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ARTS: ‘Ladies’ Man’ Ssali strikes again

Majority of his close friends are female, most of his clients want women-themed works, and most of the people who collect his works, locally and internationally, are women. How then can one possibly be wrong to conclude that renowned Uganda acrylic painter Yusuf Ssali is the ultimate `ladies’ man’ – at least in the artistic sense?

In reality – and let’s get this straight – Ssali is a married in a stable relationship. In fact, he is not known for philandering. The thing is that Ssali has a special thing with women, which has trickled through his art for the past thirteen years like no other subject. This is accentuated by his sphere of influence being dominated by womankind.

They all have been mesmerized by one thing – African women. Moreover, Ssali is not alone in this enterprise; countless Ugandan artists have arrogated themselves the responsibility to ‘speak’ for women and have, in the process, rendered the female body in their art in a plethora of forms ranging from glamour to the lewd, all for different reasons.

The woman’s breast has suffered the greatest wrath of artists as they have sought to define and redefine it in infinite of shapes and colours.

Ssali has, meanwhile, sought to bring out womankind’s side that appeals to a universal audience without having to vulgarise her. This could probably explain the special love relationship between his audience and his work for such a long time.

Since he graduated from art school at Makerere University in Kampala in 2003, his practice has been limited to acrylics, a water-based paint medium because of being allergic to oil-based paint. In acrylics, he wrought semi abstracts works with no clear depiction of the women’s facial details. The intense primary colours that dominate his palette have radiated the subjects in all their grace and charm in a way that quite easily casts an entrancing reaction.

Ssali has since the recent past been gradually gravitating towards another genre in the form of non-representational abstraction whereas keeping faithful to ‘his women’. In this genre he employs a wide-ranging colour palette to experiment and come up with works that have little or no affinity to forms in the natural world. This approach is increasingly becoming popular among his collectors. It was made popular during the age of post-modern Abstract Expression that started in New York in the 1960s championed by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Any Warhol. It was at first defiance against the established norms of formalism but now it has been entrenched as the de facto technique practiced around the world today. Since last December into mid this month, Yusuf Ssali’s works were on exhibition at AKA Gallery in Kamwokya, Kampala, one of Uganda’s leading spaces keen on promoting a dynamic array of techniques from modern art to the avant-garde. He has been widely exhibited in France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, the United States and, of course, Uganda.

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