By Emmanuel Ssejjengo
Edward Waddimba has redefined gallery art. What takes the centre stage at his exhibition at Design Agenda Gallery is not the paintings and abstract sculpture, but the â€œfunctionalâ€ art.
It comes in the make of wrought iron and many at the gallery are wont to ask if Design Agenda is still an art gallery or fast turning into a furniture showroom.
But do not be mistaken, this furniture (letâ€™s stick to â€œfunctional artâ€) is artistically rich.
It is a story of â€œturning sculpture into something functionalâ€. This follows from Waddimbaâ€™s background of carpentry while at Kings College Buddo, a subject that was not even on the syllabus.
In Uganda where art is less appreciated, mainly because many only manage to put food on their plates, this form of art is convincing.
His candle stands have varied humane themes.
In the piece, â€œsharingâ€, the humans hold a candle together. In â€œfriendshipâ€, they stand side by side holding candles. â€œConversationâ€, however, comes up as his most active and democratic piece. The characters are in a hot debate and each is actively speaking out.
Thematically, Waddimba is a universalist. But stylistically, he remains a Pan Africanist. The base of his artifacts is rough, perhaps suggesting a rough â€œAfricanessâ€ congruent with the living conditions in much of Black Africa.
He works in black wrought iron, bringing on board an elegance punctuated with the African ideal. â€œBlack has the strength,â€ comments Edward Waddimba.
This is art that moves physically and spiritually. The pieces portray clear activity. The â€œpeopleâ€ in Waddimbaâ€™s candles are dressed in sisal thread. The black iron matches with the cream sisal, a strength too much for the eye to ignore.
Since his designs are based on African motifs, he uses lines, creating squares and rectangles around his works. â€œIn Africa, we work in lines and not circlesâ€, he says. But functional art can be disabling, and so is Waddimbaâ€™s work.
Most of the work, especially the beds, racks, tables and chairs, are way too plain. â€œIncidentally, they are the peopleâ€™s favourites and are selling like hot cakes compared to the more sophisticated works,â€ he says.
Much of functional art pieces have the weakness of not being user friendly. Aware of this, Waddimba manages to weave round edges to his items that do not pierce at a touch.
Some visitors to the exhibition were not there for sheer art. Waddimba has come up to challenge â€œart for artâ€™s sakeâ€ and instead taken to â€œart for manâ€™s sakeâ€.
From the 20th century, this has been the main driving force of critics, until it trampled into itself by making everything befitting of art.
It is this spirit that Waddimba raises once again. Is this art or merely useful household items?
This exhibition is hard to avoid, for anyone. Whether critical or with a low taste of art, there is definitely something to marvel at. It may be abstract art or functional art.
At the exhibition, the usual paintings and sculpture are also available.