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Are we just playing to the gallery?


Knapsack, an art piece by Collin Sekajugo, depicts the everyday hustles of a mother in lockdown. PHOTOS/DENIS NSUBUGA


Inspired by the several experiences that came with the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, artists have been busy and on Friday they will wrap up an almost two-month showcase at Afriart Gallery.

Denis Nsubuga

While offering a visual commentary on the current state of affairs, Playing to the Gallery, an art exhibition showing at Afriart Gallery Kampala, raises the conversation on experimenting in art and in life.

And as the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, the showcase brings to life people’s individual and collective views on what is now known as the ‘new normal’.

Twelve renowned visual artists, through diverse art forms, including painting, photography, portraits and caricatures, explore the impact of the pandemic on people’s lifestyles and beliefs.

The disruption of the pandemic did not spare visual artists. So when people were required to quarantine as part measures to curb the spread of the disease, what was it like in the world of art? The exhibition reveals varied artistic perceptions.

Like the title, Playing to the Gallery, suggests, the showcase is anchored on the concept of Play or Playing. It explores forms of play through subject matter and medium, according to the exhibition guide.

The exhibition experiments on the process of making art and its role on the social-economic fabric of society. The boredom and confinement, going by the guide, prompted artists to tryout new ways of working and self-expression.

The result, as seen in the showcase, is thought-provoking art works that question people’s actions and the beliefs they have formed since the year started. For instance, the things we do now, such as wearing a face mask and following SOPs; are we acting willingly or just playing to the gallery?

The exhibition that opened in July and runs until Friday, has more than 42 artworks from top visual artists around the region.

In a serene atmosphere at the gallery, the showcase starts with weary faces and bodies in Stacey Gillian Abe’s two paintings titled Sleeping Girl.

Just woken up from a night’s sleep, females in the art pieces are fighting to get out of bed.

Collin Sekajugo’s Knapsack and Still Early, both 2020 works, drive the viewer into the main discussion which is the impact of Covid-19. He uses mixed media, including photography, painting and a rucksack canvas, to depict the life of an average mother and father during quarantine. He speaks about the responsibilities and hardships that came with the lockdown.
For example, Still Early shows a father who has taken up additional responsibilities at home. As signified by the crawling children on the foreground and his fatigued face under a yellow mask, the duties are overwhelming him. His partner, depicted in Knapsack, who he would have shared his difficulties with, is also pregnant, nursing her own challenges.

Amid all the predicaments, as Eria Nsubuga Sane portrays in his seven-minute film titled Nowhere Airport (2020), there is nowhere to run to. Airports around the world were closed as part of the major guidelines to control the spread of the virus.

According to Wabwire Wa, who viewed the show, the exhibition shows multi-cultural conversations around the theme of Covid-19.

Artistic marvel
Curated by Michelle Mlati, the experiments in the art works and showcase, make the whole exhibition an artistic marvel as the works peep into the future. For instance, cartoons have barely been known to gallery exhibitions.

In this, however, cartoonist Spire offers a satirical account of Ugandan society since Covid-19 hit the country. In Preachers on the Spot, he discusses preachers. In Covid-19 Violence, 2020, Spire reminds the viewer of the dreaded stance of the Local Defence Unit while enforcing guidelines in communities.

Who remembers the suspicion of infection people had at the start of the lockdown? “Is it you that has coughed?” an LDU officer asks a woman in Spire’s cartoon, Covid Suspicion, 2020. “Who? Me?” she fervently retorts.

“When you look at artists such as Letaru Dralega using mixed digital media, I think that is where we are heading,” Wabwire said in an interview with Daily Monitor.

He adds that he loves that the curator is also bringing different artists from Uganda and East Africa together “to tell this one story, and show how we play to the situation happening now using art.”

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