Daniel Atenyi: A Soul Star In The Making
As I am scrolling through my Instagram as usual, my eyes rest on a predominantly black and white poster for an open studio on Afriart Gallery’s page. It’s a new artist! I nod in agreement of the beautiful poster and work on it, then proceed with tapping on the heart and screenshotting it. I then remember that I have seen his work before and it was at artist-Collin Sekajugo’s home, in the living room.
Daniel Atenyi is the gallery’s new hatching after incubating at their residency space-Silhouette Projects for three months. Atenyi is largely self-taught, which explains his somewhat free and ungoverned expression. He tells me that he only missed studying art and design at university because his parents did not approve of it at the time– a story that has since changed the past two years since participation in he’s first actual exhibition, in October 2021, an annual group show known as Ebirungi held at the ritzy Latitude 0 Hotel in Kampala. This stands to prove that clearly, the young man is intentional about curving his own path and conveying all this and more throughout his work.
A soul searching journey
Daniel’s work is executed using charcoal, dry pastels, powder color and terracotta on paper. He crashes these dry media. The result is a powder that he applies on paper using brushes and tissue paper, creating half-finished abstracted human figures. With hazy heads, and limbs extended with just the outer lines, the work takes on a sensuous tone, of love, beauty, life, hardships and pleasure. It feels like you are listening to a soul record viewing his drawings. Have you ever listened to Marvin Gaye? Maybe you should turn on some Michael Kiwanuka and get closer to what I’m talking about. He taps deep into his feelings and experiences to present to us these uncompleted figures, showing us his vulnerable side. It is as if he is on a soul-searching journey, questioning and examining his emotions and motives.
Daniel is the eldest among his siblings at home and we can almost feel the load of responsibility he carries in the work as well. It’s already been tough choosing an ‘odd’ career path, it’s always precarious at the start for any artist and what better way than to communicate this through your work. In Halves, he gives us two figures, the seemingly female one embraces the male from behind. The male is not moved by the female’s show of affection. Daniel tells me the work is an account of his previous relationship.
Drawing as an art form
Apart from the honesty portrayed in Atenyi’s work, there are other attributes that make his drawings successful artworks. They are raw but controlled, also expressive and impressive at the same time, forming the right needed balance. Although his ideas are still slightly naïve and innocent which is expected of any young artist, his mastery of the preferred technique is one to marvel at. Drawing doesn’t usually enjoy the same praise and attention as other areas like painting and sculpture in the art world because it often feels unprofessional and the inception of an artist’s practice. It also feels like it’s been exhausted but with Atenyi, there is an emergence of a technique that is unusual. In addition, he is excelling at using the brush with the dry media. The control with the lines and tone to make up the human figure is brilliant. The arrangements of the figures in the space to produce a minimalist look satisfyingly indicating maturity and intention in his practice.
One of my favorite works from this collection that he showed in the open studio is Resolute, which has a male figure, a finished and well-defined torso and a blurred-out face. The rest of the limbs move away from the torso with just the line work. The right hand reaches out to the foreground disappearing at the edge of the paper. The healthy and well-toned torso gives off this sensual aura but also makes me think of a large percentage of young energetic men in Uganda whose abilities are wasted. The ones that finish from higher institutions but struggle to get employment. The many that should have enrolled in professional sports but end up pushing boda bodas around Uganda’s urban centers.
Tracing significant steps
Atenyi is a talent to watch out for on the Kampala art scene or even better, the global art scene for his chances are now higher, having been picked up by the illustrious Afriart Gallery. The next time we see his work could be at 1:54 art fair or even Art Basel! All this wouldn’t be a surprise because if we backtracked the youngster’s career, we discover small but significant steps he’s taken, some of which include a pop-up show at Alliance Francaise in Kampala, acquisitions by a few local collectors and the group show at Latitude 0 Hotel Kampala. All this, together with the natural hand and focused spirit, you have yourself a pure artist in the making.
Matt Kayem is a contemporary artist, art critic and writer living and working in Kampala, Uganda. He can be reached via email, email@example.com