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ARTS: Saints and sinners

Adonias Ocom’s halos fall on unusual suspects

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Normally, a saint is a holy or pious person. In ordinary speech, it might mean someone known to be good or morally upright. Not so, says Adonias Ocom. The painter sculptor has an ongoing exhibition at Afriart Gallery, Kamwokya-Kampala which seeks to challenge this view of sainthood. Under the title `Who is your Saint?’ Ocom satirically questions the traditional stereotype of sainthood in our society. He invokes day to day life experiences, prevailing political discourse, and sexual innuendoes in form of dressing and body enhancements on his canvas to stimulate debate on moral prejudices and stereotyping.

Technically, the artist employs paper collages of wasted material – including discarded newspapers to depict recycling as an alternative and authentic art medium. And, unlike the typical approach of pasting paper on canvas to create a tapestry of collage in the artwork, the artist blends the medium with water colour to produce an artwork that is energetic, vibrant and bold in nature. His images assume a striking three dimensional look on the canvas. He sometimes creates double scenes; by drawing sketchy images in the background and completely finished drawings in the foreground. He says this ensures the central characters in his drawings are not isolated and the artwork has a rhythm.

The artist works back and forth, often times constructing and deconstructing ideas on canvas like a sculptor (he has a background in sculpture having worked with renowned sculptor George Kyeyune). As a result, he is both dexterous and innovative.

His saintly halos belong to people on the street; vending merchandise, dressed in sexually provocative attire, riding boda boda, or frying rolex – the chapatti and fried eggs and vegetable wrap served hot and fresh on city streets.

Sometimes the stereotypical hallowed characters are depicted together with the stereotypically vile. A president of a powerful country is painted together with skimpily dressed nubile women caressing his bare chest, for example. The contrast is designed to spur a conversation about their morality. In the end Ocom asserts that anybody can be a saint – as long as they influence or impact lives positively.

So, if you are poor and cannot afford a proper meal and you walk up to the rolex guy and he fixes you something to eat on credit, he is your saint. He has saved you from hunger. But, does a sex worker enhances her beauty to lure powerful men become a saint if her motives are nobler; like fending for their families? That is the question.

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`Who is your Saint?’ is on at Afriart Gallery on Kennethdale Drive in Kamwokya, Kampala.

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