By Titus Kakembo
The days when art galleries and being a collector were the preserve of the expatriate community in Uganda are no more. Visual art markets have mushroomed in urban centers, on highways, and affluent residential areas. Traveled and exposed indigenous consumers have joined the consumer crowd. The themes on display at the African Village, Acacia Mall, and along Buganda Road are testimony to the drastic change.
“The consumers of visual art in the late 1970s when I returned from exile in Kenya tourists or resident expatriates,” recounts Nuwa Wamala Nyanzi aka King of Batik.
“Given the exposure and better purchasing power, Ugandans are taking home pieces to add life to their interior decoration,” says Nyanzi. “Fashion gurus want to dress something that echoes where they come from.”
True to his word mats, the African Village Buganda Road Art market is thronged by art lovers between 2050 years of age. They walk away with treated skins, drums, sculpture, handmade clothes, and footwear.
On their heels come art lovers from neighboring countries looking for something to take back home as a memento of visiting destination Uganda.
According to Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) CEO Richard Kawere their works speak volumes.
“We may have had a checkered and it is visible in the works of visual artists,” says Kawere. “There are pieces showcasing the dance and festive times, sculptures of gorillas, table mats, and wrist bangles.”
Kawere says the dealers have been trained to master the stories behind what they are selling.
“One may be excited when told waist beads have a love charm the history of barkcloth (baseball caps,) ” explained Kawere. “But when told its history or if 30 percent of the proceed to go to charity – they will not hesitate to dig in their wallet to buy.”
When the united art dealers get a big order from a supermarket for table mats, shirts, or caps, they pool resources and skills to deliver.
A tour of places where early man is believed to have lived like Nyero Rock Painting in Eastern Uganda and Bigo Bya Mugenyi in central Buganda is a revelation that art has been our way of documenting history.
On the walls of Nyero is a round stick image with several Ls around it. The guide said it was an artist’s impression of how the sun is able to rise from one side and fall on the other.
Another exhibition done with mysteriously indelible paint is a saucer-shaped vessel with fish and stick limbed people on board. The guide said given the proximity to Lake Kyoga, the artist must have drawn on the rocks an economic or social activity then.
Bigo Bya Mugenyi in Mawogola is evidence of prehistoric art where intricately decorated pots, spears, and beads are in the huts where the Bachwezi once lived. There are shields, spears, and baskets that were their tools then.
While launching the new Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) logo, President Museveni urged the marketers to develop new tourist attractions like archaeology.
Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) CEO Steven Asimwe says the tourism industry is where hobbies are turned into job opportunities.
“The challenge is upon you to identify where to tap the money waiting to be spent from,” said Asimwe. “Ugandans are now buying home made products knowing they are value for money. And they identify with them