The artist Ocom Adonias has over the past three years created a body of work ‘Who is your Saint?’
Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | The debut of this multi- media series fusing painting, photography, sculpture, collage and still motion-animation, was in 2018 at Afriart gallery in a solo show, under the same name. Several years on, Ocom still stands tall- he’s by no means of short demeanor – with the production of this enthralling series. The concept of Sainthood in this work is figuratively used to demonstrate the the notion of celebrating those ordinary characters in our everyday living. It can be a boda- boda cyclist who gives a passenger a fast ride through Kampala’s depressing traffic jam during peak hours or a Rolex baker who sells a rolex (a common fast food delicacy involving fried eggs rolled into Chapatti) to a customer on a day they’re broke and cannot afford a proper meal. Nonetheless, the idea of Saint is appropriated from the Roman Catholic belief where particular characters who have lived exceptionally exemplary lives are celebrated through prayer: petitioning them to intercede for the believer to God.
The notion of adopting Christian themes in art like Sainthood and converging it with ordinary characters inspires curiosity in the artwork. Naturally, saints are perceived to be extraordinary people. They are believed to have no place in this ordinary life. But such traditional perception is questioned by the artist’s simple interpretation of the concept. “I want to create news reports about the people that CNN,BBC, Aljazeera, UBC, NBS won’t report about yet they’re doing things that have strongly impacted my life and many other people’s lives.” the artist revealed in an interview published online, sometime back. Incidentally, Ocom uses old newspapers to pay attention to the subject of recycling and as a gesture to his humble background where everything in his immediate surroundings, was re- used. The modest background conspires to his choice of subject, subject matter and setting in the compositions. Hence, the artist suggests ordinary characters and spaces like Boda- Boda cyclists, food vendors, road side kiosks and Taxi park in his drawings.
This approach is reflected in a recent work in progress where the artist continues to celebrate ordinary individuals. Here, the artist appropriates Egyptian royalty symbols including the Neme (a head-dress for Egyptian Pharaohs) and the black cat representing Egyptian mythology, in his painting. Though Pharoahs were not saints, the influence- reflected through their wealth and power- they commanded was a symbol of their privileged position in society. In fact Egyptian Kings welded authority on life and death and it was believed they had connection with the outside world because of their status. Hence, just like saints, they were understood to be divine in nature.
Ocom draws on such Egyptian cultural and spiritual imagery to begin to create a new series of artworks that ponder on the
significance played by ordinary people in both his life and that of his immediate surroundings. In this particular painting
(Untitled), the artist composes the subject of an Askari (security personnel) and crowns him with a neme. Askaris naturally provide security to facilities like homes, hotels and offices, but their vital contribution to society is often downplayed by the small pay check they receive and stereotypes from a section of the public. The technique to dress one of them in a head dress familiar to the kings of Egypt, is a gesture of elevating their status in society. Furthermore, the artistic ploy to
create double representation of the subject in the painting- like in the previous series Who’s your Saint- is to escape isolation of the central character and create rhythm in the painting.
With an early exposure to religious paintings and sculpture through the Catholic missionary schools he attended, the artist seamlessly creates a link between religious themes and the everyday. For the artist, the everyday is the struggle to make ends meet while making a difference in someone’s life. This philosophy in no different from the religious teaching that calls upon Christians to love and respect one another. As such, Ocom’s art partly makes that bold step to navigate the
delicate relationship between art and Christianity by interpreting and contextualizing religiously themes in ordinary life.