Uganda: Remembering Geoffrey Mukasa - the Enduring Painter22 déc. 2011
He appealed to not only the external market, but also to the local emerging clientele. Retrospective exhibitions are not very often held in Uganda. There are two main reasons; first, most artists sell to the expatriate community and tourists who pack their treasures and return home. Secondly, Nommo Gallery - the national gallery - has no policy, let alone the money to collect from artists. (Article by: Dr. george Kyeyune)
Some of the work on this recent show "In Memory of Geoffrey Mukasa" (November 2011) at the AKA Gallery (formerly Tulifanya Gallery) was on loan from his local collectors. The gallery, which has been the trusted exhibition space for Mukasa for over a decade, has been vigilant in ensuring that his legacy lives on. This exhibition is a step in that direction.
Mukasa graduated in painting from Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts, India in 1989. Both India and Uganda were former British colonies. However, while India regained her independence in 1947 after over 200 years of colonial occupation, Uganda was "protected" for over 60 years and became a nation state in 1962. The period of revivalism (renewal of past traditions in the context of modern developments) which swept across India at the turn of the 20th century are just beginning to take root in Uganda.
Mukasa was therefore lucky to be in India at a time when experimentation in formal content and subject matter had matured and was a commonplace discussion both in art colleges and among the Indian artists fraternity.
His debut on the gallery scene was a joint exhibition with the late Fabian Mpagi at the newly refurbished Sheraton Hotel in 1990. The two exhibited totally different approaches to art. Mpagi represented a typical Makerere Art School style, where the technical handling of materials, anatomy and colour theory were highly valued.
Mukasa's paintings on the other hand were less polished. They retained a certain kind of rustic and raw energy that indeed echoed the difficulties of the post civil war period.
The luminous paintings, radiant with saturated colours that he applied with ease and confidence, reminded us that we live in the tropics and moreover along the equator. But in these colours, we also experience a sense of resilience and hope, something that Ugandans desperately needed to hear and be told again and again. Further still, these loud colours gave the paintings a strong presence and power.
Mukasa chose to violate the laws of perspective, as these could have compromised his capacity for emphasis. He reassessed anatomy in plants, animals and human figures in an eccentric way that returns us to the 'classical' African carvings.
Yet interestingly, it is the case that Mukasa's single and most important influence for his paintings was not the classical African sculpture, but rather a well-known Indian painter, M.F. Husain, who flowered in the late 40s.
Since that famous and perhaps launching joint exhibition, Mukasa never looked back. The surroundings at Munyonyo, where he lived since the early 1990s, have only recently become as affluent. Munyonyo was semi-urban but with all the trappings of a village life.
Mukasa did not have to go far to find his favorite subjects rooted in social life and culture. The chicken that freely forage in the backyard are frequently depicted in his paintings. The fish at the nearby landing site are also a common sight. Fruits and vegetables are grown and vended in this area throughout the year. But these are more than food items. They play a major part in the ancestral worship and other activities of cultural significance. To amplify their presence and significance, these objects are schematised.
It is easy to assume that Mukasa was a returning refugee, given that many artists in exile returned during the same time - late 80s. Mukasa and the returnees however had one thing in common, they were exposed to new possibilities in art albeit in differing circumstances, which they shared with the home-based artists. They experimented with all sorts of conceivable materials in their surroundings and made "new" art.
In Mukasa's paintings for example, old newspapers were given a new identity once they were pasted on the canvas. With such mosaic innovations, Mukasa confirmed that materials for art need not be expensive.
Mukasa stretched the borders of painting beyond the expected, and deservedly; today he is celebrated as a leading Ugandan painter of the 20th century who was key in raising the profile of art in Uganda. Mukasa's legacy will continue to reverberate across the country and beyond for many years to come.
An extended version of this art exhibition critique has been published online at STARTJOURNAL.ORG.