Afriart Gallery, Kampala, Uganda
12 Aug 2016 - 09 Sep 2016


Dr. Kizito Maria Kasule

This month Afriart Gallery shows big works of some of Uganda’s biggest names within the art scene.

Think about Uganda’s big five, the source of the Nile and the greatly endangered mountain gorilla; some of the things that make Uganda big. At the same time Uganda is growing fast to be the biggest cultural hub in Africa. Artists derive influence from their distinctive and rapidly developing culture while harkening to tradition and custom. These contemporary artists; Dr.Amanda Tumusiime, Banadda Godfrey, Mzili Mujunga, Dr. Kizito Maria Kasule, Mutebi Fred, Gwoktcho Stephen, Xenson, are some of the influential minds that are carving a space for Uganda in the international art world.

Uganda has a long history of formal art education and produced famous artists in recent generations, despite experiencing a political rollercoaster and huge social upheaval. Art was extended to degree level through the efforts of Margaret Trowell, who founded the Fine Art school at Makerere University in Kampala. Her courses emphasized the importance of building on existing artistic practices, but also introduced new techniques. Students came from all over eastern Africa. Exhibitions of outstanding students’ work were held in prestigious London galleries. Some students went to London art schools or the Royal Academy. Many such students became lecturers at Makerere and helped nurture the talents of younger artists.

In the 1960’s, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania achieved independence and they formed the East African Community. This structure involved sharing university facilities. Uganda, with its fine art school, continued its tradition of providing art education for much of East Africa. This changed in 1971 when a coup d’état brought Idi Amin to power. Many prominent artists went into exile and the university lost outspoken tutors. But The Fine Art School managed to stay open by employing recent graduates as lectures. In a way, this gave the school a new lease of life by providing opportunities for innovative young artists and breaking links with those whose training was based on the colonial system.

Makerere University was the foundation for the successful artists showing their works in this exhibition, titled BIG. Their achievements are very impressive. They received big awards and were exhibiting in many different countries, in and outside Africa. Amanda Tumusiime’s interest in feminism and art history earned her an award from the American Council for the Learned Societies (African Humanities Program). Her study proposes that patriarchal perceptions have continued to influence the kinds of images through which African women in general and Ugandan women in particular are ‘othered’ in cultural discourse authored by men and expressed through the medium of art. Such images of women in Ugandan art serve a political purpose, the most important being to silence the voices of women; Or Kizito Maria Kasule, who opened the Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design (NIAAD), a school of higher education in art.