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ARTS: Wood & womanhood

Innovative sculptures tackle sexuality

Kampala, Uganda | Dominic Muwanguzi | Womanhood is a delicate topic, especially when it touches on sexuality which is still regarded a taboo by many, including the elite at university. But there is no escaping it for Dr. Lilian Nabulime of Makerere School of Fine Art. She did part of her PhD study at the University of Newcastle in England on womanhood and HIVAids which is another topic that has inspired her sculptural work for a long time. So her ongoing show focuses on it, in the context of young women at the university campus.

The academic artist presents sculptures in various forms and sizes to illustrate the diversity of student experience of the subject.

The sculptures are divided into five series namely; Expressions, Uniqueness of Campus Girls, Dreams and Consequences, Campus Women Lifestyles and Courage, Empowered and Confident. Each figuratively represents emotions and attitudes of young women. The artist’s technique of constantly talking to the young women as she sculpted the pieces led to her creating a substantial body of artworks that can now lead to even deeper engagement with audiences.

For example, the colossal sculptures she names named `Courage’ and `Confident1&2’ respectively immediately evoke the strength of womanhood because of their size and form. They are stout and stand firmly gazing at the audience with protruding eyes and finely chiseled body features that symbolize their extraordinary character and ambition.

“When a woman is confident, she is able to make the right decisions about her life,” says Nabulime.

Confidence and courage are attributes many successful women in many sectors of life possess. The inverse is true too; an unconfident character easily yields to negative behavior that inevitably lead to dire consequences.

A series on Campus Girls’ Lifestyle demonstrate the girls’ diverse social life that ranges from flamboyant and empowered to playful and innocent. Nabulime’s curves out of mixed media, mahogany, nuts, aluminum and nails, to illustrate the diverse beauty of the subjects.

“I use the aluminum plates not only to hold together
the wood but as a symbol of strength of the subject,” says Nabulime. The idea of using either colourful or monochrome (neutral) colours injects a sense of identity in her specific work. In the series, pieces like Girl power, Young and Happy, and Cheeky miniatures are dressed in colourful plates while the Innocent and Loving figures are dressed conservatively in less colourful “fabrics”.

Using attire as a badge of identity is something the artist uses even in real life. She wears a hat made from recycled paper beads at her exhibitions or when travelling overseas for her academic or artistic work.

“When I wear the hat, it creates identity for me. People are eager to know who lam and conversations begin with this head gear,” she says.

Some sculptural figures sculpted from coffee stumps or tree roots do not only figuratively represent the distinctiveness of the campus women, but underneath re-affirm the aspect of appreciating the natural form of wood that partly defines her sculptural work and study.

The artist preserves the original shape of the wood she is working with as a sign of her respect and love for nature. The idea of integrating metal debris reflects also the theme of environmental sustainability.

The exhibition titled ‘Dreams & Consequences’ is a timely revival of dialogue on the hard topic of HIV-AIDS in the context of young women at university.

Recent reports suggest resurgence of the disease; especially among young people, in spite of the numerous interventions and crusades made on the epidemic. It is attributed to lifestyle. The exhibition can be seen as another avenue to creating positive awareness among the young people through creative, innovative, and beautiful art.


The exhibition is open at the Makerere Art Gallery located within the University Campus

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