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ARTS: Hidden messages in Kampala’s scenery

What Clifford Kibuuka’s colourful hues reveal about sound of the city

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Kibuuka Clifford has become defined by his painting of Kampala settlements; compacted together, and with tiny glowing light illuminating them in the dark. The settlements- sometimes shanty in nature or boxy in form – capture the mood of Kampala as energetic, vibrant, and eerie. Social disparity looms large as the haves and have-nots live side by side in this densely populated city, which is the capital of Uganda.

His ongoing show at Umoja Art Gallery, adjacent Kobil petrol Station in Kamwokya, reverberates with this theme, although with a new approach. This time the Kampala scenery the artist showcases includes road-side vendors of food-stuffs like vegetables and rolex (a fast food roll of fried eggs and Chapati). Is it a figurative representation of growing entrepreneurship and innovations in the city or a depiction of desperation wrought by a “biting “economy? Or is it all about the growing population of youthful mouths to feed?

The oil works are punctuated with impasto and a careful contrast of colour nuances that infuse the paintings with the energy of Kampala and Kibuuka’s painting of Gadhafi Mosque adds to the hidden messages. Captured in the aerial format, it not only celebrates the city’s monumental architecture, but also the neighbourhood that is typically oriental – as observed from the boxy settlements. This could be a cultural masterpiece; informing of Kampala’s rich history since, from the colonial time, the Old Kampala hill where the edifice sits was a residence of both Indians and Arab settlers who secured it from Kabaka Muteesa.

The same impact can be seen in the shanty abodes with dilapidated Mabaati (corrugated) iron sheets on ramshackle abodes, reminiscent of city slums where low income residents live. They might be seen as an eye-sore and sign of the growing neglect of the poor by the government. But in the paintings, the settlements compete for equal space with posh or permanent structures in what could be a commentary on poor of the city.

Kibuuka calls the exhibit `Sound of Colour #Kampala’ and paints the landscapes as beautiful displays, but his focus could be on the challenges modernisation. Or is it merely a documentation of historical architecture before it is possibly razed and lost to pave way for new constructions?

The exhibition opened on April 28 at Umoja art gallery and will show throughout the month of May.

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