Rampant Contemporary Kampala is Komakech’s playful performance in sculpture
By Gloria Kiconco
Rampant implies something wild and unchecked, without restrain. It is often used to describe something unwelcome. Rampant Contemporary Kampala is not an aimed criticism at the unchecked growth of Kampala city; it is more of a series of impressions about the city.
At the beginning of his residency in April 2015, Komakech intended to write a book on the theme “Effects of contemporary art on the people of Kampala”, but he fell back to his strength, visual art. Rocca Gutteridge, the director at 32° East, says his final installation strikes her as a visual essay, “it feels like these are loads of notes, just visual notes about Kampala, that also just so happen to look, I think, like someone’s impression of Kampala, not everyone’s, but someone’s impression of Kampala.”
Komakech completed his degree in industrial arts and design at Makerere in 2012. “When I walked away from the school of art, my greatest tool was sculpture and graphics,” Komakech said in an interview with STARTjournal. He didn’t have a studio to create from, so he put aside visual arts and in 2012, joined Bayimba Street Theatre and took part in the regional tours of Bayimba Festival of the Arts.
“I didn’t need any studio, I didn’t need a toolbox, I didn’t need a saw or grinder. All I needed was just to get ready, put on my mood, then go in the streets and perform,” Komakech said. After his contract with Bayimba ended, he started an eco-art project of his own called Green Manners where he tried to borrow from street theatre to create a contemporary performance. “I wanted to be a performer who tells a story from people’s scenes. I wanted to start performing at events so that I give a visual interpretation of someone’s exhibition,” he said.
This was exactly what he did for the opening of his open studio exhibition at 32° East|Ugandan Arts Trust on July 2. He created an interactive performance as a counterpart to his installation. The performance interpreted his idea of rampant Kampala, using firecrackers to represent noise and flour to signify the smoke of a bustling city.
In 2014, Komakech applied to be part of KLA ART 014. He was accepted and before the festival he participated in the Global Crit Clinic at 32° East|Ugandan Arts Trust. According to Komakech, the clinic “ushered us into the real practice of doing contemporary art. That is where I started doing contemporary art. And I have to be very specific,” he pointed at his installation, “this kind of art.”
During the KLA ART festival, he applied for the residency at 32° East that would culminate into his exhibition, Rampant
Contemporary Kampala. His residency took him on wild tangents before he settled into his final work. Yvonne Waigo, the programme manager at 32° East, said he began with the self-discovery typical of young artists trying to find their footing. “At the end now I feel he has discovered he isn’t one thing. I think Derrick really is a conceptual artist and that he has gotten to peace with that and the art he has produced for the exhibition kind of displays that.”
The exhibition was the outcome of what Komakech, who is very playful with his work, describes as a series of tests with materials he found interesting: silicone, rubber, metal, paper, glass, and other found objects. He began with mostly paper creations grounded in graphic design. They appear as sleek representations of contemporary Kampala, represented in tasteful palettes of brown, black, white, and blue.
Through his playful experiments, he moved away from the design centred pieces, into more expressive, sculptural representations. Komakech repeatedly uses metal piggy banks or unravels tadooba, small tin paraffin lights, commonly found on makeshift snack stands. These are his symbols of the capitalistic tendencies driving the rampant growth of business, however big or small, in Kampala city. The silicone is the most unifying element of his work, not only because of its repeated use, but because it recreates the movement and energy of the city.
According to Gutteridge, Komakech’s background in theatre is revived in this installation, in the rhythmic quality of the silicone. The installation is playful and it invites the viewer to play along, bobbing and weaving through the pieces in a manner reminiscent of manoeuvring the busy city. “I see it in the rhythm of the work so I see again like each piece like a drawing but also it has a rhythmic quality, so there’s a beat… that in itself is a performance, the installation is, I think, a cross between theatre and sculpture,” Gutteridge said.
Komakech felt that his residency pushed him to experiment without boundaries. “I’ve gone through transformation, looking at things differently. I’ve gone through honesty. Like now, this is the honest bit of me. This has just made me be very frank with myself,” he said.
The truth is, the growth in Kampala is rampant and the city is bursting against its boundaries, but really has nowhere to go because it was unplanned. Komakech is also growing unchecked through his energetic and restless creations. Fortunately, he is unrestrained by boundaries and continues experimenting with sculpture, design, theatre, and even sound.
Images are courtesy of 32° East
Fred Mutebi was born in 1967 and graduated from the Margaret Trowell School of Fine Arts in 1993. He works out of his home studio in Kisaasi, Kampala; as well as the bark-cloth research and innovation centre in Kibinge, Bukomansimbi district, Uganda that he initiated.