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Endless boundaries of community art

There is an eccentric exhibition planned at the Makerere Art Gallery in Kampala.

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | It’s eccentric because its main attractions are works by community artists and children from Kalerwe; the famous low income high population suburb of Kampala city.

From its narrow- winding paths to the bustling farmers market where freshly harvested leafy vegetables, mounds of potatoes and thick fingered green bananas on sale attract throngs of buyers, maverick Ugandan artist Mathias Tusiime has nurtured an art community he wants the world to see.

Seven years ago, the poverty, filth and crime of Kalerwe caught Tusiime’s attention. The urban poor who live in the shanty homesteads of Kalerwe and along the 5km stretch from Bwaise to Mulago cannot even afford the cheapest vegetables in Kalerwe Market.

Tusiime thought their plight is so bad that he created an NGO; Uganda Community Arts Skills Development and Recycling (UCASDR) to help. Its mission is to transform the community through art skills development. It would use art to raise incomes and recycle waste to clean up the neighbourhood.

Willing residents are taught to make decorative pottery, weave baskets, and make brooms and tyre rubber sandals. Some are organised in groups such as one in the Mulago’s Nsoba zone that produces long multi- coloured sisal brooms and brushes. Women, youth, and even children gather in small groups to produce the craft materials. Then they hit the road to sell them in neighbouring villages of Kamwokya, Wandegeya and Makerere.

Kalerwe LC Chairman, Sulaiman Kigongo, is happy. He says the project averts idleness that often times leads to crime and foster talent development among the children.

“Kalerwe is widely known as a crime area because of large numbers of youth who are unemployed. The project helped to curb this vice through engaging them in creative activities and in the long –run change the image of the area,” says the community leader.

The Makerere University College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) has also worked with UCASDR and the Problem Based Learning project from Alto University, Finland. Students engage with the community and produce art that is inspired, relevant, and demanded by the community.

In 2015 Prof. Andrew Burton conducted and facilitated workshops in the Kalerwe Community that culminated in a multi-disciplinary Art and the Community 2015 exhibition that showcased diverse artworks by Burton, renowned Ugandan sculptor Dr Lillian Nabulime and UCASDR founder Mathias Tusiime alongside that of community members and children. Burton had a sculpture made from household objects like Television aerials, piggy banks and sisal brooms, Tusiime had paintings and the children brought pottery.

The interaction bridged boundaries of art teaching. Classroom art learning was integrated into community based practice. Nabulime proclaimed that she learnt new techniques from the community artists and was now incorporates the broom- making techniques in in her sculptured figurines. Tusiime experimented with bark-cloth paper as a substitute to synthetic canvases used by artists. It is now catching on and many art students buy it. It has also sprouted a partnership with the College of Engineering, Design and Technology, Makerere University (CEDAT) and New Castle University, UK who have regularly conducted workshops in the communities.

Now into its seventh year, the project that started as a small idea to give back to the community has grown. It has plans to reach more communities across the country and sustain its achievements through art auctions and exhibitions. The Makerere Art Gallery exhibition is the first. Be there.

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The UCASDR Art Auction and Exhibition is on May 02 at Makerere Art Gallery Kampala

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