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The Endangered Ones

Bird art warns of the danger ahead

| MATT KAYEM | Farid Mahfudh, one of Uganda’s top bird artists, has been working on a major body of work for the last five years and now – it’s ready! He is showing off the work titled `Endangered’ at the Afriart Gallery in Industrial Area Kampala.

Visitors have been excited and awed by Farid’s hyper realistic paintings of birds. The artist filled the gallery space with 32 oil paintings of different species of birds.  All paintings are highly technically done. Attention is applied to detail and, at first glance, can easily be mistaken for photographs.

The dessert of the meal is how the artist filled the gallery floor with dried foliage and branches of trees to mimic the natural environment of the birds. It quite lovely and creates an interesting juxtaposition between the dirt and the clean; the messy crunchy foliage on the floor and the organised paintings on the walls; when you look at the paintings and then below you, stepped on the. Some who are not moved by the realistic genre (the category I belong to) might say “so what?” but I think it is very beautiful and meticulous.

Farid’s work touches a subject that is on many mouths these days – conservation and the environment. But birds have been his burning passion since his childhood days in Masaka when he nursed hatchlings, fed them and improvised grassy shelters for them. His passion was rekindled years back after news of the unfortunate death of over two million quelea birds by spraying at Kibimba Rice Farm in Eastern Uganda. His concern antennae tingled and he set out to dedicate a huge duration of his practice to raise awareness about birds. He set out to find the bird species that are at most risk of getting wiped out. Birds like the African broadbill in Kibale forest reserve and the shoebill in Mabama and Murchison Falls National Park. These are some of the endangered species found in Uganda.

This exhibition reminds us that birds are sentinel species and form an integral part of our landscape and soundscape of our daily lives. They keep systems in balance, they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses, and recycle nutrients back into the earth hence they should be conserved. Their familiar sounds, comings and goings bring pleasure and interest to people all around the world.

Farid’s work is definitely not a ‘beauty with no brains’ affair, mostly now when I was scrolling through my facebook and stumbled on a post to a link on an article, title reading “Fruit trees pollinated by hand due to lack of pollinating insects”. The news came from China. On opening the article, there was an image of farm workers on top of the trees equipped with apparatus “pollinating trees”. It is such that wake you up to the fact that Farid has created a significant body of work that when you put this bird picture in your living room, it should dawn on you about the beauty we are destroying and your input to put an end to the catastrophe that awaits us ahead.

The `Endangered’  exhibition is on at the Afriart Gallery in Industrial Area Kampala until Feb.02.



Matt Kayem is a contemporary artist/art writer and critic

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