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Covid-19 art

Kibuuka showcases maturity and confidence 

ARTS | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Trends are created when people follow what is popular at the time. Presently there is a trend among   contemporary artists to create art that responds to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It, therefore, is not surprising that Cliff Kibuuka’s recent exhibition titled UGA- CENTRIC is conceived out of the pandemic.

The paintings of slummy settlements executed in impasto style with an almost bright palette evoke the mood that was ushered in by one of the strictest measures to curb the disease: the lock down.  Following such strict measures, most of the daily activities including business were restricted around the household. “… At some point having a small market stall in front of the family home was an advantage as almost everything was closed.” – (Foreword, exhibition catalogue, 2020).

A suggestion to this mood is the recurrent drawings of the grocery stall positioned in one corner of the modest settlements that became a life line to both the inhabitants of this community and its immediate neighbourhoods. Ironically,  the slummy community are an essential component of the city because not only do they provide affordable accommodation to the urban poor, but are also known to be sites for cheap  food stuffs in times of dire economic crisis like the situation was during the lock down.

But it can be unfair to confine Kibuuka’s paintings to the obvious Covid-19 narrative and ignore the critical artistic exploration of his recent body of work.  The artist makes a shift in the recent paintings; running away from the former dark palette that dominated his previous work in “my Metropolis”. In an interview he explained that the bright palette afforded him the opportunity to get more detailed in his executions – a showcase of his confidence on canvas- and was also a gesture to his continuous effort to grow his craft.

“There’s no point in keeping on exhibiting the same kind of stuff. That reflects an artist who is not interested to grow,” he says.

True, beyond the shift in the colour palette, you notice that in some of the paintings, the artist has concentrated more on the subject of shanty settlements and boats rather than the skyline. One such painting is “Home sweet home Series (Covid-19)” 2020, which reflects his technical prowess in detailing an artwork.  It is a close up study of the shanty household with rugged roof of corrugated iron sheets, with a shabby piece of cloth in the door way acting as a curtain to the interior. The outside is cluttered with household items in form of a cloth line hanging on clothes right beneath are slippers carefully arranged in horizontal format. A plastic jerry can and tin bucket sit next to this set up. Adjacent to this is what looks like a mound of dirt. But most interesting of all this composition is the scribbling on the walls and curtains that are typical of such dwellings.  This random scribbling on surfaces seems to allude to the briskly lifestyle of the inhabitants of these communities.

In another painting “The Village horse 2020”- perhaps I would have referred the title “The Village Donkey’ since the horse is not familiar to many rural communities across the country and also the fact that the exquisite mammal is never used as a medium of transport locally- the artist paints a small truck laden with people and their merchandise. The drawing evokes the common tendency of traders in the countryside to mount rickety lorries with their goods as they make their way to the village markets. What is most captivating in the painting is not the jalopy and its occupants, but the suspense created by the men sitting on top of the truck. It is as if their legs are hanging below the truck, yet at the same time, it appears as if the legs are concealed within the merchandise they’re carrying. The strength of the painting can be found in its simplicity within the context of subject matter and message. But it carefully avoids being simplistic as evidently portrayed by the technique tool of suspense.

The exhibit is an opportunity to reflect on what happened during the lockdown as everything went on a stand still. For the case of the artist, the lockdown was a perfect chance to experiment with different approaches to his art like is manifested in the drawings that real stand out in the exhibit. With such resolve to work under unpredictable conditions, the artist   yet again reveals his ceaseless love for Kampala.  As a gesture to this attachment to the city, this time, Kibuuka chooses to focus on the impact of the lockdown on the urbanites,  however, with a bit of caution to not reveal  so much  of the gloom.

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The exhibit is showing at Umoja  art gallery located along Moyo Close in Bukoto, Next to Kampala International School, Uganda

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