Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja roots for arts and culture dev't

Jul 07, 2015

Society needs to cherish its traditions and preserve its arts and cultural heritage in order to progress, says renowned Ugandan artist and designer Sanaa Gateja.

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

Society needs to cherish its traditions and preserve its arts and cultural heritage in order to progress, renowned Ugandan artist and designer Sanaa Gateja has said.

“As such, people and policymakers need to pay attention to the development of the visual and performing arts as one of the avenues for people to express and learn about their culture and traditions.”

Speaking at his Kwetu (our home) Africa art studio in Lubowa, off Entebbe Road ahead of a groundbreaking exhibition that will be held at Makerere University school of Industrial and fine arts in October this year, Gateja says that a lot of work still needs to be done to popularize arts and culture in Uganda.

“The government and indeed the public need to support the arts through active participation in events and taking off time to understand how much of our culture has evolved.

“The visual arts offer a very good platform for his,” he says.

Sanaa uses recycled materials such as paper, old books and magazines to produce jewelry, bags, lampstands and other functional materials.

‘Bead King’



He also uses backcloth to produce intricately designed tapestries and wall decorations which are now on display in different galleries in and outside of Uganda.

His work is sold within Uganda and exported to different parts of the country.

In March this year, CNN Africa Voices, an international TV flagship programme on innovative and trailblazing African professionals, featured Gateja’s work.

They referred to him as Uganda’s “Bead King” for his work in bead making.

“I have been working with recycled materials since the 1990s and have been able to do a lot to transform these into beautiful artworks that have helped to improve lives.”

The 'Bead King' displays some of his work. (Credit: Lillian Babirye)

Emphasizing that apart from being a means of documenting and preserving our culture, Gateja says art is also a good source of economic empowerment.

He has taught over 5000 women in using recycled paper to produce beautiful beady necklaces. Many such women have forged ahead in life and are able to take care of their families.

“Without the skills offered to me by Gateja, I would not have been able to make such beautiful crafts,” says Aida Mukisa (pictured working below), one of the women trained by the artist. “Today, thanks to him, I am able to feed my family.”


Gateja’s exhibition in Makerere will explore the artist’s interpretation of his own journey within the context of his personal and professional development as well as his training and creative career path.

Some part of the exhibition, he adds, will probe “my political views formed when I was growing up in Kenya soon after colonialism”.

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