Tracy Chapman, Paul Gilroy, Nina Simone play as tropes in new body of work
| DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | As a political satirist artist, Eria Sane Nsubuga, is equally humorous as intelligent. His appropriation of political protagonists like former US president Donald Trump, Theresa May and other respective black revolutionary characters, in his paintings speak to such astuteness to inspire conversations on global critical issues. From time to time the artist satirizes the imagery to make it palpable to larger audiences with no intent to offend. In that particular body of work: Shadows of Whiteness 2018, Sane parodied the political figures, dressing them in the nude, a metaphorical representation to the political crimes-global inequalities- they perpetuated. Such depiction, was a bold interrogation on the incessant racial exploitation or exclusion from the West and the curious growing trend to be white by Africans.
Sane’s recent body of work similarly reflects on the relationship between White and black people within the context of the growing whiteness globally. The artist this time relies on archival material of British monarchy of the period of 1500s, juxtaposing them with iconic black figures like Tracy Chapman, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Paul Gilroy and James Baldwin, to examine the subject of white supremacy. Through the technique of appropriation of these artistic characters in his work, Sane constructs a narrative of the activist role played by these figures in their respective art in challenging cultural chauvinism and exploitation of black culture. The ironic dressing of these characters in aristocratic flowery costumes, is an artistic ploy to satirize the selfish ideals these particular white characters represent. The fact that African culture, including art, is still regarded strongly as inferior in global art circles- in spite its ability to speak against political evils authenticity, demonstrates this act of cultural transgression.
In the painting, The Border 2020, the subject of transgression is brought to the fore. The artist references the theme of love- gone- bad by King Henry VIII (1509-1547) and his wife, Catherine of Aragon who he wants to divorce accusing her of fidelity. The painting referenced, is by Francis Cowper (undated) and seemingly touches on the struggle to exploit the established laws while pursuing selfish interests. King Henry VIII seeks to annul his marriage purporting that his wife had already been married to his brother, Arthur. Unfortunately, his claim for a divorce is trashed by Cardinal Wolsey prompting the monarch to denounce the Catholic faith. Through the technique of appropriation; adopting familiar faces of Tracy Chapman as Cardinal Wolsey, Franz Fanon as King Henry VIII and Paul Gilroy as King Henry VIII’s courtier, Sane satirizes this love saga; wondering what the outcome would be if the characters indeed were white. Yet, it also becomes apparent that the artist is intent to challenge the norm of exclusion of black figures in world political and cultural histories in this body of work. The dominant appropriation of Paul Gilroy’s image, a renowned British black scholar and writer on the subject of racism, is testimony to such metaphorical contestation.
While Sane builds such political narrative, it is impossible to avert any contrary opinion to his critical assertions, like James Baldwin, Paul Gilroy and Nina Simone have previously encountered from their critics. Nonetheless, the contextualizing of this work in the persistent exclusion of black culture, and it’s misrepresentation in global art circles in the contemporary times, validate such narrative. Therefore it is apparent that Sane believes that culture is a medium through which black people should seek to emancipate and liberate themselves. This theory is fervently held by Paul Gilroy, a dominant figure in his paintings. Within a local context, the artworks challenge the common trend of artists creating art touching the surface and not being interested pushing their art beyond the boundaries. It’s such approach that can broaden contemporary art from Uganda and give it a wider context it needs to compete favorably in the global art market.