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Riding art to the market

One of the biggest problems art has faced over the years is consumers not knowing how and where to find it.

The ones who do, think art is majorly a tourist thing and rather too expensive and complicated for locals. This may have been the backbone of the month-long Kampala Contemporary Art festival that ended last Friday.

Running on the theme ‘Unmapped’, the festival had invited the city to not only see, but also indulge in the different processes artistes go through while turning rubbish, colour and canvas into art. To get the message across, curators and organizers used the railway and the boda bodas.

At the railway station’s historical building, the festival brought together 10 artists from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Ethiopia and Uganda. Artists such as Paul Bukenya Katamiira, Vivian Mugume, Helen Nabukenya, Rwanda’s Tony Cyizanye and Tanzania’s Paul Ndunguru explored and proposed narratives around the festival’s theme.

Katamiira’s efforts on unmapping the art of bark cloth creation was impressive. With experience dating back to 1968, the old man said he was born in a family of bark cloth makers with a legacy spanning a whopping 300 years. While documenting the process of creating fabric out of the bark of a fig tree, Katamiira expressed anger at detractors who did not think making the fabric qualified as art.

“Not everybody can make bark cloth; it takes time, skill and science.”

Cyizanye was a voice for the voiceless, with an ambitious painting aptly named My People. The piece mediates between the privileged and less-privileged people, using more bright colour than words. Prof Francis Nnagenda, on the other hand, is a legend and having his work at the festival was an honour for art lovers; he rarely exhibits in Uganda, and is more pronounced on the international market.

His Vendor On The Scaffold did not disappoint, taking us on a journey of a woman that struggles to keep her baby safe as well as look for food to feed it. The most recognized piece of the entire festival was Helen Nabukenya’s Golden Heart. The threaded art piece hangs by the Railways headquarters. It is part of her heartbreaking series Tuwaye and unites narratives of four women and the social issues affecting them.

The art festival’s highlight was the influence on locals to see, feel and care about art. This was through the interactive boda boda project that saw twenty motorcycles create a mobile art exhibition touring the city. Throughout the month, the exhibition moved to a different location and engaged the locals there. They were 28 locations including Makerere University, Wandegeya, Ntinda, Queens’s Way and Owino market.

“I followed the bodas to Kasubi, then Makerere and Wandegeya,” said one of the revellers who paid attention to the festival after learning it was free.

Papa Shabani’s moving photo studio was breathtaking, as was Joshua Kagimu and his Twezuule which was made of rubbish and waste. Kagimu also turned the boda boda into a platform for street children to share their inner musical talents, thus the name Twezuule (self-discovery).

It may be too early to conclude that people have changed attitudes and now appreciate creative minds, but one of the organisers, Robinah Nansubuga, is optimistic this was a good start.


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