Imagine a food market, almost anywhere in Uganda. Often it will have a section for matooke (green bananas). Usually, it is a beehive of calling out to customers, haggling, exchanging money, and carrying bunches of matooke about on bicycles, the head, shoulder, or arms.
By Dominic Muwanguzi
Now imagine a food market where the nearest customer to you is standing sluggishly as if stuck or uncertain and the seller is looking away, bending yet the stalls are packed full of unsold bananas as other customers dejectedly wander about aimlessly. What could be going on?
We have just described one of the paintings in Hood Jjuuko’s ongoing exhibition at Afriart Gallery in Kamwokya, Kampala, titled simply `Trade’.
Jjuuko has concentrated on staple foodstuffs such as matooke and fish and the usual women sellers. But his markets lack the usual boisterousness.
In the painting we have just described, the customer; a man is bargaining with an uninterested matooke seller. Most likely the seller wants more money than the customer is offering.
In another painting, titled `Matooke seller 1’, the artist composes a scene of a woman trader standing next to a heap of Matooke fingers. In the background the would-be buyers have turned their back to the pile; a suggestion that the price of the Matooke is too high for them.
Jjuuko is clearly fascinated by the issue of food prices. He could be depicting the current high prices amidst a fickle economy or merely showing the usual frustrations of buyers.
“It is only in Uganda where you find that the price of Matooke during the festive season is 50,000 and after it is 20, 000,” Jjuuko notes in conversation.
Besides the market scenes, he has also painted city streets congested with matatus and buses jammed in traffic done in brilliant yellow hues and an impressive abstract background. Titled ‘Yellow Buses’, the scene is un-Uganda and Jjuuko possibly picked inspiration for it from West Africa where the Yellow buses are more common.
Technically, however, the works showcase the artist’s masterly of studio work and contrasting of a figurative foreground against an abstract background to lure the attention of the audience into the paintings. This stylistic feature is carried throughout his paintings. He embellishes with thick oil tones of bright and vibrant colours applied on canvas with a palette knife to create the energetic nature and landscape of markets.
“I concentrate on use of color and texture in my paintings. The image is formed later on,” says the artist.
Jjuuko has understood the concept he is working with so perfectly that he is able to avoid repetition as each painting tells its own story although the subject matter and concept are one.
He has tapped into several conversations in his work and responds to many queries. While he is concerned about Uganda’s struggling economy and its impact on buyers and traders, his works also evoke the usual debate about the place of figurative imagery and the abstract in Ugandan art.
Since abstract painting has been criticised as an escapist form of art, Jjuuko’s reveals his brave side by indulging in it anyway as a food for thought.
The `Trade’ exhibition opened on May 5at Afriart Gallery located on Kennethdale Drive, Kamwokya in Kampala.