Encounters with Art: The Inaugural Children’s Book Illustrator’s Exhibition
By Gloria Kiconco
Where did you first encounter art?
Think back to that moment when you first realized the possibility of any art form. As a writer, I easily trace that back to reading as a child. I still believe that the worlds I explored through books, the lives I lived through books, have made all the difference in who I am and what I do as an adult.
Nine illustrators show their creation process
On August 22nd 2017, I attended the first ever Children’s Book Illustrator’s Exhibition at Design Hub Kampala. This exhibition was organized to coincide with the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Africa Region Conference, the largest gathering of writers and publishers of children’s or young adult literature on the continent. The exhibition at Design Hub showcased the work and creation process of the nine illustrators and designers who are instrumental in creating 50 new children’s books under the Mango Tree Literacy Lab. Mango Tree’s 50 titles project targets local language literacy. The books are written for three literacy levels, each meant to build upon the knowledge of the previous one. 86 rural schools in Lira will receive a library of the 50 titles in Leblango. The titles will also be distributed through MTLL’s mobile library, designed by Rachael Kangumba from Leaves Animation Studio.
From line drawings to collage
The artists who illustrated these books were challenged to create engaging illustrations in black and white, for that’s how they were to be published in order to keep the books affordable for further distribution. The majority of the illustrations are line drawings, especially those depicting more complicated scenes. However, some artists traversed into more striking styles. Daniel Omeja used charcoal to create dramatic and nostalgic scenes of daily life in rural homes. Goretti Nabakijje co-created collages to bring common nursery rhymes to life. Dianah Bwengye wrote and created a puppet theatre play that adds an interactive experience for young readers. Within the use of line drawing, Davis Bamwine focused on creating two relatable and classic constructs of Goat, an adventurous fool, and Hippo, his wiser friend.
Children’s first introduction to storytelling and art
I imagined the children who are reading or going to read these books. The children who will befriend these characters from Bamwine’s fictional Goat and Hippo, to Joseph Kalwanyi’s depictions of biographical heroes like Wangari Maathai. It may be their first introduction to other worlds ready to be explored. It may also be their first introduction to the potential of illustration and storytelling as art forms.
Appreciation for literature
The cry of mourning over Uganda’s lack of appreciation for literature and arts has been a long and laborious cry. There have been many efforts across different creative industries to bring art to the Ugandan public. Take, for example, KLA ART, a festival taking visual art into public spaces, or Afriart Gallery’s art education classes, or the upcoming Literature GabFest, a festival to celebrate literary talent in Uganda and East Africa. Still, there remains a gap between art and the Ugandan public apparent in the lack of support from the government and in the low (or no) prioritization of arts in schools, among other signs. This will not change in one day and it won’t be changed by one person or one organization. It will take the combined efforts of untiring artists and enthusiasts over many years.
The Children’s Book illustrators’ Exhibition has presented another opportunity to make this change happen by introducing art to children in a local and relatable context that they can hold in their hands.