Ronex celebrating his 10 yrs: New faces + new directions
Is it Art or Wolokoso? was the theme of Ronex’s art exhibition of 10 Years, questioning a fundamental theory that Ugandans do not “get” art. By the end of the four staged exhibits in four galleries, each two weeks apart, several of the showgoers agreed gleefully that what they had experienced was indeed, art.
Written by Serubiri Moses
Ronex Ahimbisibwe is an artist that often doesn’t talk, and rightly his art is known for making big gestures. One such gesture occurred when I walked into his opening show for the 10 year exhibition of works dubbed 10 Years of Art or Wolokoso? A word in popular culture, roughly translated as counterfeit or forgery.
In many ways, he was openly welcoming the audience to be critical of art. He was asking us, do you like what you see?
He welcomed the guests who arrived and talked to several, some of whom I imagine had very naive questions about his technique and methods or new style. Many of them may also have been new to modern or contemporary art. The other half included several artists, journalists, and art aficionados.
He did not intend to make the latter half feel uncomfortable, but he was simply ignoring them, while drawing a new crowd, asking them if they liked the art they saw hanging on the gallery walls.
It all seemed very normal for Ronex to be changing to something new, this new crowd didn’t notice at all that his artworks had evolved stylistically from his show last year. This time, his paintings bathed in much brighter and lighter hues, offering also satin-like textures overlaying one another.
A lady, whom I’ve known to be part of the Kampala Singers, said to me, “I’ve never seen his mosaics before!” She was indeed in the later half who have kept track of his art and other contemporary artists for a few years.
She—like many of the art aficionados—wondered indeed if he was displaying old work in this first show, baffled by the glowing change that consumed his work. I myself did not realize it was his most recent work until he mentioned it to me himself.
The crowd at Afriart Gallery was very warm throughout, and many people grabbed a beer and talked loudly outside the gallery. There seemed to be a placid casualness to the event that contradicted the fact that Ronex had indeed, pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He had once again, changed his style, never one to conform to old and redundant ideas.
The next shows
In his three other shows at Mishmash, Makerere Art Gallery, and FasFas respectively, this same casualness was abundant. It was interesting to see several new faces showing up at each show.
At Mishmash, for example, there was a younger crowd which seemed to enjoy the energy of the work he exhibited there, mostly woodcuts and digital art which had never been exhibited before.
Ronex explained to me that the woodcuts had influenced his paintings on canvas, starkly similar in comparison, except that he was cutting into wood and pressing paints onto the prints. It revealed a new artist. In other works on display he displayed his mastery of creating furniture.
Ronex is drawn to textures that he uses to express the flux of the city center and its various subtleties. Its movements and inconsistencies. Its politics and its popular culture. The lack of nature, or of natural things. The ever-growing population of people. The rampant capitalist culture reflected in overcrowding, and government privatization of public parks.
All these themes are expressed using obscure patterns in his work.
Having started out studying textile design, then moving on to sculptures right after graduation, Ronex reflects this through his work in a language of textures and objects.
He is working through chaos, moving towards revealing his subject. He invests the most common process of moving from relative familiarity towards darkness or chaos, as in most narratives.
From chaos to peace
If Ronex’s works were a film, we would in the first scene be introduced to total chaos; then move swiftly towards peacefulness. His work aims at destroying this impertinent sense of the horror and anxiety, through complex layering of textures, palettes, and colors.
It feels almost like unweaving a basket or a mat or a wool sweater, taking the thread apart, until it distills into a long luminous thread.
Textures also reflect paradigms of the mind. His more recent paintings (the ones exhibited at Afriart) often begin with a flowing texture, that is almost like satin or flowing silk. This makes color more recognizable, and quickly we are brought to subjects—we are introduced to a space in which subjects live. There is always this revealing, at the end of the “Ronex narrative”, of a subject in full light.
In one 3D painting, in which sculpture is employed, he begins the narrative in total bleakness, casually building a chaos from this familiar body of unruly character, represented by an almost oppressive texture. Gradually as it fills the canvas, a girl is revealed, who literally protrudes her head through the surface of the painting. She is hooded and her eyes are rather obscure, but these are just some of the things that emerge from his narrative.
“I have seen swallows fly and alight on painted iron-works which jut out of the windows of buildings.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci
There is drama if not a revelational quality to his works.
The decorative debate
Yes! Ronex’s paintings are decorative. But so is the majority of African art. It does not in any way mean that his paintings are of less value, than Yoruba relief sculptures on the pillars and doors of a Yoruba home.
In the history of African art, art has played a role within the lives of people themselves, whether during funeral rites or at weddings.
Ronex’s artworks could blend in with the natural, contemporary African setting simply for its emulation of those textures. A house built of mud bricks, cracks in the clay wall of this mud brick house. The dust of Kampala roads. The freshness of market places, and the rigorous activity everywhere. The restlessness of city vehicles.
All these phrases describe not only the temperament of his art, but also the African landscape.
“The painter’s work will be of little merit if he takes the painting of others as his standard, but if he studied from nature he will produce good fruits.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci
At his third show located at Makerere Art Gallery, a teacher of his, Banadda, remarked that Ronex had “found himself too early”, adding that watching him struggling through those two “extra” years behind the Art School, in a workshop that belonged to Mrs. Katende, was very inspiring. He laughs, saying those two years were his MFA.
Surely, if his goal in mind was to achieve this much success, then the show speaks for itself in its multi-dimensional, multi-media artworks which continually evolve stylistically through the years.
By the end of the exhibit, 10 years worth of artworks had been showed, and Ronex was very tired, confessing that he hadn’t slept well in weeks. It just showed how exhilarating the project had been, and how much of a feat it was for him to pull off, having been in the planning stages for about 4 years.
He often refers to the idea as “crazy”, but putting the artworks in perspective, there is a strong sense of determination to get through the thicket, even if it is deemed too crazy.
The new work, proved that being a multi-dimensional artist who doesn’t settle for old ideas, he has embarked on a new direction in his work, exploring thinner and lighter textures, that literally flow across the canvas. He also has openly splashes color onto the canvas, convincing me and the viewer that this new exciting journey for Ronex is just beginning, and the bulk of his most brilliant work is ahead.
Serubiri Moses has been published in The New Vision reviewing live music. As a poet, he is featured on the pan African website, Badilisha Poetry Exchange.