Constructions Exhibition bridges gap between Artists and Artisans
By Dominic Muwanguzi
A collaborative project that involves two artists, Dr. Lilian Nabulime of Faculty of Industrial and Fine Arts Makerere, and Dr. Andrew Burton of Newcastle University, London showing at the Makerere Art Gallery is themed Constructions. Like the title suggests, the artists engage in constructing art works from found objects that are commonly found in locales that surround them.
Burton’s affinity to create life size installations from inexpensive materials like sisals, clay bricks, sand and bamboo conjures a visual narrative of interacting and collaborating with the low income communities whose livelihood depends on such materials. The artist’s repertoire includes working in deprived communities of India and China where a majority of people depend on the recycling sector.
In his presentation before the opening on June 10th 2015, the artist with the aid of slides showcases his installations built from carts carrying heavy loads of merchandise, broken glass, clay slabs molded by women and fragments of clay bricks washed on the sea-shores. The sculptures share a common trait of a temporary life span because of the artist’s technique to create art works that are easily dismantled and resembled.
The towering sculpture of wooden piggy banks (banka y’ekka), rubber cuttings from car tyres, sisal brooms and brushes, and television aerials, sitting at the entrance of the art gallery is symbolic of the artist’s interaction with the local community that surrounds Makerere University where the artist has been working for the past four weeks.
The materials where produced by individuals in Kalerwe and a family in Mulago. In his response to the question: what was his experience as an artist with an academic background working with artisans in these communities, the artist responded thus, “there is a common ground that the two share. The need to express one’s self through the production of these objects.”
The brooms and brushes and other merchandise are essentially produced for sale in the local markets to provide income for the families. The raw-materials are obtained from reclaiming parts of industrially produced goods which have come to the end of their intended use. Others are simply collected from surroundings: fallen sticks are gathered and tied into brushwood bundles.
Nabulime’s displays are sculptures of hardwood with redolent objects like soap, blades and aluminum plates. These feminine sculptures evoke her femininity as a woman artist and also continue her visual discourse of stimulating dialogue on HIV among Ugandan women with low levels of education (the subject of HIV remains a taboo in many rural communities, hence its wide spread amongst the rural woman). The latter formed part of her doctoral thesis at the Newcastle University in 2009 where she met Dr. Burton.
Her installations of firewood bundles sitting either horizontally or vertically imbue the lifestyle of the rural woman who has an up-hill task of providing for her family despite her dismal economic resources. Firewood collecting still remains the duty of the woman in many rural homes across the continent. It is also the most viable form of energy used to cook for many households.
The installations also represent the relationship between the traditional and contemporary that is explored in the contemporary arts today.
The academics’ work share space with Mathias Tusiime’s paintings from the Exhibition, Art in the Community. Tusiime’s work is evocative of the local community because of the materials he uses to create his art. The artist who doubles as a cleaner at the Institute collects both organic and synthetic materials dumped on the campus and his community in Nansana, a city suburb to produce art that explores and discusses social issues that face people from low-privileged communities.
In an attempt to bridge relationship between artists and artisans, these artists have used art as an agent of regeneration and education. This project is situated within the ongoing debate into the potentiality within the local and the collaborative using social mechanisms of negotiations, conceptualization, development and production.
Constructions, is bound into community practice and collaboration within a framework of socially engaged and participatory art and temporary practice. The culmination is a hybrid between exhibition, public installation and event created to reflect everyday contexts.
Andrew Burton is an artist and professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University, UK. He has displayed his installations at the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi and Shanghai World Expo, and participated in Gyeonngi Biennale (Korea 2015).
Lilian Nabulime is Senior Lecturer and former Head of the Sculpture Department in the School of Industrial art and Fine Arts, Makerere University, Kampala. She has displayed her art world-wide.