Some children as young as kindergarten-age may have an inkling of what they wish to become when they grow up, or at least they might think they do. A lot of what they say they want to become is nothing more than simplistic wishful thinking that is perhaps informed by the adult-world that inspires them.
This notion, however, cannot wholly be dismissed as some people that have made it in life can easily trace their success to their childhood aspirations that have consciously shaped their paths to adulthood.
A simple survey on art students some years back at the Makerere art school revealed that most of them were pursuing art by default rather than by design – having failed to achieve the higher scores necessary for their first choice courses. The percentage of ‘art defaulters’ was quite mindboggling, standing at over eighty five percent.
Ibrahim Muwanga, a former student of art at the same school could easily have been among the so-called default crowd, having not only confessed severally that all he wanted from the outset was to be an architect but also gone ahead to practice it at amateur level, making artistic impressions for major civil engineering designs, among other things. Five years ago he was commissioned by KCCA to create an impression of the new Kabakanjagala road in Rubaga, which he proudly shows off to anyone that cares to know.
Conversely, one cannot be deluded into thinking of Muwanga as an amateur practitioner stuck in the wrong profession; he is fast establishing himself among the nouveau movement of young artists that are turning tables of contemporary art in Uganda. One wonders why he still relishes the nostalgia of architectural dreams with the kind of outlook he has assumed.
He graduated from the Makerere art school some four years ago and chose to become a fulltime painter, centering his thematic concerns on children. His fondness for portraying kids in nearly all his recent works is without ambivalence and for good reason.
He has confessed his undying love for stable families, never mind that he has no children yet, and he seeks to depict this love through his art. But this professed love is not just of any kind; he has developed a penchant for illustrating children involved in all manner of activity in urban slums. He has expressed his fascination about children that live in this horrid context where standards of living are sometimes sub-human – to say the least.
Contrary to popular belief that these children are victims of much suffering, languishing in diseased ghettos and thus in much need of urgent help, Muwanga portrays a different picture all together. ‘His’ children are instead healthy-looking with faces always overflowing with delight and contentment. While some are engrossed in child play in rather filthy open spaces, others are engaged in domestic chores such as fetching water for the family. Muwanga even believes that some of these children could be living happier lives than those kids of the high and mighty that have known nothing but affluence and yet have issues that the poor ones can hardly fathom.
Muwanga is by all measures a recent introduction on the local art scene and it should not surprise us that he is attempting to find his bearing on the local art scene. He works with acrylic paints to achieve his desired goal of luminous colours and rough textures that are characteristic of the nature of the children’s world.
He renders his subjects in realism with his experimentation being primarily around the colour application. As Muwanga grows his aesthetic sensibilities to a recognisable niche incessantly pointing us to childhood naivety, we must assume that his double-faced inclination towards any profession other than art is nothing but a misplaced fallacy.