Multimedia artist Xenson tackles contemporary issues with creative flair
Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI |Even before I entered Afriart on 7th in Kampala’s Industrial Area to see Samson Ssenkaaba aka Xenon’s latest exhibition, I knew I was going to see rare creativity. It is a quality that defines this artist. The exhibition is teasingly titled “GunflowerMask”, which is an intriguing juxtaposition of clichéd symbols. Once inside, I was struck by Xenson’s apparent fiery hunger to push art creativity to the limit. There were paintings, photographs, and installations. Everything was mostly imposing in large format.
There was this model posing with, as a fashion object, an AK 47; one of the most lethal contemporary weapons. In another a gun was hidden inside a cluster of bananas atop a woman’s head, and yet in another, it was worn across the chest of a little girl who kept playing with it as if it is a toy and in another the gun was shielding a man’s genitals. What was going on?
The figurative allusions to the social-political global landscape are clear enough. Just as the invitation to discuss topics like migration, war, human brutality and suffering. It was also clear the artist was cleverly employing the technical tools of poetry and fashion, pop-art (graffiti) and theatre on display for comic relief while dealing with the hard issues.
The gun, flower, and mask motifs kept recurring. He was emphasizing a message, highlighting the unusual. His figures were made to interrupt thought processes with questions about the status quo. The context is disrupted.
When he paints poppies; they are little yellow flowers in blossom – symbols of peace, justice, and the end of wars. These are not the red poppies of World War remembrance of injustice, uncommon bravery, and sacrifice. Poppies dominate his canvases but in a playful way.
The artist ‘s adoption of these delicate flowers in the midst of tackling hard topics like war, immigration and brutality that have left communities fragmented and decimated is a mark of empathy for humanness. He implores his audience to feel the social injustices and break the bondage. In one painting, a naked female with a masked face is breaking free through barbed-wire. But in the background is a play mat. The suggestion of a return to innocence in spite of this melee is clear.
Xenson does not come from a culture of masks as symbols. But he loves them and wears them in performances. In African iconography, masks are spiritual objects, specifically in masquerades. When Xenson’s subjects wear them, they protect, hide, and obscure.
In an installation titled `Kibuuka O’mumbaale, a figure of a popular god of war in Buganda is sculpted from rubber tyres and barkcloth with an elaborate tail in flight to suggests fierce bravery and intolerance; qualities that are linked to warfare. His apparition of thunder and lightning is known to make enemies shiver.
Xenson’s photography is of global culture with allusions to Buganda. The subjects are either paired, inclined to a certain position, or breaking free in black and white monochromes.
This powerful display cements Xenson’s argument that artists need to move out of their comfort zones and present persuasive, relevant, current and cross-cultural artworks. That is authentic engagement. The exhibit GunflowerMask is curated by Jennifer Mpyisi, and is showing until November 2017 at Afriart Gallery, 7th Street in Kampala’s Industrial Area, opposite the Bread and Cake Shop.