Three artists telling their tales at the LaBa! Street Festival

The fifth Laba! Street Festival showcased a great variety of Ugandan artists; visual and performing artists, every single one eager to display and offer their creations to the passing spectator. Startjournal presents three artists with different reasons to create art as a living.

Written by Elizabeth Namakula

Stella Atal: Bold, sensual and stylish dress wear

Making dresses out of African fabrics for one’s friends is not a sure way of launching oneself into the fashion industry, but that is what fashion designer Stella Atal did.

“I knew I had a gift and my friends became my first models,” she says.

Fashion designer and visual artist Stella Atal

It’s the Laba festival. Amidst the face painting, ground painting, even children’s drawing of stick people and the neverending array of display tents – showcasing art in abstract, realism, print, beadmaking etc – the name Stella Atal stands out in bold letters outside her display tent. An onslaught of colour hits the eyes as Stella’s art, infused into African dresses, cries out to be seen. A crowd of revellers, possibly her fans eager to meet her, surround the tent as well.

My curiosity cannot be contained, so like the others, I make my way to the tent. At first, she strikes me as very reserved and less forthcoming, yet she quickly warms up when I compliment her on her work.  A girl of about eight years playfully prances in and Stella introduces her as her daughter.

Vibrant colours, blended hues

Surrounded by African dresses in vibrant colours, blended hues in bold print, the orders from the revellers, now turned customers, steadily keep coming in. The prices range from 100,000 -200,000 shillings per dress or shirt.

It is not hard to understand why.

She opens her fashion albums to reveal where her work has been showcased at. This includes both international stages and local ones as well. The Miss Africa USA, 2009. The African fashion week in New York. Miss Uganda 2009 and 2010. And other local events.

“My collections include bold, sensual and stylish range of dress wear tailored from recycled clothing and Ugandan cotton,” she informs.

“What about the different local celebrities appearing in your designs?”

“I am not a celebrity designer, but this one night I was honored to have local celebrities model my clothes.”

Impressed by this success, I want to know if she envisioned all of this when she was making her first design and she says: “When I started out, I didn’t know I would get this far. Therefore, I would encourage any one coming up, never to despise the days of humble beginnings.”

Inspiration from patterns, shapes and design

At this point, she breaks off to instruct her assistant to attend to her customers while she finishes with me. The instruction is heeded, but still I have to remind her to finish the interview as she is chiefly the person her customers want to see.

When I ask where she draws her inspiration from, she readily answers: “I just have to look at a fabric and then it all comes into place. The patterns, shapes and design.”

The mother of one and another on the way says she is still aiming for more. She has also ventured into interior design. People impressed with her designs also hire her to design their homes.

Stella did art at the Makerere Institute of Fine Arts. International acclaim, travelling and meeting people are some of her prized achievements.


Andrew Ludigo: Changing society through art

When I meet Andrew, I am struck by his vibrant personality and contagious smile. When we sit down to discuss his work, he reveals why.

“I have experienced healing through art. Working with young people three years ago helped me find myself. Children are not hypocrites. They see things as they really are.  Through innovation and creativity I have found purpose and meaning.”

Artwork by Andrew Ludigo

He doesn’t explain why healing was needed, but his work with Teens Uganda, an NGO that takes art to Kampala’s worst slums, gives us a clue.

“We supply teens with pencils and papers and tell them to draw anything they want. The simplicity of thought and creativity on a journey of hope empowers them to change their situation,” he says.

Drawing people and cars as a child

As a child himself, his excitement was never as strong as when he was drawing people and cars.

“Blank pages and sharp pencils were my companions in both good and bad times. When I am together with the children in Teens Uganda, I want to give them the same feeling.’

Andrew deals specifically in printmaking, and shows me how to get a black layer onto paper, by rolling ink on carved plywood and pressing it onto the paper. This process is repeated with every layer printed. The outcome is a beautiful print which he later frames and sells.

“We do receive work to draw portraits, painting sceneries both outdoor and interior, and batiks as well.” His art pieces come in a variety of sizes and frames, and are priced accordingly.

Damba – the mentor

Apart from finding himself and being healed through art, Andrew explains his reason for doing art is his mentor: “Damba mentored me. He influenced my perceptiom of what art really is. While working with him I was also able to get my own style, which he helped polish into what it is today.”

Andrew’s partnership with Teens Uganda has also helped him to achieve a level of professionalism: “Working with the organization has given me a sense of accountability and inspired me to open up my own shop in the Nalubega complex,” he says.

Andrew’s inspiration for art comes from people and their daily activities, personal experiences and other artists.

“My work represents the cultural diversity of my country Uganda. It represents humanity in its unique shapes and forms as well as the enthusiastic dream of a traveller,” he concludes.


John Meddie Segane: Spinning tales on canvas

Not many people can turn a personal tragedy into a prayer and then eventually into something tangible. It was the year 2000, and John Meddie Segane had just learnt about his father’s death. As a Senior 6 leaver, his prospects for getting a job were very dim and the future looked bleak.

One day in desperation, he cried out to God; “what can I do with my hands?” he asked.

The conviction he felt thereafter, was to paint. “I didn’t believe much in my artistic abilities, but a few months later a lady from abroad saw my work and bought a painting at 50,000 shillings. At that moment, I knew I would be an artist.”

Ten years down the road and he is still painting. His work goes beyond the eyes and appeals to both the heart and the mind. Walking around the several pieces on display, I am struck by a blue painting depicting boxes, cubes and oblong objects in water colour. I ask him about it.

“I do abstract art,” he explains. “This particular one is about perceptions. In one environment you can be perceived as boxed in, and in another as outgoing.”

Deep secrets on canvas

I pick interest in others as well and I am pleasantly surprised that behind each painting there is a unique and interesting story.

“The soul of an artist is deep. I pour out my deepest secrets on canvas. That is how I share them with the world.”

He has expanded his artist abilities into landscaping and interior design. His own company located on Pilkington road was formed under the theme ‘timeless creativity’.

“I have to earn a living, you know. It is one way of broadening my income base,” he explains happily.

When I ask him about the choice of colours, he says that his clients tend to prefer paintings in water colours as they think they are more permanent than paintings in oil.

“I am a storyteller and spin my tales on canvas, and that is what I believe God meant for me to do. When I do paint, I fulfill my purpose,” he concludes.

Elizabeth Namakula is a freelance writer living in Kampala, Uganda.