In the quiet and nondescript Lugogo area of Uganda’s capital Kampala, there is a towering art center that is connecting dozens of Ugandan and East African artists with international creators and providing—at the same time—a platform for budding art enthusiasts to showcase their prowess.
The AfriArt Gallery opened in 2002. It has grown to attract international art lovers and morphed into a pivotal meeting point for the most influential minds in African art.
Its interior is filled with a broad variety of artwork, from sculpture, recycled glassware, ceramics and locally designed clothes with patterns that speaks of contemporary Ugandan lifestyle. The art conveys messages that elucidate the social and cultural life of a country christened the Pearl of Africa. From religion, politics, gender issues, and good governance, the brushstrokes have captured the mood of the nation in a way that no other media has.
While the gallery has made significant breakthroughs in the international arena by having most of its works featured in international exhibitions, and offering exchanges between established and emerging artists, it has also positioned itself as a focal point for discovering raw talent.
One of the pieces that conspicuously stands out in the gallery is a sculpture that combines wood and metal to depict one of the age-old subjects in Ugandan history; the travails faced by the agro-pastoralist Karamojong tribe in Northern Uganda in the face of cattle rustlers, an exercise that has led to bloodshed and death.
The sculpture captures the tribulations of the Karamojong people represented by the hardwood meticulously engrained to depict the tenacity of the community with the metal clippings and wires to draw a picture of survival in the face of adversity. The choice of the color black is the capping that illustrates the endless struggle of the community.
Artists in the center also embrace local materials not just because they are readily available, but because they exemplify the African essence of their pieces. Most of the processes include sisal fibers and back cloth.
But the center also boasts a diverse pool of artists who inject ideas that are reflected in the final pieces. While individual artists draw their inspiration from the traditional setting of Uganda and the larger East African communities, others are versatile and have successfully experimented with international concepts and influences.
The gallery serves both local and international clientele and is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 6 pm East African Time. ■
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