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ARTS: Seniority First

Exhibit finally resolves who’s an art master controversy with six luminary artists

The Independent | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | A master is a skilled individual who passes on his skills to a learner. Traditionally, in art, the master worked with apprentices and passed on the skills.  The term master gained interest locally at the Kampala Art biennale 2018 when curator Simon Njami proposed African diaspora masters to the biennial – as if Uganda does not have its own art masters.

The furor that followed is the context for a group exhibition of six Ugandan artists at Afriart gallery in Kampala. Aptly titled `Seniority First’, the exhibit features familiar names of Uganda’s modern and contemporary art; Tag Nuwagaba, Nabulime Lilian, Kizito Maria Kasule, Sanaa Gateja, Stephen Gwoktcho and Fred Mutebi. These are presented as the Ugandan art masters.  Each exhibits a particular element of seniority in their art making.

Taga is a well-known and established conservationist artist who paints wildlife and the old Kampala city that few Kampalans are familiar with in water –colour. He is arguably the first Ugandan artist to work with the transparent and sometimes delicate material. Taga has mentored many notable young artists and directly or indirectly influenced the careers of many more. He is one of the most sought after artist by both local and international art collectors.

Fred Mutebi is the master of wood-cut prints in the East African region.  Through the painstaking technique of progressive reduction method, Mutebi creates startling images of semi-abstract human figures that convey a figurative message to the political and social landscape of his immediate community. He works with barkcloth, an indigenous material to counter the narrative that Africans are not creative and cannot produce original art. Mutebi’s art appropriately fits into the global sphere of art production because of its authenticity and its communal approach to art production: the artist works with the local communities to produce the material he works on. He is a master because of large number of students who want to tap into his artistic individuality.

Sanaa Gateja does paper bead tapestries or installations. He works with a large community of women, rolling discarded paper into finer cylinder-like objects with diverse textures and forms that connote the African traditional mode of art making like weaving and stitching.

Kizito Maria Kasule’s work often explores themes of unity and love and reverberates with studio prowess.  With a revered technical proficiency of recurring stout abstract human figures with underlined gestures and facial expressions as metaphor of everyday human expression this work cannot be ignored. Kizito’s work is a rejoinder to the indigenous approach to art production where the artist seeks to tap into his community for inspiration to produce authentic and relevant art.

`Seniority First’, has finally resolved the controversy surrounding who’s an art master conversation though one may argue that the harm was already done with Njami’s insidious claims in KAB18. Each of the featured artists, except Gateja, is a product of Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Art, Makerere University. This shows the school’s enormous contribution to the region’s art scene. It also boasts East African greats like Gregory Maloba, Sam Ntiro, Jonathan Kingdom and Elimo Njau. Makerere art school and its alumni are the “real” masters of art here and throughout the region.


The exhibition `Seniority First’ is showing now at Afriart on 7th located on 7th Street Industrial Area, Kampala. Image courtesy of Afriart Gallery.

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