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The Developing Art Patronage Networks in Uganda

Ugandans have created their own means of developing their artists and new audiences, through the Kampala Art Biennale, and when it comes to art galleries and art spaces in Uganda, the Afriart gallery is a prime example of pioneering and representing most top Ugandan artists.

Historically, Uganda has lacked the lasting art patronage networks that much of West Africa and Congo benefitted from through their political and economic strength, as well as through their precolonial ethnic history of masks and masquerades. This began to change with a growing economy during the 1990s, when Ugandan artists began to react more positively by experimenting with new motifs, textures and colours. And even though Uganda hasn’t yet had its own visibility at the Venice Biennale, save for Martha Kazungu, the Ugandan curator for the Zimbabwe pavilion, we are now seeing Ugandan contemporary artists putting Uganda on the map of international contemporary art.

Digest, Collin ‘Secolli’ Sekajugo, courtesy of the artist

Ugandans have created their own means of developing their artists and new audiences, through the Kampala Art Biennale, and when it comes to art galleries and art spaces in Uganda, the Afriart gallery is a prime example of pioneering and representing most top Ugandan artists. The 32°East art centre offers artists a unique platform for their art through the KLA Art festival and the Design Hub Kampala acts as a co-working hub and event space for creatives.

Last month, at the height of his artistic career, Ugandan collage portrait artist Benon Lutaaya lost his life – at the time of his death, he had numerous awards under his belt. Known also for his philanthropic work, he founded the cultural institution The Project Space in South Africa. Collin ‘Secolli’ Sekajugo, a mixed media Ugandan-Rwanda artist who also paints and performs, is also steadily gaining global recognition with international representations and being inducted into collections such as that of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, while at the same time pushing for a social transformation in Africa through his art and projects. He is known to have transformed what was once a small poor village in Uganda into an arts tourism hub, bridging the gap between the arts and the community through residency programmes and the first East African sculpture park – the Weaverbird International Artist Village. In 2007, he also founded the pioneer visual art space Ivuka Arts Kigali, nurturing numerous talents who had since become some of Rwanda’s top artists.

Two skilled Ugandan visual artists who exhibit worldwide and have made it through to the 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair are Ian Mwesiga, who in London in 2018 focused on post-colonial African social identity; and Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga, who in New York this year revived African art through ‘indigenous expressionism’.  Other painters who enjoy international exposure include Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga, Paul Ndema, and Donald ‘Waswad’ Wasswa. Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga recently participated in the group exhibition Itinerant Objects with the Winchester School of Art at Tate Modern, where he showed artworks connected to his PhD project Uganda Airlines: between invisibility and visibility, as well as at the Glocal Art Gallery in Denmark which featured ‘Uganda’s Best Artists’, confronting his viewers with human rights and political themes. Paul Ndema plays with satirical interpretations of Christianity in his art, whilst through his minimalist design artworks, Donald ‘Waswad’ Wasswa, the founder of the art collective Art Punch Studio, investigates the psycho-socio effects of rural-urban migration, worldwide refugee crisis, and neo-colonialism leading to immigration to the west. Printmaker Fred Mutebi also uses the art of printmaking to communicate complex societal and environmental issues.

Unlearning, Collin ‘Secolli’ Sekajugo, courtesy of the artist

The quintessential Ugandan artist who expresses himself through the widest range of media with embedded imagination has got to be Xenson. A painter, poet, performer, fashion designer, graffiti writer and installation artist influenced by African art and culture, Xenson’s work typically explores concepts of identity and global circulation, with pre and post-colonial history in mind. Shelia Nakitende, a mixed media and performance artist, is working on a body of work using traditional materials and techniques to tackle processes of transformation through life’s experiences such as womanhood, motherhood, family, trauma and healing. And whilst most of his contemporaries are conveying a particular message through their art, mixed media artist Ronex Ahimbisimbwe is rather looking to draw out reactions from the public. The renowned ‘bead king’, Sanaa Gateja, uses recycled paper beads in his installation artworks, creating a livelihood for thousands of women and youth.

Stacey Gillian Abe, featured as one of the youngest provocative African artists by This is Africa and in 2016, is known to be advancing powerfully in her career as a photographer and a performance and installation artist, working on concepts around the themes of identity, cultural and spiritual mysticism. Photographic visual artist Canon Griffin Rumanzi, who has participated in various shows, biennales and photo festivals in and out of Uganda, co-founded the History in Progress Uganda platform of photographs of Ugandan streets and their slogans, whilst Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar’s lifelong project is that of photographing youth and the hip-hop culture in Uganda, winning the Uganda Press Photo Award in 2013/14.

Art shows and exhibitions including Ugandan artists in Europe and beyond are developing. In May, we will be able to see Shelia Nakitende’s collaboration with Ghanaian artist Dorothy Amenuke at the Alpha Nova & Galerie Futura in Berlin, whilst her Legacy project for the ‘Makerere at 50’ exhibition will be exhibited at the Makerere University Art Gallery and at the Underground Contemporary Art Space in Uganda, in September and October. Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga will be exhibiting at the Winchester Gallery at the University of Southampton, in late September and in another group show in London organised by Jonah Batambuze later in the year. In December, mixed media artist Ronex Ahimbisimbwe will be exhibiting at the Village Market in Nairobi, Kenya, together with other Ugandan artists, Enoch Mukiibi and Tindi. Stacey Gillian Abe’s work as artist-in-residence is also much anticipated at The Bag Factory artist studios in Johannesburg, courtesy of the ABSA L’atelier 2018.

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