By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published March 30, 2012
The Afriart Gallery in Kamwokya, Kampala has just hosted what could be billed as a great line up of some of the best contemporary women artists working in Uganda in celebration of the Women Month.
The exhibition, that ran March 2-20, 2012, showcased the great advancements in art by top female artists displaying paintings, collages and photographs. The display also included unique hand-made ear-rings by Ugandan jewellers and other handcrafts.
The list of the exhibition titled, Women artists in Uganda, included Stella Atal, Rosario Achola, Hellen Nabukenya, Maria Naita, Amanda Tumusiime, Sheila Nakitende, Meltem Yasar and Roshan Karmali.
Achola’s oil and mixed media display includes The Lost Art of Romance, Bujagali, and Fool’s Gold.
The piece titled Bujagali explains the male element of economic development versus the female element of nature. With the building of the hydroelectric power dam at Bujagali, a sacred place is going to be lost in the process. In the middle of the painting is the sacred area that is holding a secret of something more precious than gold.
Fool’s Gold, on the other hand, is about the expectations of marriage. On the right is a man expressing his love and sexuality; he is the shining light, for his expectations are insemination reproduced by the fish and frogspawn below him. On the left is the bride and her expectations are fertility and a secure home. But these expectations break her neck.
Karmali, a photographer, designer and poet, displayed her photographic collection tilted Contemporary Tribe Series that included Rachael, Jessica, and Simone, and?? Her series asks, who is a tribe? What makes up a tribe? and What is tribe?
“…tribes are made up of people who share the same traditions, cultures and a sense of unity, and look out and take care of each other. In the contemporary context, as our cultures and ethnicities become diluted, how does our generation connect to our indigenous heritage? We make a new tribe that takes strides or elements from our tradition and hold on to them in our contemporary lives,” Karmali observes.”These series are about finding people who function in life and keep alive their ancestry and cultural rituals despite being in the place that is changing. We tend to dilute our cultures with consumerism and the need to fit in and be the same. If we don’t celebrate our ancestry and tradition we are going to be creating generations of children who don’t connect, celebrate, indulge in the beauty and richness of our cultures. And this is not only happening in Africa but the other cultures in the world as well.”
There was no better photo that summarised Karmali’s series than Simone, a portrait of a young woman of Burmese and American mixed race who has smeared herself with sandalwood paste as protection from the sun, a practice still in use in Burma. She lives in Washington, DC, USA and this is a way of staying connected to her Burmese heritage.
Also on display were the works of Atal, a specialist in acrylics on barkcloth and fashion designer of wearable art. Her works–My Sunshine, Beauty Contest, and Rhythms of the Day– carry three fresh faces with beads as if inspired to do something for the day.
While Nakitende’s paintings included Me Time, Strength of a Woman, First Love, and My little friend, Tumusiime’s were Long Stride, Adolescent, and Empowered, and Nabukenya’s Blue Land, Abstract, New Life, Love in Paradise, and Advance.Naita’s works were My Bouquet, Follow Your Dreams, and My Best Friend, among others.
Meltem Yasar had marvelous photography made up of coloured and black-and-white portraits; she seemed to have fallen in love with nomadic peoples of western and eastern Africa. She had pictures of these people dressed in their traditional head gear, beads, burgles and hair styles. Most of them were captured in their homesteads in happy moods, smiling and displaying beautiful white teeth. Yasar’s collection included Big smile from Omo Valley, Bottle Cap Girl, Lost in his eyes, Himba Girl, Black-est eyes, beautiful smile, Scar tattooed Karamajong Girl, Big Karamojong Smile, and Beauty in the crowd, among others.
Rosario Achola, a surrealist painter and photographer, described the exhibition as a way of expressing the different layers of what makes a woman. “And it is also a way to examine the power dynamics in the different gender roles assigned to us by society,” she said.
On her part Stella Atal said, “I think it is a way of reaching out to other women showing them our talent by expressing our inner feelings through paintings and other forms of art. We also want to prove to those who studied fine art and are not practising it that it is not a dirty job. Some people think painting is meant for men and not women, and that is why only a few of us women are few women in this trade. So we want to challenge the men that we, too, can do it.”
Daudi Karungi, the curator of Afriart Gallery, said the exhibition was meant to showcase women’s creativity in Uganda with the sole purpose of displaying their capabilities.