Gossip is one of the themes of the clay works collections at Dr. Lilian Nabulime’s ongoing show at KfW in Kampala. Nabulime has keenly observed that Ugandans enjoy gossip – the habit of engaging in idle talk by revealing real or made-up information about other people to those who have no business knowing it. The senior lecturer at the Makerere University Art School notes that the habit affects all manner of people. She would know; because, like everyone else, she has been a victim of gossip.
During the years when she was going through tough times involving her late husband who was diagnosed with the HIV virus, the society, her family, friends and strangers alike turned her into a hot topic of gossip. Her repeated attempts to clarify that she was discordant never made it into the sizzling gossip.
She also speaks about how she recently went to the salon to make her hair and found the hair dressers gossiping about their customers – those that had not tipped them or given tiny tips. They even commented on the customers looks. This they did right in her presence, making her feel she would be the next topic of their gossip the moment she left the place. This is when she turned to her studio and decided to use her art to attack this insidious behavior using sarcastic miniature figurines.
She portrays this conduct in a series of terracotta works mostly consisting of female figures passionately lost in the act of gossip. This is evidenced in their facial expressions and body language. The sculptures are reduced to faces seated on simplified body forms wrought in slabs. The figures that are made in groups of twos and threes are fashioned to such effect that they strike a theatrical countenance of characters in a melodrama. The faces are animated with exaggerated emotions, perhaps telling of the very overstatement that characters employ while gossiping about others in real life. “These characters are similar to what I see on our local TV Bukedde which concentrates more on tabloid new. Bukedde, among the Baganda people, have reference to the phrase ‘bukkedde banyanike’, meaning that the day has come for me to be exposed,” Nabulime says.
The theme of Gossip fits perfectly in Nabulime’s interests, which oscillate around social commentary and intimate matters affecting lay people; particularly health issues. She interprets these social phenomena in bold visual statements that are quite easily understood by the man on the street and show the extent to which scholarly achievements have not shifted her ideological and aesthetic sensibilities into academic complexities.
To date, she is probably best known for her work using root stumps out of which she makes sculptures of the most varied shapes and expressions. These catapulted her into becoming one of the first few female sculptors to shoot to the high plane of contemporary art in Uganda. This notwithstanding, she prefers to keep a very low profile and let the works speak for themselves. Her current showcase going on for six months is by far her longest running exhibition and indeed uncommon in the arts fraternity.