The new dawn of the MishMash Experience
The Uganda art scene is increasingly getting more exciting and rather competitive with each passing month. After the successful launch of the Signature art exhibition – with its pomp and glamour – last year at the Serena Hotel, another artistic event, MishMash, has debuted on the art scene making art lovers and artists again very optimistic about art in Uganda.By Dominic Muwanguzi
MishMash is a concept hatched by two white expatriates – local art has a way of attracting the patronage of white expatriates irrevocably – Genevieve and Adam Williams, and entails blending all forms of art in one space spiced up with art classes for children, food and drinks, and lots of music.
At the opening of this space on Sunday March 26th, in the leafy neighborhoods of Ntinda a city suburb, the crowd which turned up was impressive in size. About a dozen artists exhibited their work – a blend of traditional and contemporary African art – to over one hundred and fifty guests who cheerfully kept on pacing up and down the corridors of the bungalow where the art pieces were hung.
Incidentally, for someone who had frequently visited art galleries in Kampala, it was easy to notice that most of these pieces had been exhibited before in these galleries. And also the fact that there was very little space provided for the art work at the venue.
In the latter case, the guests often crowded in one single room as they sought to appreciate a particular art piece. This obviously made it very uncomfortable for the guests and may have left a bitter taste in their mouth.
However, this glitch in the presentation could be quelled in the subsequent exhibition since the directors promise monthly previews at the gallery. For a small fee members will be able to appreciate and buy the art in a more decent and private setting before the crowds beat them to it. This will come with a bonus of a free glass of wine on the house!
There was also the element of juxtaposing old and new artists. In this case, Sanaa Gateja – an artist whose artistic repertoire spans over three decades – was able to exhibit with new bloods like Shira Ddamulira, Tindi Ronnie and Yusuf Ngula. The moral resonance to this juxtaposition is to provide the guests with a diversity of Ugandan art – Sanaa Gateja works with paper beads and bark cloth and the youthful artists are known for their acrylics – and also create a learning experience for the fresh faces on the local art scene.
More about juxtaposing; the inclusion of dance, music and fashion on the menu was a brilliant idea which would have gotten better had the organizers thought through it in a more detailed and organized manner.
Time again and again, we were caught off guard by the exhibit of fashion and music – save for Keiga Dance Troupe which put on an impressive show of dance and music – which were lukewarmly executed. The organizers next time ought to opt for a more organized presentation to befit the audience’s high expectations.
Save for that imperfection, the MishMash experience was documented in a colorful catalogue with the profile of each participating artist alongside the name of his paintings together with the specific prices. Though this is not a new concept – several other art events have had this arrangement – the difference here is the comprehensive information provide within the catalogue, enabling the guests to fully appreciate the artists’ work.
Adam’s analysis of this events gallery is that the art scene in Uganda is very exciting with different styles and techniques. Each artist has his or their identity and this makes them unique in a certain way.
“Ugandan artists are talented in their own way. It is not like in neighboring countries where you find almost all the artists sharing the same style. MishMash is dedicated to further this creativity among the local artists.”
But amidst this zeal, the directors will have to grapple with the challenge of consistency. Yes, the first event was well attended and everything must have played out well for the organizers. But it was quite obvious that the guests were anxious to know if this excellent presentation would be maintained next month and thereafter.
The other voice
One guest said to me he was excited about the concept of having all forms of art in one space, but still he was very eager to find out if the organizers would stick to the same menu or get even better next month.
“I will certainly return next month to savor the MishMash experience, because I do certainly love it. However, I will be also curious to know if the organizers have got more creative or not,” he told me.
Though this guest was rather modest in his remarks, another guest in his sixties was candid about his perception of the experience.
“I would have preferred if the organizers picked another name; something simplistic. MishMash for me as a word seems to be rather complex and I hope that by trying to be complex they will not end up spoiling everything. Too many spices can spoil the soup,” he quipped.
And how did the artists feel about the MishMash?
Generally, all the artists felt elated about this new experience of appreciating art.
“I am very happy that MishMash has joined the local art scene in Uganda. This is going to be a challenge for the main stream gallery owners to step up their game lest they lose out on the market,” one artist – who preferred to remain anonymous – told me.
Another artist described it as a classic motivation of artists by integrating all the arts in one space.
“I have always believed that all forms of art are the same and need to be appreciated equally. Here, artists of different genres can learn from each other,” he told me.
In the midst of this euphoria, artists need to act discerningly. It would be absurd, if artists only perceived the MishMash experience as another medium of selling their work and hence forget the incredible benefit of it being a forum to network and improve on their work.
The artist and directors need to step up their game here. My earnest wish is that next month we are presented with fresher images and it would be a plus if the gallery employed a curator who has a rich knowledge on Uganda contemporary art to sieve through the art work.
Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for all stakeholders in this lucrative industry to appreciate art on another level. Like the vision of the MishMash experience is: to bring together painting, sculpture, fashion, crafts, dance and photography and music – all elements that make up a rich tapestry of Uganda life – there is a minute likelihood for mediocrity and failure of this project.
As we anxiously wait for another edition of MishMash at the end of April, our heartfelt regards go to the organizers of this mini festival for a job well done, but moreso, to have delighted our senses with this new idea of promoting and selling Ugandan art.Dominic Muwanguzi is a freelance art Journalist with a strong dedication to uplifting the visual arts in Uganda. [facebook-like-button]