to point out that nature has a fundamental bearing on how humans live, eat, and even behave. Yet, he reasons, people are mindlessly destroying nature as they attaching no value to it.

One of his works on show titled ‘Secret Lovers’ personifies two elephants hiding in the bush to “talk love”. They appear to find comfort in the protective shield of green around them to consummate their romance, completely oblivious of its imminent decimation.

Moreover, the elephants are not alone in this dilemma; the entire nature and species is balancing on stilts trying to navigate the relentless assault of man against his environment.

In another piece titled ‘The Road to Success’, two herbalists gaily march into the forest to harvest medicinal plants. To them this is the path to success because they owe their living to the vast array of medicines they make from nature to treat the innumerable health complications that society suffers. But, like the two elephants, these herbalists’ bliss is in danger as the very people they treat are busy degrading the sources of their precious herbs. This is a classic case of a fool cutting off the very branch he is sitting on!

In support of Kitimbo’s argument, according to new research, humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment. This means the threat in question is not merely a perceived one; it is existential and must be dealt with urgently.

Kitimbo’s goals it to awaken the public from its ignorant stupor by rendering nature in such compelling splendour that the gallery-goer will not only fall in love with it, but hopefully elicit some actions that will consequently safeguard nature. The green hues dominate nearly all his canvases essentially as a representation of vegetation.

The artist has been actively practicing since graduating from Kyambogo University in 2004 as an art teacher. He has previously worked as a ceramist, producing some trendy ware in stunning shapes and festooned with brilliant colours. This is his 26th solo art exhibition in his career. Other than in Uganda, he has showcased in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Germany. The show runs until end of January.


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