Revitalising Ugandan Bark-Cloth – Concerns of the regime artist
I consider myself an artist of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime, which ousted former governments that were blamed for political turmoil that restricted Ugandan artists from optimal practice at home in the 70s and 80s. During that period, many artists migrated. Some of them like Fabian Mpagi, Geoffrey Mukasa, Romano Lutwama, may they rest in peace, returned in the late eighties and practiced in Uganda.
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A social critic under NRM
I joined them in 1995 when I first showcased my art at the Nommo Gallery (the home of Ugandan artists) where I sold 90% of what I exhibited. Since then, I have been an artist of the regime, privileged to practice uninterrupted and living a life that describes the role of a creative artist in society. It is now thirty years down the road of the regime and twenty-three years of my practicing career as a researcher and social critic using the discipline of printmaking.
In my quest to reconcile my social criticism using printmaking with problem-solving, I have ended up fully involved and embedded in the revitalization of Ugandan bark-cloth. Ask me why. I am trying to answer the big question: If Ugandan bark cloth was invented over 700 years ago, what could have happened to such a unique invention that its popularity was disoriented until 2008 when UNESCO named it a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity that must be preserved?
My on-going exhibition at Afriart on 7th in Industrial Area, Kampala is a small portion of my research that aims at inspiring contemporary artists, researchers, Uganda’s private sector, and international companies to join in the struggle of re-positioning Ugandan bark-cloth to its rightful place in contemporary global usage.
The next project I have already started embarking on is printmaking on 100% bark-cloth paper as an alternative printmaking surface. Let us join our minds to strengthen Ugandan bark-cloth resumption by moving it from tradition to economics. The remaining elderly bark-cloth artisans need our support in their struggle of passing on skills to the youth.
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.