Great Achievements by Makerere Ceramists
Ceramics is a cultural tradition with millennia of history, and the ceramics show that opened on November 4th at the Makerere University Art gallery was about breaking old barriers and pushing back new ones. Combined with a flair for suspension, it was bolder and even more exciting than the last ceramics exhibition at the same venue.
By Sophie Alal
“Feats of Ugandan Pottery” brought together the Makerere University trained Mpindi Ronald, Ssekibaala Andrew, Bukenya Tony, Omadi Michael, and Balaba Edward, with local artisan Bukenya Paul and Bomboka Henry – who is a student at St. Lawrence University – also joining in.
The pieces on display were as rich and varied as the exhibitors. The struggle between old forms and new ones, of traditional and contemporary influences in creating art was very apparent from the moment of stepping inside. Another important element was the multidisciplinary approach taken in producing the works on display.
This would have pleased Okot p’Bitek whose lament about his Alma Mater in Artist, The Ruler was: “Let it not in years to come be said that Makerere, once one of the leading institutions on the continent, has become a school where intellect and scholarship are being choked”.
The exhibition was a visual commentary on Ugandan society’s spiritual, political and cultural landscape. The artifacts were also testament to transformations taking place in the ceramics industry in the field of sculpture, vessels, and wall pieces.
Dissatisfaction with the current regime
Bukenya Tony’s work provokes discussion about a regime that has steadily corroded its own legitimacy. His driving theme is discontent, and his art speaks graphically about the things that he is most unhappy about.
In John Dewey’s Intelligence in the Modern World, the chapter on Art, Philosophy, and Morals is a warning insight into how far any society can sustain itself based on prevailing circumstances. He says: “It is by a sense of possibilities opening before us that we become aware of constrictions that hem us in and of burdens that oppress.”
Bukenya’s ‘Wrinkles of the Regime’ criticizes the incredible shortcomings of the current government. Here, the artist bears witness to the suffering amidst galloping corruption and poor safety standards. Texts carved on the outer surface of the piece which read “Ugandans are thieves”, “PATRIOTIC??”, “Rape”, “Defilement”, “Road Carnage” and “HIV/AIDS Global Fund” provide examples of discontent.
For one who was born and raised in Uganda, these sentiments are authoritative in bringing attention to the disgruntlement that feeds violent protests. Political and social critique is evident in his art in a number of assemblages that he has exhibited over the years. His other creations also delve into the traditional and the spiritual expressions.
Mixing various elements from nature
Balaba Edward’s impressive pieces are Olubengo and an untitled installation which is a multisensory composition, and what sets it apart from all others is movement. The essence of his work is innovation through mixing various elements from nature.
He has always been fascinated by marine life forms, and their seemingly effortless movement while in their habitat. Following this fascination, he transformed his idea of the jellyfish into an airborne installation which was hung from lengths of nylon line.
“Lichen and jellyfish, how could I represent them?” says Balaba. “I wanted to place it on the wall, but that would deter the full expression of hanging. Risky presentation is exciting.”
Olubengo plays with ideas about what is public and on display, and whether what is private deserves to be hidden. “You’ve got a big load when somebody says that they’ve put the Olubengo on your head. But I wanted to create something beautiful, something that you can put on your table and admire,” he explains.
The sculpture is a heavy millstone, with a depression in the middle, held up by variety of breast shapes standing on their nipples. Some breasts are young and pert, whereas others are sapped of strength and hang limp. The four breasts attest to the passage of time, and the symbolism of being weighed down by chores.
The making of the Olubengo
Two slabs of clay were rolled out and joined at the ends when the pieces lost some moisture, they were then carved and shaped. The white decorations are derived from kaolin, which is sourced from Bombo or Mbale. Whereas the embellished mill stone is on top, the bottom is unseen and as such it communicates the silent burden of care. The insides are hollow and the breasts are holding up the structure.
Essentially in Buganda, the Olubengo rests firmly on the woman since grinding millet is a feminine occupation.
Olubengo is one of the heaviest works on display, and when lightly tapped makes a hollow ring that is pleasant to hear. An inconsistent application led to blotches of colour running into each other. The red runs into the white and black and blurred lines, nevertheless the piece still retained an organic feel to it.
The technique involved blocking where a resist is applied on the surface of the pottery then smoked in a pit. The resist which is a semisolid mixture of sand and grog disintegrates upon contact with water. Any that sticks was simply scraped off to reveal the pattern beneath.
The smoking process
After the first firing, the reddish browns are more prominent, then smoking is done. A resist of clay, sand and grog is then applied to protect the colours that are to be retained. Smoking is a controlled process with wood shavings and saw dust in limited oxygen. It produces plumes of carbon dioxide which gives blackware its distinctive colour.
This is temporary/seasonal decoration because it is non-permanent and can be subjected to additional firing to produce the desired effects. Whereas the high temperatures in the kiln have a reducing effect leading to brilliant colours, pit smoking can also surprise.
Grog is pottery that has been fired and then ground up into fine powder or coarse particles depending on the use required of it. Also referred to as firesand or chamotte, it’s high percentage of silica and alumina, which – when mixed with water – attach to the surface of clay to protect previously applied patterns in fired clay, or act as decoration for unfired clay.
Reduction leads carbon dioxide formation, which creates dark shades while oxidation creates lighter affects on the surfaces, including the reddish browns which are a result of metallic ions reacting in a kiln with a rich supply of oxygen and very high temperatures.
When the clay is not yet bone dry, or still leather hard it is able to receive decorations. These can be transferred onto the surface using a limited number of ways, one of which involves pressing and rubbing organic matter and dyes directly onto the surface.
Any nose is good as long as it can smell and breathe
Two masks hung on the wall to the left side of the entrance were curiously titled “Tafakubulungi bwannyindo ng’essa”, loosely translated as “don’t get hung up on the beauties of a nose”. The subtext being that any nose is as good as long as it can smell and breathe.
On the left is a round faced, mostly black mask with flared, white nostrils, while on the right is a thin faced mask with a raised, white bridge. In local parlance the previous one is referred to as having “a frog sit on the face”, while the latter is more refined and more desirable to have.
Except in times of unrest. In September 2009, political tension between the government of Uganda and the kingdom of Buganda revealed a mess of ethnic tensions that had been steadily fomenting.
Prevailing stereotypes that those with “sharp long noses” were the oppressors of Buganda kingdom led many to steer clear of the streets. It was hardly reported that in those three days the shape and size of one’s nose was a key determinant in whether or not one got assaulted by the mobs on the streets of Kampala.
Integrating local forms and Japanese techniques
Mpindi’s gift lies in harmonising diametrically opposed expressions, like the Ganda bowls that were thrown using Japanese clay and glazed using traditional Japanese techniques. By integrating local forms and Japanese techniques he has managed to create simple elegant pieces, and his creations are an allegory of embracing change. Change becomes an acceptable reality, as long as one embraces the positive gifts of another society in order to enrich one’s own.
His perspective is that the preservation of traditional forms is uncertain. If forms have ossified and left no potential for growth, then it becomes increasingly difficult for such art to be relevant. This outlook reinforces the idea that in time all things that cannot adapt to change will be gradually be lost.
Traditional themes like wildlife and oralities
28 years old Omadi Michael creates modern works that draw inspiration from traditional forms but are not closely attached to them. Traditional themes like wildlife and oralities make up most of his work. When he created ‘Namunswa’, his first idea was based on the fish motif, but midway through completion, he decided that the voluptuous queen ant was better suited to what he had in mind.
A link to previous generations of potters
Bukenya Paul from Kibombiro, Busega which is found on Masaka road, comes from a long line of potters. This area has historically been home to the royal potters of the Kabaka of Buganda.
In 2004 he was a beneficiary of an AICAD (African Initiative for Capacity Development) project, that envisioned collaboration among trained artists in various disciplines and local artisans. The aim was to improve on their skills, productivity and attaching more value to their handiwork.
Bukenya’s position was critical to the success of the project because he became the link to previous generations of potters whose unique methods have been in use for generations.
Bukenya’s vessels are hand-formed and finished in a bonfire. These consist mainly of pots for practical daily uses like cooking (obusaka), storing water, warming poultry houses, storing dry provisions and bowls for serving and eating.
Marrying beauty and function
Ideas about identity and creating new meanings from what has always been with us are very palpable in Bomboka’s creations. Fetish pots get bound together and begin to resemble small tea pots.
On the whole, the exhibition succeeded in showing how local traditions could be refined and offered up to a broader audience as an eloquent expression of culture.
The absence of ladies
Most of the exhibitors were trained at Makerere University, save for Bomboka, who is a student at the St. Lawrence University, and a local potter.
The only downside was the absence of ladies, and when asked whether this was accidental or intended, Balaba answered: “We had two ladies, but one got pregnant and could not continue working. The other lady had some difficulties and could not come to the studio as often as she had to. So by the time of the exhibition her creations were not yet ready.”
Pottery may seem a quaint and sweet art form, but the amount of care and skill lavished in the production of any one piece is often staggering. It is especially amazing when an elemental change transforms grey mushy mud into things of beauty.
Hopefully, there will still be new adherents pushing back the boundaries of expression in a medium as flexible as clay.
The exhibition “Feats of Ugandan Pottery” is showing at Makerere Art Gallery until November 26th.[cincopa AIIA9xanYNHg]
Sophie Alal is a freelance journalist and a baker.
5 thoughts on “Great Achievements by Makerere Ceramists”
Feats of Ugandan Pottery has shown how there is a great transformation in the ceramic/ pottery field from what was done traditionally way back with our great grandparents and what is being done today. All these exhibitors have shown their skills and styles which in my judgment have been influenced by westernized form of training, politics and the traditional setup of the artists.
Pottery has shifted from making home to use utensils, to pottery that signals or communicates a message. Bostoen 2000-2004 in his PhD research, states that; “Ceramics have not only assumed a utilitarian role for instance in the preparation and storage of food and beverages but clay pots and figurines have also served ritual and medical purposes”. Pottery in Uganda was mainly known for making products for domestic use and ritual purpose, this has become totally different today. What we are seeing with contemporary art is that, what the purposes were for pottery by then its now the sources of inspiration rotating around spiritual, political and cultural aspects. We see Bamboka Henry getting inspired by made pottery forms like,” Akasaka kamalwa”. Balaba Edward is also depicting cultural values as inspirations, like the olubengo which is totally expressing a different meaning from its original function.
Ass. Pro. Phillip Kwesiga in his report of “Technology and innovation pottery production and development in Uganda” states that; Pottery/ceramics is now doing more of communicating information to the public. In Bukenya Tony’s works he is trying to show his discontent with the regime by using pottery to communicate to the public what is not right. “Wrinkles of the regime”- ani mussilu? Using earthen ware, thrown and pit fired art work the artist uses it to communicate.
What Sophie Alal says about Mpindi’s ideology of forms ossifying and having no potential for growth, then making it become increasingly difficult for such art to be relevant. Traditional pottery has been subscribing to this, where by potters who have under gone formal training can’t survive on such pottery or such pottery is not meeting to the standards of modernity, they have channeled to using pottery in other ways for better pay and presentation. That’s why in this exhibition, there is a difference between Bukenya Pauls’ works and the other exhibitors. He has under gone informal training being that his family has a line of potters. He has maintained the style of previous generation of potters. His works still consist of mainly pots for practical daily uses like cooking, storing water and bowls for serving and eating. He has not been affected by the western formal influence.
The changes that have been taking place in the ceramics and pottery world here in Uganda have also been influenced by the westernization bit of it. The formal education that artists are under going to train in was adapted or introduced from the West. Formal education and external influence have affected the type of pottery production and utilization from home use to informative purposes. Philip Kwesiga states that there has been a constant shift of ideas and their related practice from mainly the west technologies Formal education and technologies continue to determine the course and nature of local Ugandan ceramics/pottery production and use. He continues to say that pottery can be placed as a positive-rational action at a local level and as communicative action at the technological level. Mpindi Ronald, (Oval bowls and the swim bottle) used Japanese clay and glazes to throw Ganda shapes as inspirations. It relates back to my earlier statement that the original purpose of the traditional made pottery is now used as a source of inspiration to archive the artists’ motives.
Politics is another factor that is transforming ceramics and pottery in Uganda compared to what was done before by the local potters and ceramicist. It’s not by mistake that Bukenya Tony’s work is political, different artists having been using art to show their discontent or content with the prevailing political situations. Angelo Kakande (2008) notes that “Mutebi and Sserunkuma who practice ceramics/pottery are part of this civic action and they circulate their critical voices on the international circuit, must therefore be acknowledged and applauded”. This shows that pottery has been having a hand in politics. In Sserunkuma’s works of, “Uganda Women in Development” and “Coronation” (mid-1990s), he uses motifs on pots which show rituals and activities which marginalize women. He invests them with controversial political issues, avoiding direct mentioning of things eluding detection. In the process he purposes a new power dispensation as a panacea to the bad governance, poor service delivery and corruption as seen in Bukenya Tony’s work, “Wrinkles of the regime 2011”.
In a nut shell the Feast of Ugandan pottery has shown how pottery/ Ceramics is continuing to develop in the direction of conveying message influenced by various factors mainly exposure.
A work of art is the fruit of the past and has in the seeds of the future. Said Dr.Yiga (2002) in different but one six , pottery has stood a taste of time and development of pottery in Uganda have taken on the global trends in out look and kept the recipe in structure Proff. Kwesiga (2002), a ceramicist also comments in different but one six.
Pottery has been practiced in many parts of Uganda, Trowel (1937) in her book, tribal crafts of Uganda says, in some tribes the potter is a man of no importance but among the ganda, the ‘Royal potter’ who work for the Kabaka have special title and special privileges. The work of ceramics exhibited by the six ceramists and a traditional potter show the global trends pottery has taken. This contemporary Ugandan ceramists has produced works that show their personal background, politically socially, and spiritually.
We can learn a lot from the feast of Ugandan pottery exhibition not just in terms of beauty but their works have linked the past pottery to the modern representation of ceramics. The exhibitors;
Ssekibalaala Andrew an Instructor at St. Lawrence University Fine Art Department, Omondi Michael a natural gifted illustrator, Bomboka Henry A fine Art Student at St. Lawrence University, Balaba Edward a Masters Student and lecturer at Margaret Trowell School of Fine Art, Bukenya Tony a professional Teacher and former student of Margaret Trowell School of Industrial Fine Art, Bukenya Paul a traditional potter, and Mpindi Ronald a lecturer at Margaret trowel School of industrial and Fine Art pursuing his Masters degree in Japan., Ass. Prof. Kwesiga (2011).
Smoking technique of pottery production was and its one of the most recent and significant in their carrier that kick-standed. They all have clay surface finish manipulation, involving burnishing smoke and metal oxide decoration. The exhibition has also associated its self with three natural colours, these are white, Black and Brown, Proff. Kwesiga(2011).All the works were as a result of the above techniques of making and decoration. These have given the exhibitors a signature of identity.
They have developed great sophistication by continuing to work in the same medium and form that were used by the ancestors to the sophisticated decorative ceramics. I think the natural resource clay which is available in plenty has dictated the material used, while the tribal power, skills or sophistication was responsible for the different types of ceramic pieces exhibited.
Ssekibala’s designs inspired by nature and tribal power of Baganda. Fish has been his source of inspiration used also by many other ceramics for example Kisule. G (2002) in his master’s project. Ssekibala’s designs show both visual and tactile texture on both the vases while Kisule (2006) fish in water (flower vase) the fish is embedded on the surface of the vase.
Ssekibala like all the exhibitors in feast of Uganda’s pottery achieved line, texture, shape and pattern the components which make up originality of ideals, composition and surface quality, which are highly considered in ceramic. Ssegantebuka a ceramic lecturer said (2000) different but one 6,
Decoration in pottery is directed towards the realization of beauty in an individual piece that will result in improved surface quality …however, the decoration applied should be in agreement with the purpose of the pot not simply an embellishment of decoration on a poor form. In feast of Ugandan pottery all the exhibitors achieved the form and decoration and even the traditional potter.
Sserunkuma in his thesis quoted Rev. Roscoe, in his book ‘the Baganda accuses the African not being remarkable for originality. The works exhibited have shown Ugandan and the entire world that ceramics has taken a step a head.
Trowell (1937) in African arts and crafts said, the potter has a great future before him not only for the large food and water post but for table ware and generally.
These observed by Omondi (exhibitor) a natural gifted illustrator, his illustration back ground has made him produce unique ceramics.
According to Dr. Kakande in different one 14, he said, ‘the biggest lesson I learnt from speaking to ceramist Brunos, in (2005) is that pots are not just vessels they are also canvases to be painted on Omondi is not different from Sserunkuma, Prof. Kwesiga and Ssegantebuka who have painted themes on the ceramic pieces.
According to Sserunkuma (in different but one six) he said, the themes appearing in dons works reflect their social and cultural surrounding providing the sources of inspiration hence developing into individual approach.
In Uganda, the different tribes attribute mouthed post on different aspects of life. It has been pointed out by ethnologist that mouthed pots are nearly always connected with ceremonial or Magico and religious practices. Trowel (1937) says in her book African art and craft.
Trowell also quoted Roscoe, in his book Baganda, gives a photograph of a much mouthed pot used to give poisoned beer to a victim who incurred the wrath of the Kabaka of Buganda. Among the Luo, use of double mouthed pot used in certain religious rites especially those connected with the birth of twins, in south west Uganda among the Hima a double mouthed pot was used in connection with the cult of Nyabingi.
In the feast of Uganda’s pottery Prof. Kwesiga (2011) Bomboka and Bukenya both are Baganda but have attributed double and triple mouthed pots to different meaning. Bukenya attributes it to spiritual ancestors while Bomboka (Nsaka Yamalwa) says apiece art that intended to bring unity in our daily life,, interpret the meaning unity in terms of sharing a local brew (Malwa).
Bomboka, two year old ceramist from St Lawrence University attributes this success of his work to Mpindi and Andrew. In an interview with him on 19th Jan 2012, says in a low voice, I attribute my success in ceramics to Mpindi & Andrew, they have always showed me what to do, they are my mentor. But I admire most Andrews work because of the finish which has luster and texture, but its not easy, like any art work they are challenges faced like preparation of clay takes along time and the wood is expensive used for firing the ceramist pieces.
Bukenya (wrinkles of the regime) the form might have collapse of under the throwing body experiments, all what is written in true, but its not the regime, it starts with tony, me, and any other person. Its us who make the regime, the moral decay socially spiritually has brought all that, why did Tony use words instead of pictures Look at Serunkuma gossip under the new village (1992), Uganda women in development and Prof. Kwesiga.
The pride (2009) has a clear massage with the faces of young girls panted on the ceramic earth ware; the faces show pride as a result of the increase investment in girl’s child education which is a prerequisite for development can Bukenya do the same rather than showing wrinkles.
Feast of Uganda’s pottery 2011, has showed the Trend of pottery and it is believed that other courses will borrow a leaf from the same in 2012 with the help of the elites in different fields.
FEATS OF UGANDA POTTERY
On 4th November 2011 is a note worthy moment in the record of contemporary pottery industry in Uganda. The exhibition show cased 7 aggressive yet impressive ceramics artist form Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art, Makerere University. They staged an exemplary exhibition at Makerere University Art gallery.
These gentlemen, Bukenya; Balaba, Sekibala, Mpindi, Bomboka, Amadi, Bukenya Paul, had very strong themes that backed their art pieces. These works exhibited great skill and technique which made the title worth while.
The artists looked at nature as inspirational to their creative efforts. According to Logonvu (1995) he described that artists look at nature since it’s the richest source of inspiration for any kind of art. These magnificent ceramic pieces exhibited strong sense of creativity and innovativeness unlike the mass produced ceramics [plates, cups, dishes, bowls) from Asia sold cheaply on the streets of Kampala.
In regard to this exhibition Professor Kwesiga stated that ‘this expedition has again embraced traditional intercustrine design and forms. Inventiveness is also very significant…………’
This was a very substantial show of talent and skill, artists surface finishes were manipulated involving burnishing smoke and metal oxides – decorations which gave the group work an identity.
Similar to their inspirations (nature), artists used natural colours in demonstrating their accomplishment. These colours included browns (shades and tints), red, white and black. This was a breath taking exhibition.
Displeased and Discontented with the Regime
This work invokes a lot of argument to the audience which includes; artists, politicians, academia’s only to mention a few. Professor Kwesiga (exhibition catalogue) was one of those that were provoked to argue that;
“One would sympathize with him for the effort to use art as an avenue to raise such sensitive issues. However how many of our leaders would bother to attend (interpret) such artifacts and text together this awakening message especially at this post political campaign time and moment???
This is an understatement from a professional artist and an academia of art. The Professor might be ignoring what happened in the 1980’s after the civil wars, art is one of the medium that was used to demonstrate the political crisis in Uganda artists like Muwonge Mathias Kyazze – painted Misfortune (1985), Monster – by Muwonge, Sakwas-no title painting, all these painting were describing the political turmoil’s of the time. These included a lot of murder, rap, and traffic stop points. The politicians might have not come to interpret but the general public which is the majority and very influential will be able to come and interpret. This is the way propaganda that ends regime start. As an artist Bukenya T. does not have to go on the street like the traders did on Thursday 7th -Saturday 9th because it yielded no good results. He instead uses his best technique and skill to ponder his propaganda.
As an artist I truly believe this was a very good approach that with continued efforts with such propaganda like in Kyeyune’s ‘poor but happy solo exhibition, more artists should come up to illustrate this decayed city or rather Uganda which is characterized by corruption, unemployment, luck of rule of law, disease. The crumbling and stitching by use of copper wires show that Uganda could be a field stated. These scripted wards on the bowl clearly demonstrate all the suffering in our Pearl of Africa.
Bukenya is very versatile that he does not stop at propaganda but he is a patriot. He loves his country and cultures which inspire him to use it as inspirations. He uses tribal artifacts to do his ceramics works. He works are functional but one wonders how you can make these master works upholstery. His work has strong aesthetic value that makes them very rich in value. Different from some of his counterparts he loves details on his works which creates him an identity.
Beautiful yet Functional – Bomboka Henry
He is greatly inspired by locally made pottery form which he splendidly transforms with a contemporary touch [Feats of Uganda Pottery Catalogue]. This artist tries to redress the traditionally made cultural artifacts into ceramic admirable functional pieces. One would or might not even make these master pieces functional but decorative. These master pieces show great skill in ceramics and give a new meaning to the Ugandan Pottery Industry. Him being a student at St. Lawrence he is not yet exposed to the variety of materials and techniques hence uses one kind of materials [earthen wave clay] and pit firing which has given his work an original creative identity. The colour effects on his works like ‘Nsaka Yamalwa, fish eye’ look accidental which makes them art pieces and chef-d-oeure [master piece].
Balaba Edward Cultural Reflections
His approach is entirely cultural expressions. Balaba uses masks forms as inspirations which are typical of shrine artifacts or West African voodoo masks. He is also inspired by traditional pattern motifs. In reference to Trowel, she says;
“Most of the traditional pattern motifs of various tribes had originally a symbolic or allegorical meaning”.
This is very evident in these art works, their titles addresses their symbolic nature. The artist uses geometric pattern or symbols to illustrate these allegorical meaning on clay medium unlike the West African masks which were made especially in wood. The artist uses sharp contrasting colours typical of African design as Trowell put it. In these pieces he uses contrasts of white, red and black. Being an artist he does not forget to put an aesthetic value to address his logical issues. Besides that he labored to Africanize ceramics pieces by depicting African shapes and themes in his work. These impressive works can be very good interior decorations and cultural reservations.
Ssekibaala Andrew’s Aquatic inspirations.
His work is very rich in aesthetic; his being an illustrator at St. Lawrence University enriches his creative ideas. Its varied in shape, size and colour. Similarly to other artists he is also inspired by nature and the aquatic life in particular. The artist is very creative and innovative in his approach; as he uses original shapes to demonstrate his smoothness with this medium (clay). In reference to his ‘respect’, this piece has a sharp cutting line that makes the pot look like it has been cut and it stands very firm. He uses an aquatic inspiration to create the visual texture on the surface of his work. His work is given titles basing on traditional surrounding but one would argue that the aesthetic usability affects their functionality (Lidwell and Buttler, 2010). They look too good to be functional.
Traditional Pottery by Bukenya Paul
When it comes to functionality his works give a direct statement on first sight. His work looks stronger and more functional because of the weight and the tactile texture. Paul, unlike the formally trained ceramic artists he still uses basic traditional methods of pottery as explained by Kissule (2000: 2)
“A characteristic of the earliest known ceramics was a black and brown coloured pot with around bottom and usually with an impressed surface suggesting that basket was used as mould”.
Besides that, in reference to the exhibition catalogue, the pieces were not fired using any kiln and use of vitreous glaze was not attempted. Paul uses the traditional primitive technique of using ordinary clay, hand form the pots and burn in open fire (Trowel, 1953: 59) states that such kind of pottery is characterized by simplicity and crudeness, qualities that is evidenced in Bukenya’s pottery.
Integrating Local Forms and Japanese Techniques
Mpindi having traveled out of his homeland he has been exposed to different techniques, medium and technologies which has enabled him to have unique touches on his work. Although this does not stop him from being inspired by his cultural heritage like Baganda bowls. He used varied shapes and finishes which shows his smoothness with the medium. Mpindi has embraced change and has adapted to it successfully but the challenge to him is creativity in his creations without these new techniques these are just ordinary pots which any body in primitive pottery can do.
Omadi Micheal’s Traditional Theme
Omadi like the other ceramicist uses naturistic forms as inspirations. But what makes him unique is the way he illustrates on his work which gives them aesthetic look. Unlike his counterparts Omadi does not take the general shape of his inspiration but looks beyond what the common eye sees for example his work ‘tortoise’. These works basing on their themes they seem to be decorative. Like in Africa motifs by Trawel, he also uses sharp contrasting colours to communicate his ideas. Similarly, Sserunkuma (1992) defined decoration.
“Those aspects of form which begin where the essentials of form and function end……….and its one of the various elements which interrelate to compromise the quality of a pot”
Besides that Omadi like Kisuule (2000) uses line; texture, colour, shape and composition surface quality are highly considered in his ceramics.
This exhibition unveiled the talented skilled ceramic artists that have embarked on the journey to promote ceramic in the country. On seeing these magnificent works, one wonders when the next one is. Because this is one of the less studied art field moreover it is very strong in design and creativity. The question is, can we get the ‘a good China’ [ceramic upholstery] in Uganda [Mass production]? So that we can dominate the market. This is very good insight to any ceramic artist. All in all this was splendid exhibition.
“Feats of Uganda’s Pottery”, An Expression of love for culture among the Youths and a smile to the ceramics mentors.
This exhibition comes on in November a month in which the youth in Buganda kingdom hold there annual cerebrations. The “Buganda Youth Day is an annual event where the youth in Buganda interact with each other to celebrate their culture and foster socio-economic development within Buganda. It is a rotational event around all the counties of the Kingdom which is preceded by a week of activities.”1 Last year’s activities were organized by Kkooki County and it was graced by the Kabaka of Buganda.
Seven artists mainly from the Ganda culture and one from the Itesot culture (but still embraced in the Buganda Youth Day vision because it’s not ‘baganda youth day’ but every youth in Buganda) come together and put up feats of Uganda’s pottery, an exhibition which to one of them Balaba explains as an exhibition of pottery as an art with changing skill, strength and courage. This explains why they bring on board Bukenya Paul, an experienced traditional potter from Busega-Kibumbiro, who Kwesiga2 says learnt the pottery skill from his father. Paul Exhibits traditional ganda water pots (ensuwa), ganda bowels (obubya), ganda cooking pots (obusaka), and a poultry farm innovation for warming chicks, pieces which inform the viewer where Uganda’s pottery has come from. This coming together though coincidental in November with the Buganda youths celebrations well fitted the theme of the year which was “Culture and Unity is the Foundation to Development among the Youth”.
It is inevitable to say after analyzing the works and their themes as presented that these artists who majorly fall in the category of youths, exhibit along with them a passion and an expression of love for there culture which is the foundation of such “rich” works and innovations as Atal 3referred them. The themes these ceramicists decided to choose for most of the ceramic pieces, one would simply assume that it was an automatic influence of their sources of inspiration but I read a passion in them beyond that. Looking at pieces with themes like, Entamu, Akabya, oburungi bwenyindo esitamye and this one is intentionally presented in comparison with a long nose also reffered to as endaalo , akasaka kamalwa, Nsaka yamalawa and, magoba. It is topped up by Tony presenting mengo as one of those he considers a contentious debate in the country on the wrinkles of the regime…. ani musilu? In an interview with him about this specific one, Tony says it’s in the current government of Uganda regime that the monarchy was reinstated but controversy comes in when it does not will to reorganize and accommodate the monarchy’s demands. The statement, ani musilu?! which can be translated to mean who is fooling who?! exhibits anger and dissatisfaction at the way the regime has handled issues concerning his culture which has its administrative seat in Mengo.
As the exhibition theme- feats of Uganda’s Pottery there appears a substantial journey not only between Paul’s work who is advanced in age and the six contemporary ceramists, but also between them and there trainers and mentors in the field of ceramics. His work is from the Ganda pottery with its cultural originality where purpose in terms of aiding the daily running of he home was key for example, water storage, cooking, eating, thus there is less concentration on the surface yet their works present further research and innovation in concepts of esthetics, design, and purpose, producing highly decorated earthen wares with varied purposes. They put to use various techniques including smoking and various clay surface finishing, which has enabled them create a distinctive identity.
Having mainly trained at the Makerere University Art School, the influence of there trainers and certainly superiors Bruno Serunkuuma, Phillip Kwesiga, Julius Segantebuka can not go unidentified. It is these that received and natured this talent throughout there study at the institution even to date as their studio is located in the same place.
In volume 2 of the Notebooks of Alliance Francaise a French cultural center in Uganda, Kizito writes about one of these superior’s influence on ceramic art in Uganda, “Bruno’s greatest contribution to Uganda’s ceramics is probably the way he has revolutionized the surface quality of his ceramic form surfaces. This technique is again enriched by the experimental use of ordinary industrial colored oxides. He borrows and develops the old Indian-Ugandan batik drawing techniques as artistic motifs which have given a sense of identity to his ceramics. These drawing motifs which depict different Ganda, Nkole, and Nyoro social –cultural activities are enhanced by elaborate decorative designs”
His influence on there production is seen majorly in form and decoration much as they have to a great extent opened up the Bruno’s Cylindrical forms and created more of flat forms like the peaceful zebra by Michael, fish eyes by Henry, magoba by Edward, obulungi bwenyindo esitamye by Edward, concentric plates by Tony and akabya by Andrew inspired by other organic forms and not the pot. Though the decoration techniques differ with them using the smoking-pit firing technique which creates ‘tie and dye’ effects on clay surfaces and no glazes apart from Ronald whose works came in from Japan where he is currently studying. His decorations exhibit extraordinary concentration and courage in executing his subject mater for example in the “Ganda homestead” and “Okwanjula” a skill that still presents a challenge to the young ceramists thus an admiration. However, he feels happy and rewarded to see such great innovations more so by his students in the art.
In different but one (2002) catalogue Kwesiga mentions of the developments in Uganda’s pottery having taken on global trends in outlook and kept the local recipe in structure and that there uses have shifted from the traditional use (water/beer) to something we are yet to discover.
Could this be a fulfillment of what he said was yet to be discovered? Absolutely right and the trend has no limit.
According to Segantebuka, “decoration in pottery is directed towards the realization of beauty in an individual piece that will result in improved surface quality. … However, the decoration applied should be in agreement with the purpose of the pot, not simply an embellishment of decorations on a poor form”
Like in any other field of art in Uganda, the ceramics field will continue experiencing and embracing developments. However, which ever direction it takes, people will always love to see more creative innovations and skill like what the feats of Uganda’s pottery unveiled.
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