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ARTS: To live is to become

Uganda artist Waswad steps into controversy

By Dominic Muwanguzi

The opening day of Ugandan artist Donald Augustine Wasswa aka Waswad at Afriart in Kampala has gone down in local art lore because of one of the works on display titled controversially as `My Screw ups 1, 2& 3’.

This is a composition of three pictures, each done separately using crumpled paper and framed against a dark background. Each of the three “paintings” is painted with monochromic colours of white grey and brown. They have been described as bravery and classic paintings that show the artist’s maturity.

Waswad’s exhibition shows he has personal initiative, researches his subjects, and is technically innovative.

In this show titled `To live is to become’, the artist showcases a unique mixed media artworks. It is a departure from what Waswad, who has been exhibiting for the last seven years, has done before.

Waswad has over the years cut his teeth as an environment artist, employing the elephant motif on his canvases to convey the message of wildlife conservation and emphasize the notion of a clean and green environment.

Waswad says he selected the elephant symbol purposely because of its gigantic and noble characteristics; a representation of the harmonious lifestyle of animals in the jungle and also a social metaphor to the social lifestyle of mankind.

But this large mammal is relentlessly poached for its pricy ivory. The ruthless hunt means it faces imminent threat of extinction in the wild.  To help popularize the save an elephant campaign, Waswad has primarily painted and sculpted the elephant and created one of his most popular shows titled `I Speak Elephanish 2010’.

In the current exhibition, however, the artist has shifted away from this wildlife conservation campaign. This time he is working with human face to explore and examine the habitation of humans in undesirable environments where both fear and desire for change arise.

According to the artist, it is the ability of humans to adapt to these restrictions that intrigues him.

To push his objective, the artist employs clean-line-drawing on paper using ink as a medium. The result is a series of structural drawings with caricature like human faces intertwined with each other decorated on the whole “canvas”.

As is the norm with him, Wawad also showcases sculptures sculpted from hardwood like Mugavu and Ebony to cross-examine the theme of human behaviourism. The dysfunctional and functional sculptures are molded with a niche of a human face and sometimes the allusion to human activities in economic-exploits like oil mining.

The Most Weird Animals (TMWA) is a pair of drawings that sparks off his interrogation of the behaviourisms of human beings.  Like other drawings in the show, this duet has the major subject of the human face in the fore ground. The drawing suggests how people behave in different environments.

“Someone may come to this exhibition and act like he’s happy and confident and yet outside there they are shy and gloomy,” says the artist.

That is the idea abstractly presented in the triplet titled `My Screwed Ups 1, 2&3’.

It is a relief to have an artist showcasing a new body of work: different technique, style and concept. This is a manifestation that the artist is growing artistically and intellectually; exploring keenly what is happening around him and at the same time engaging the public into an artistic conversation that stimulates debate on the political-social status quo.

The Exhibition is showing now at Afriart gallery located in Kamwokya, Kenneth dale Drive.


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