How a child’s curiosity created international celebrity
Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Charles Kamya is a self-taught Uganda artist who has found a spot among the masters. He recently emerged overall winner in a global sculpture competition; the Holzbildhauer Symposium Brienz in Switzerland, after beating over one hundred sculptors from around the world. One of his works is a statuette, `Going Home’, which has been collected by Kenyan First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta.
The 230cmx80cm sculpture conveys a rural African woman going home after work in the garden. She is a towering figurine in abstract style, combining elements of double and plain curved surfaces and the regular sphere motif. In Kamya’s work, these symbolise the concept of the origin of human life- the embryo- and the globe, planet earth on which mankind inhabit. It is a subtle comment on human life, identity, and spirituality.
Kamya works specifically with albizia hardwood (Mugavu); a genus subtropical and tropical tree that grows in Asia, Africa, and Madagascar.
His art is playful and cheerful as he carefully preserves intricate details as he juxtaposes nature and art. His sculptures meander like the root stumps they are curved from in their natural form. But the artist adeptly exaggerates shapes within his figurines to create a sense of wild- growth. He is continuously exploring concepts and integrates studio ingenuity and craftiness.
The lineal artwork carries variant textures and patterns that are evocative of the organic character of the medium used. To preserve that natural quality is central to the artist’s work and instinctively reverberates with the African traditional approach to wood curving where wood carvers approached the subject of sculpture with intent to preserve the vegetation. In fact most of the hardwood sculptures from ancient times are an archive of the trees that are now extinct.
But Kamya’s pieces take a more contemporary approach to sculpture construction. They are inspired by contemporary themes. Stylistically, they are sleek and understated in approach to wood, and employ modernistic concepts like working with found -objects (aluminum or copper plates.
But Kamya likes to explore new forms and dimensions in his art. So, although his figurines typically feature double and plain curved surfaces, he uses spaces to create interesting variations.
The abstract sculptures are thematically narratives of contemporary society issues; like the position of the African woman in society as a mother, worker and a symbol of beauty. He will also tackle themes of everyday struggle and the futility of life that confound him as an individual. It is a curiosity that began when Kamya was a child.
At one point he did not have money to pay school fees and was on the brink of dropping out. But he chanced on the curious idea to collect root stumps that had always fascinated him from the family garden and sell them as sculptures. He quickly discovered that although they were functional and preserved the natural forms of the roots, they had an aesthetic that appealed to the public. Later he was to discover that the craft of root carving is an ancient one and is visible in many cultures across the world. That is what provides his essential inspiration and ingenuity.