Ugandan goes for solo show in Nairobi
Mark Kassi is a figurative artist working with acrylics. His distinctive segmented style on canvas borrowed from the appliqué technique synonymous with textile design, has earned him a name in the region. He sometimes uses an arbitrary palette that ends up into harmonious displays and likes painting children and their outdoor games. Dominic Muwanguzi caught up with him ahead of his upcoming solo show in Nairobi.
How did you choose art above any other normal profession?
Art has always been my passion right from my secondary school days when we did not have an art teacher at school but I made a personal effort to practice and excel in the discipline. When I joined University, art financed my welfare on campus. I would produce and sell art to pay for my daily expenses and did not have to depend on hand outs from my parents. The early satisfaction that I could earn from my art gave me inspiration to practice as a full- time artist.
How do you work in terms of technique and concept?
My concept is largely working with my immediate environment where I take pictures with my camera of children engaging in their outdoor games. I believe that the subject of children provides endless inspiration to any creative person because of their honest approach to everyday life and random activities. You will find that most of what they do is influenced by spontaneity and I am eager to capture that in my work. Technically, my work is a fusion of my background as a graduate in textile design and my passion in photography and painting. I combine these three elements to birth my own style “Kassism” that at least can be traced back to me by everyone. My palette; with dominant greens, yellows and earthy browns; is evocative of my immediate environment which is bright and vibrant: bustling with activity and freshness. Nonetheless, I enjoy applying arbitrary colours on my canvases as a symbol of disrupting the usual, but still emphasise harmony in my work.
What has been the major highlight of your career so far?
In 2013, I sold my whole (sole) show to a person I never met. This was a Dutch professional who had been following my work for some time. This incident gave me huge inspiration and strengthened my belief in my art career. I guess, every artist feels the same way when they sell their work. Another highlight of my career is when I exhibited with some of East Africa’s great artists like Jak Katarikawe (RIP), Sane Wade and Brush Wanyu at gallery Watatu in Nairobi. Sharing the same space with these icons of modern and contemporary art in the region was a lifetime experience. The experience put my career on another level altogether because I got the exposure and recognition I had always desired.
Working as a full time artist in a country like Uganda with a relatively small economy, what are some of the challenges you encounter?
The challenges are quite many, but I can quickly point out that one of the biggest challenges for any artist in Uganda is the public attaching monetary returns to the discipline. To be considered a successful artist you must be rich and this sometimes is not the case for many successful artists. Nonetheless, there are many artists today who are doing financially well something that has helped change people’s perception about art. Another problem is the small economy that impacts the purchasing power of art over the basic necessities. Obviously, one has to first cater for other basic necessities of everyday life before they can think of buying art.
How would you advise young artists who want to tap into the growing East African art market?
They need to grow their name locally first then they can think of courting new markets. The truth of the matter is the market outside there is very challenging because the dealers and buyers are looking for something unique and really good. This is because it is a well- exposed market.
Image courtesy of the artist