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Surfacing Group Exhibition at Xenson Art Space

The exhibition pays homage to the emerging vibrancy of the regional art scene and the power of women artists to influence change in society.

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | A group exhibition of artists from across the East African region is likely to come with many expectations. This is because the art industry in the region is growing interms of producing young talent and the emerging establishment of art infrastructures like art residencies and private galleries that are pivotal in opening up endless possibilities for artist to create art beyond the usual. The recent group exhibition Surfacing featuring a host of young female artists from Kenya, Uganda and Sudan partly represent this reality. The artists showcase paintings which traverse different artistic approaches: from impressionism and abstract to figurative styles of working. The artists juxtapose this technical out put with authentic cultural narratives of East Africa that stimulate the social and cultural vibrancy of the region.

As they go about their studio prowess on canvas the artists interrogate themes of identity, women’s rights and empowerment, nature and landscape, and social behaviour. Irene Katumbi’s When we were Young 2023 and Conversations in the garden 2023 interrogate the theme of identity and women empowerment. In When we were Young 2023, the five nubile models in the painting pose together in what appears like a classic portrait. They’re presented to us the viewers dressed elegantly in passion red dresses which are cropped at the top revealing their well toned bodies. Their large eyes clearly shinning like the morning sun, give an impression of pride and confidence. Such self assuredness is a symbol of youthful character. The artist cleverly chooses a subtle palette to create an impressive backdrop on which the models are pressed against therefore enhancing their physical and emotional beauty.

Similarly in Conversations in the garden, Katumbi depicts three young women posing closely together with wide stares equivalent to those of the models in the former composition. The recurrent wide stare of the models can be described as a metaphor for youthfulness, hope and love. Naturally, eyes communicate and reveal much more about the individual than any other body part. The latter painting suggests the idea of women conversations which are always held in private. Traditionally in African traditional communities, women held their conversations in private spaces like gardens because the garden was predominantly a space they occupied. Here they would converse about their struggles and triumphs in their marital homes. The fronds in the background of the painting represent the idea of the garden.

Usra Hamza’s series Lapse 1&2 and Awaiting Time navigate the theme of women rights and empowerment. The artist from Khartoum, Sudan exploits the calligraphy style of drawing, emblematic of Sudanese artists, to draw our attention to the subject of women’s rights within the context of her homeland. Sudan has for long been known to practice the Sharia law as part of the Islamic principles. The Islamic law bars women to freely participate in social activities like freedom of expression and the freedom to choose a marriage partner.

Nonetheless, in the recent past, there has been a reverse on this law leading to the female gender to be emancipated from the popular segregation of the sexes. Usra’s paintings pay attention to this emancipation and the artist through the abstracted Images on canvas conveys elements of a secular lifestyle. The abstract female figure is without a veil which is a representation of emancipation from strict adherence to Islamic practices under the Sharia law. Equally, the manicured figure nails and a short sleeved dress communicate a transition from oppression of women rights to self empowerment and liberation.

The exhibition’s focus on emerging female artists is a gesture to the continued effort to empower women artists in a male dominated industry. This is the norm today in almost all types of exhibitions staged internationally. Through encouraging female artists to create art and provide them a conducive platform to showcase what they have produced, women’s rights are championed. Naturally, art production has the ability to stimulate conversations on issues that society otherwise chooses to neglect or stifle. As such, the twelve participating burgeoning artists in this exhibition, open a lid on some of the societal issues that are hardly spoken about. Their bold undertaking is a manifestation that young people can influence change in their respective communities. Similarly, such is a figurative allusion to the emerging vibrancy of the art scene in the region.


The exhibition is curated by Thadde Tewa.

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