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ARTS: Turning art on its head

How fusing an artist’s personality into art makes it powerful

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Canon Rumanzi’s art is difficult to describe and the same can be said of his rather mysterious personality. He is a photographer and digital artist, and in both genres, he pushes the boundaries and turns art on its head. His artworks get very unusual receptions.

His photography is initially confusing, before you try to appreciate it as a work of genius. His technique of disrupting an image by presenting it in an unfamiliar form to achieve an intentional effect of control over his audience, suggests the omnipresent and undesirable web that he wants to (de)construct and reinvent in order to “regain moral order” by mimicry and hyperbole.

As such, for example, the artist creates art from fashion mannequins to convey a narrative of coping with the breakdown of moral order and the impersonality of everyday life. He seems to decry the mundane nature of humanity in the 21st century resulting from over dependence on the internet, and denounces the extreme bombardment of inane adverts online.

This artistic mockery is also evident in his photographic construction of a series of images #Politicianeyes (Let me help you lead you) that expose the realities of power structures beyond the mere reportage style typical of photographers. He delves deeper and boldly presents his audience with campaign posters of candidates seeking political office (Parliament) caked with dirt and weariness around Kampala city. The contrast of seeking high political office with filthy posters suggests the disengagement between the political elite and the majority of the impoverished city urbanites. While these out of context images can be read as a direct attack on a political sphere that relates directly to Uganda, the theme of corruption extends itself to human nature as a whole when we examine other works in which Rumanzi presents himself as a figure central to the art.

As such, Rumanzi’s personality is a replication of his art with its unpredictable and chaotic nature. He is both quiet and talkative with a penchant for world histories, politics, philosophies and literature. He also loves to analyze those around him and himself. His whimsical character embodies the disorderly terrain of Kampala city where he partly assumes the role of a protagonist who conveys the contradictions of the urbanites- perhaps himself included- to a wider global society.

It is the introspective approach that culminates in deeper engagements with the audience, while inviting dialogue on the subject of human character viz-a viz the artist. The artist’s injection of his character into art makes it gain credibility as a masterpiece of his creation that undeniably represents him figuratively. As such, Rumanzi art projects the power of fusing an artist’s personality into art while turning art on its head.

It is similar to a phenomenon caused by a photo that appeared on the cover of New York Times Magazine in 1985 of American artist Jean Michel Basquiat wearing a dark Georgio Armani suit with white shirt and tie, leaning in a chair, one bare foot on the floor, and the other up in the chair suggested the power of the extraordinary in art.

The portrait quickly elicited mammoth approvals from art critics and fashion pundits and defined what character the artist wanted to always project: a living piece of art walking on the streets of downtown New York. Basquiat had the ability to make art from anything, including himself, and his inspiration for his craft was diverse: from dressing up in high fashion Armani suits, sometimes splashed on with paint, to fusing mysterious elements of texts and colour, historical references, and abstract and figurative techniques in his work. His work was layered with muted tones of racism, power, money and authority.


Canon Rumanzi is a freelance photographer, but also works with History in Progress Uganda (HIPU).

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