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Why ordinary Ugandans won’t spend on art.

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th May 2002 03:00 AM

UNDER the watchful eyes of dim-lit bulbs, manifold frames of picturesque paintings hang loosely against a creamish wall.

UNDER the watchful eyes of dim-lit bulbs, manifold frames of picturesque paintings hang loosely against a creamish wall.

By Raphael Okello and Brian Ourien UNDER the watchful eyes of dim-lit bulbs, manifold frames of picturesque paintings hang loosely against a creamish wall. A lady stands still in the centre space of one of the illuminated exhibition rooms. Her expressions are vivid, almost seductive. Now and then, she winks woodenly, commanding the attention of the surrounding sculptures and paintings that seem to be breathing. Yet the silence in the Nommo gallery overshadows the imaginary bustling life depicted in the rich and vibrant art. “This place is mostly busy during temporary exhibitions,” Sylvia Napokoli, the Nommo gallery attendant says. She says that visitors to the gallery respond only after a particular exhibition has been publicised. The majority of visitors are foreign tourists, artists who come to see works by other artists, art students, and few Ugandans working with high profile organisations. During permanent exhibitions, the gallery goes silent as few visitors trickle in. Modern art, it has been said, is still a young concept in Africa. But, critics have disregarded the notion that Ugandans are indeed indifferent about art, saying people have, in their homes traditional pieces of artistry. For instance, locally woven mats, animal skins, drums, baskets and pots. On the whole, art in Uganda is now said to be on a renaissance. Currently the industry boasts of various established galleries in contrast to the previous two by 1986; the Nommo gallery and at the national theatre. “Today people are curious about the proceedings in art exhibitions. There’s an awakening but we have been six feet deep,” professional artist, Sudi Kukumba says. The past insecurity greatly influenced the priorities of most people. They were concerned with satisfying basic needs. “Up to now it is unheard of for a parent to purchase an art piece worth $150 when a child has been sent home for school fees,” Sudi says. However, Ugandans are getting more and more trendy and artistic in everything they do or wear. They are conscious about the type of cars they drive, the interior and exterior designs of their houses and compounds. Yet the larger population is still reluctant about purchasing sculptures, paintings and ceramics. “Some have the money but cannot buy the pieces because they have grown up in the environment illustrated in the art pieces,” Napokoli says. The materials used, such as banana fibre, beads, cereals, bark cloth, papyrus and hand made paper do not strike locals as much as they captivate foreign tourists. “Of all the visitors we receive, it’s the foreign tourists and a few Ugandans who purchase the art works. This is because most of the works are expensive,” Napokoli reveals. The most expensive art work in this gallery costs sh5m. The locals haven’t learnt to appreciate the complexities involved in modern art works. Sudi says this negative attitude has its roots in the education system that did not value art as an entity. As a result, art has wrongly been conceived as a profession for academic failures. He discloses that during an exhibition, they invite friends who understand and can afford to buy the works displayed. But what makes this kind of art expensive? “The frames, screens, paint, wood, the time spent, the size and amount of work. All those contribute to the pricing of the works,” Sudi says. Emmanuel Issu, an art lover, argues that art has always been part of our culture and was cheap to acquire. It was a talent that someone engaged in for leisure. But today art has been commercialised. Artists target tourists and the middle class art lovers. Consequently, the works are too expensive. As much as the art industry desires to have many buyers, it needs as many lovers. This will be achieved if society is helped to transcend its negative attitude. Ends

Why ordinary Ugandans won’t spend on art.

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