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What is African art?

University don confronts subject of African identity, neo-colonialism and decolonisation

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | The question of African identity in art has been very topical recently. Africa does not produce art and all the art created by African artists – in the Diaspora and on the continent – is inspired by the West. Oh, really?

Dr. Kizito Maria Kasule, a university lecturer, does not think so and emphatically attempts to dismiss the stereotypical claim in an exhibition titled `Reflections’. His focus is to demonstrate that Africa has its own art and is as creative and innovative as other places.

He, for example, uses a painting of four female figures posing in the nude titled `Garden of Eden 2019’. It undoubtedly parodies Picasso’s famous painting `Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon’ (The young Ladies of Avignon). The irony here is that in painting such `Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon’, Picasso was inspired by African artistic practices and symbols; including the African mask. However, while Picasso’s art is continuously taught to art students in the class of Art history, the African masters that existed at the time and inspired him are ignored.

The contradictory ideas around art teaching; especially in these contemporary times, bother Kizito. He is troubled by the continuous praise of western art education and negation of African indigenous art.

In his work, the artist avoids the narrative of colonialism as a detractor to Africa’s success, but rather provides fertile grounds for varied dialogue on what should be done by the continent to overcome western influences in the social, political and economic spheres. His technique of invoking African traditional artistic practices like sculptural forms and gestural expressionism- strong use of the colour palette- immediately conjure up the argument that what we think is western actually started here on the continent.

“My African identity and being a post-colonial era artist has been influenced by my formal art education,” he says.

Kizito has been at the forefront of initiating projects to decolonise art education in Uganda under Zurich’s Institute of Art and design at Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design.

His works are perfect platforms to reflect on the subject of African identity in the midst of a huge wave of neo-colonialism. Art education, he says, required urgent decolonization of art training in schools to encourage learners embrace what is indigenous before they become part of a wider global identity.

He believes this will salvage Africa’s artistic identity, notwithstanding cultural conversation and preservation that appear to be his inspiration.

`Reflections’ is about Kizito’s view of African identity, his personal experiences of it and what he sees in his social surrounding.

Where’s the African position in this and what has he done about it? To answer the question, the artist revisits topics of colonialism, post colonialism and decolonisation figuratively invoking what is indigenous in his paintings. The paintings on display invoke African geometrical patterns. The subjects in the paintings are voluminous to symbolise views beauty and vitality of the African body and the palette is earthly   to suggest the concept of the origin of man on the black continent; more so nature’s vibrancy.

Reflections exhibition is showing now at Makerere Art Gallery located within Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Art campus.

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