Art collecting supports Art

Road to No where "Exodus" by Joseph Ntensibe

By Startjournal correspondent

Art cannot exist without money. This makes art buyers, or rather art collectors vital components of an art industry because of their consistent purchase of art. Art collectors will determine the price of art because of their demand of a particular type of art or artist.   The business of art buying also creates a local patronage of art, especially if the buyers are home-based.   Local patronage, invariably leads to local ownership of art produced and consequently this leads to preservation of a community’s cultural heritage.

Uganda’s art collectors are famously business men, art managers, foreign expatriates and artists themselves. In the past five years, there has been a surge in the buying art because of an increased number of artists on the local art scene, an influx of art galleries and organizations opening around Kampala, heightened exposure to the global art market and last but not least, political stability.

Some of the known art collectors in Uganda include, John Bosco Kafoko Rutangarama, Richard Byarugaba, Dr. Ian Clarke, Daudi Karungi, Klaus Betz, Kaddu Sebunya, Ambassador Wasswa Biriggwa, William Kalema, Simon Kaheru, Ronnie Madhvani and Maria Fischer. These either purchase art directly from artists (from their own studios) or deal with art galleries like Afriart gallery and Afri Kontemp Art gallery (AKA gallery). There’re also individuals who purchase commissioned art works from artists.

Most collected artists are, Taga Nuwagaba, Hood Jjuuko, Godfrey Mukasa (RIP),  Ismael Kateregga, Romano Lutwama (RIP), Edison Mugalu, Fabian Mpagi (RIP), Joseph Ntensibe, Ahmed Abushariaa, Maria Naita, David Kigozi and Dr. George Kyeyune.

Why they collect art

Passion and investment influence art collecting by many individuals and organizations. Kaddu Sebunya a local art collector who has bought works of artists like Fabian Mpangi, Dr. Kizito Maria Kasule, Ismael Kateregga and Maria Naita says that his purchase of art is driven by the passion to preserve Uganda’s cultural heritage. As an emphasis to his support to the industry, Sebunya always spares time off his busy schedule to visit artists’ studios and galleries around Kampala in search of something unique and intimate. It is also an opportunity for him to interact with artists.

Fabian Mpagi’s paintings in Sebunya’s Livingroom

Bosco, an international businessman by profession perceives his large collection of artists like Ntensibe and Taga as an investment. While visiting him once, he took me around his house, showing me his enviable stock of paintings collected for over the last ten years. The collection involved some of Ntensibe’s earliest works from the early 90s. The price of each of the painting in his collection has since more than doubled (and keeps doing so) making it a wise investment for the shrewd businessman.

But there are art collectors who would never think of selling any of their collection, probably not even for a million dollar pay check. Karl Betz, who has lived in Uganda for over 30 years, has arguably the largest collection of Ugandan art by any Ugandan. The German born art collector and artist has been buying art in Uganda since 1980, and in 2012, he proudly exhibited his private collection at the Mish Mash art gallery, Kampala. The work was only for viewing and not sale.

In showcasing his collection, Betz was paying tribute to Uganda’s political and cultural heritage reflected in the paintings, sculptures and sketches by the artists. Here, he was documenting and preserving Uganda’s past that is crucial to the present and future. Besides, the documentation, the displayed work provoked interest in the discipline of art collecting for many in the audience.

Myths and hurdles in art collecting

The stereotype attached to art as a preserve of the rich and elite by many Ugandans has influenced the numbers of Ugandans buying art. This label partly holds some truth, especially since many artists produce for an expatriate community that can pay for their art (artists) in dollars.

A visit to the art galleries around Kampala attests to this trend as art pieces are labeled with prices in US Dollars. A first time visitor to these spaces will probably think the art is sold only to those who can afford foreign currencies and not those who trade in shillings.

The absence of an art museum or gallery that holds a permanent exhibit of the art collector (s) collection, affects also the discipline of art collecting. A permanent exhibition serves the purpose of documenting the art collected over a period of time and establishing the whereabouts of a particular artist’s work. The Betz collection exhibited at the Mish Mash gallery helped to solve the mystery of identifying which artists he has in his collection and what is his preferred taste.

A museum, gallery of art collectors

Art organizations in Uganda have the mandate to spearhead this cultural initiative to promote the art industry to international standards. The project can be funded by art collectors in a bid to professionally keep their collection. Working with a particular curator eases the job and makes the work accessible to a large audience of fellow collectors, academics and art managers.

Botanical Zebras Ntensibe
Botanical Zebras by Joseph Ntensibe

A similar idea was executed with the Joseph Murumbi art collection that was donated to the Nairobi National gallery in the early 2000s. The collection now famously known as Murumbi African Heritage Collections, is a national treasure to Kenya and the art fraternity on the continent.

Murumbi the first Vice- President of Kenya during the post- colonial government had amassed a large collection of Pan-African artifacts during his travel to different African countries. Afraid that his collection would go to waste, his family working with international curator, Allan Donovan, secured a permanent space for it in the national gallery.

An emerging middle-class in Uganda with a disposable income and international exposure to the art industry and market will provide solution to this vacuum of art collecting and the necessary infrastructure mentioned above. Once this happens, a vibrant art scene will be registered. A gap in preserving and documenting local art will be bridged leading to better pricing of art and ownership of the industry by Ugandans.

  • Additional information sourced from , Art Collector Kaddu Sebunya: “I would go to Brazil for one of Fabian’s paintings”, Startjournal, Issue 008 April, 2011, Visual art
  • Images courtesy of  Joseph Ntensibe’s Website, WWW. Joseph