â€œI comment on the burning issues of the day through art,â€ talented sculptor Henry Kimbowa says
By Charles Musisi
ART is to Henry Kimbowa what music is to Madonna. He devotes himself to it with his heart and soul. When the smiling young man evaluates its importance, his eyes flash in delight.
To the slender 25-year old with a bristling beard, art is not just a passion. It is an outlet for his feelings.
â€œI comment on the burning issues of the day through art,â€ he observes with a slight stammer.
He looks at me steadily as he explains. Occasionally his eyelids flicker. Kimbowa points at Terrified, a figure of a nude muscular man with the left hand covering part of his open mouth, and the right at the back of the head. The sculpture depicts the horror of a man who is HIV positive. The engraved work expresses the implications of fear.
â€œThere is an introduction of personality in the sculpture in which my explicit subject was allegorical,â€ Kimbowa reveals. â€œThe melancholic personality of the sculpture comes from my melancholic personality and sensitivity to people living with AIDS. I thought this sculpture would make people realise the horror of AIDS,â€ he says.
The muscular grace of Michel Angeloâ€™s figures, a renaissance sculptor, inspired Kimbowa to use a muscular nude male. The figure is in sharp contrast to the devastation that AIDS will soon do to the body. He sculptures in clay, wood, stone and metal. â€œI use a gouge to chop off unwanted parts from wood, and a chisel to shape stones. For metal sculptures, I use a welding machine,â€ he says.
Kimbowa explores a variety of subjects and renders them with triumphant skill. One of his sculptures, Stretching Out, potrays women emancipation.
â€œAs I was sorting logs I had rejected, I saw one that had been â€œsketchedâ€ by nature. I visualised a lady stretching out her hand as if she had just awakened. This struck me as a strong representation of todayâ€™s gender issues. Women are awakening and â€œstretching outâ€ into new areas,â€ he says.
Stretching Out is a sculpture of nude female, her hands stretched behind her head. The varied texture opens our eyes to the difficulties involved in the womenâ€™s struggle. The blue colour and texture emphasises that stretching out continues.
â€œBlue was the most natural colour because it has taken women a long time to free themselves from the chains of tradition and suffering. Blue represents peace,â€ he elaborates.
The use of colour gives this work its own lighting as the eyes pick up the contrast between the rough coloured areas and the smooth clear ones.
Kimbowa was bred by his mother, Prisca Nalongo Nakawooya, 48. His father, Fulsio Jemba, a trader in Masaka, did not provide for him. It is scant wonder that he acknowledges the women struggle for equality.
â€œI was born in Kibinge subâ€” county in Masaka in 1976. My parents divorced. I was reared by my mother.â€™â€™
Tears of Labour is one of his amazing pieces. It is a wooden sculpture of a pregnant woman whose womb is open, showing the egg inside.
Kimbowa unravels the message of the beautiful piece: â€œThe use of the egg is natural. It reminds us of the tiny ova and conveys the fragility of life in the womb. This represents the embryo and also accentuates the space across the big void of the â€œEmbryonic sac.â€
The natural grains of the â€œalbisiaâ€ wood allows the artist to express the mixture of love and pain of pregnancy through the flowing, curvilinear representation of concave and convex shapes that move, unfold, and integrate the space into the mass of the sculpture. The smooth finish makes the work glow with inner life. â€œThis style reflects my admiration for the curving volume, swerving curves and rounded moving rhythms of Chinese art,â€ he says.
The sculpture is clothed in a glorious light. Its radiance makes the meaning leap instantly to the eye. Kimbowa had his first â€œdoseâ€ of modern education at St. Martin Primary School, Kampala in 1984.
He reminiscences about his school days, â€œI was a good student. Science was my best subject. I sculptured Jesus on the cross and Mary,â€ he says. Seven years afterwards, he was â€œembracedâ€ by St. Henryâ€™s College in Kitovu, Masaka. which ushered in six years of secondary education. He showed plainly that art was his calling.
â€œI sculptured a crippled man and a girl carrying a pot of water,â€ Kimbowa recalls.
St. Henry moulded the boyâ€™s character. His intellect underwent profound transformation. He met father Cornelius. The priest infused hope into the youth.
â€œHe paid my school fees and encouraged me to nurture my talent,â€ he says.
The learning environment at Kitovu was conducive to the boyâ€™s ambition to become an artist. â€œWe w-w-were well fed and the teachers were good,â€ he stammers.
Towards the end of his fourth year, St. Henryâ€™s stability was shattered. Brother Godfrey Kakinda died and Brother Joseph Kawuki became the headteacher.
â€œKakinda did not have a good working relationship with Father Ryan. In 1995, the priest left,â€ Kimbowa recalls. Things fell apart.
â€œWhy was there bad blood between the headteacher and the priest?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know,â€™â€™ the artist replies. â€œThe Fatherâ€™s projects ground to a halt. St. Henry was renowned for sports but when Ryan left, our standard declined.â€
For his vocation, Kimbowa stayed at Kitovu. â€œI worked with my teacher Joseph Ssebbagala,â€ he says. â€˜â€™I helped him to curve sculptures of the Uganda Martyrsâ€. The teacher enabled the boy to brush up his artistic skills.
In 1997, Kimbowa joined Makerere University. He decided to channel his energies into sculpturing at the CafÃ© Gallery, Nalukolongo where he exhibited several pieces. This gave him a lot of publicity and his pieces were widely appreciated. â€œMy sculpture, Terrified, appeared in The Monitor. The Italian attachÃ© Averrono bought it,â€ he says.
In 1999 opportunity struck. Artists were invited to participate in the Ninth International Wood Sculpture Symposium in Hojer, Denmark. Kimbowa seized the chance to display his skills.
The organisers of the symposium received 149 applications from 21 nations. The committee selected 20 participants. On February 13, this year, Kimbowa was invited. He was the only African contestant.
â€œI felt nervous. It was my first time to fly,â€ he chuckles.
His sculpture, An African woman carrying a pot, won great critical acclaim. The sculpture was auctioned at the highest amountâ€”11,000 Danish krone (sh3m) â€œIt was abstract. It portrayed the African culture,â€ he explains
Kimbowa graduated from Makerere University this year with an Upper Second Class honours in Industrial and Fine Art. He is based at Kyebando, on Gayaza road. He never appears to have an idle moment. He lives with a gouge and brush in his hand.
He is disappointed that, â€œUgandans show little appreciation of art.â€ He is also unhappy with todayâ€™s art. â€œArt has become much more commercialised at the expense of creativity. Very often desire for money kills the freedom and spontaneity of the artistâ€™s thought,â€ he laments.
Kimbowa unveils his plan: â€œIf I get funds, I will pursue my studies so as to master art.â€
The artist has ploughed a deep furrow in the rocky soil of Ugandan art and he vows to succeed. â€œAlthough I lack modern equipment. I have drive and artistic potential,â€ he asserts, â€œThat is what counts.â€ Indeed it is what counts.
He speaks through sculpture