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ARTS: When Makerere’s art giant’s show off

Freshness, technical dexterity, innovation, experimentation at first alumni exhibit

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | When you go to an exhibition by alumni of any art school, you expect to see an exciting showcase of diversity in approach by the artists; as each show off what has made them so successful since graduation. The ongoing exhibition at Makerere at Gallery in Kampala by alumni of the Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Art does exactly that.

The brainchild of Ronex Ahimbisibwe, the exhibition features artists like Kwizera aka Kwi-ezra, Margaret Nagawa, Mzili Mujunga, Yakuze Ivan, Sheila Nakitende, Arnold Birungi, Ismail Ddamba, Paul Kasambeko, Ismael Kateregga, and Peter Oloya.

Each of the exhibiting artists has acquired a certain specialty, in a particular genre, be it painting, installation, sculpture, fashion, or photography.

Their mastery is an embodiment of technical dexterity that the art school emphasises, while the innovation that is visible in Mzili, Ronex and Oloya’s work is reminiscent of the tenacious nature of the individual artist to push the boundaries of art making.

Whatever your artistic preference, Kwizera aka Kwi-ezra’s political-social activist painting will leave a powerful impression. As an illustrator cum painter, he often finds insight in the political landscape, sometimes injecting a comic twist into the narrative. This is a good time to see him tackle abuse, resilience, love, and liberation. His human figures are mere metaphors and their facial expression a study in the diversity of human anatomy.

This time he is tackling human rights abuses in a political-social environment in which the phrase “order from above” is not a random cliché but a menacing threat belted out every time the wielders power and authority commit an atrocity on the citizenry.

The painting is packed with emotion in the expressionistic in style. A larger than life human face with blood-shot eyes hoovers above two chained men in military uniform; with one headless and the other brutalising a journalist by way of peeing on him. A huge thumbs up dominates the background in which a religious figure fades. The painting is aptly titled `Orders from above’, its message clear and bold.

Meanwhile Mzili is almost Kwizera’s opposite as he emphasises technique rather than message. His conceptual painting titled `Drill master Vs the hitched, sower and the ripper’ is inspired by a powerful theme of gender; its history and fluidity. But it is application of different media in one painting; pastels, acrylics, and a mix of expressionistic and abstract drawings, that any audience with discuss. A typical query will be about the place of experimentation and innovation in art.

Another technically dexterous artist, Ronex has an installation titled `Gwaliwo negufa’ an assemblage of tactile material and organic collage tapestry. It feeds into the narrative of experimenting with both the usual and unusual while subtly delving into the subject of the subconscious. It is the perfect platform for artistic inquiry; rousing the attention of the audience into, for example, the dissimilarity or sometimes similarity of art and its functionality. There is also a contrast between sophistication and naivety, beauty and ugliness, and aesthetics verses free expression.

Finally, the wildlife paintings of Arnold Birungi and Ismail Ddamba provide respite from the experimentation. Their nature drawings; of the rare white Rhino portrait by Ddamba and the lioness on the prowl with Kobs lurking in the distance by Birungi, showcase technical dexterity in terms of brilliant picture construction, perspective and tonality respectively. Their message of nature conservation and preservation is pertinent when there seems to be renewed threat to wildlife and its sanctuary.

The Alumni exhibit is a timely platform to encourage artists to dialogue on the emerging vibrancy of the Kampala art scene. It is also a gesture to challenge the creative capabilities of the artists from time to time and knock them out of comfort zones. The exhibit should inspire art lovers and professionals, in and out of art school.

The exhibition is showing now at the Makerere Art Gallery, located within the University campus.

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