How limited exposure limits producers of culture
When artist Maria Kizito of the Makerere art school returned to Uganda in 2005 from Ireland with a PhD in studio practice, he sought to overturn the prevailing mundane formal techniques of art expressions that he found boring, untenable and simply antiquated.
But change was not to come easy for him, a man who had been part of the art education system for years and now felt ‘liberated’ and illuminated by the new knowledge and exposure from the West, writes Nathan Kiwere.
The platform on which he sought to experiment with his newfound aesthetic overtures – the Makerere art school, was not keen to adjust to the personal whims of an academic adventurer that Kizito Maria was at that time.
The highlight of Kizito’s ambition occurred about two years later. As though to prove his point, Kizito mounted an installation in the Makerere Art Gallery where he showcased a heap of dark decomposition matter collected from a garbage skip. The ‘art work’ was on display for a month and he ensured that it received a daily dose of water to maintain putrefaction and keep the stench fresh. This led both the common people and the artists to question Kizito’s mental stability. He refused to budge and defended his artwork was an allegory of the rot symptomatic of the political system whose gravity is only comparable to the decaying refuse. Sadly, other artists learnt nothing from Kizito’s bold step. They also forgot nothing.
Today, as the global conversation about artistic trends blossoms, it seems to me that the Ugandan visual tradition may have to wait a bit longer to join the choir.
Kizito’s experience shows how social and technological catalysts of change such as globalization, travel and technology can impact an individual. It also shows how limited exposure has limited their impact on the simplicity of Ugandan producers of culture. The situation is compounded by art production no longer being the domain of formally trained practitioners but rather a melting pot for self-taught and non-literate artists churning out works that confound formal standards.
In some cases, it is a deliberate guise to satisfy market expectations commanded by a small minority of expatriates, tourists, and a tiny affluent middle class that have proved through the ages that the Ugandan art market is doomed by patrons of limited cultural taste.
Byamugisha Kassi and Enock Mukiibi are young Ugandan artists firmly entrenched in the contemporary praxis and seem to know quite well when to tame their ambition and keep it simple for Uganda’s simple minds.
Kassi has stuck to his quasi-Cubism where he sticks to the realistic presentation of his subjects while rendering them in geometrical shapes using colour. It may not be difficult to notice the controlled tension with which he seeks to keep within the boundaries of moderation so as not to ‘annoy’ his audience.
Meanwhile Mukiibi hesitatingly bursts out with his hot hues of red and orange using ubiquitous female figures as his subjects. It is easy to that Mukiibi is capable of exploring abstraction in its depth and wealth. But he, like his colleague Kassi, keeps himself controlled enough to fit within the limits of the piper who pays for his visual music.
One must assume that it is either caution dictating the tone of Ugandan art or these two and their ilk are simply guileless minds that lack the requisite capacity to rise to the occasion of heightened experimentation. Put another way; was Maria Kizito’s ostensibly insane trash project an opportunity gone begging or a mark of catastrophic imprudence? We may never know for now.