Monday, 17 April 2017

Speech for New Vision | Joe Pollitt

SPEECH MEANT FOR NEW VISION | KAMPALA


Joe Pollitt | Artwork by Hellen Nabukenya
For all those that can not make this historical Art show entitled, “To Live is to Become”, in Kampala by the Artist, Wasswa Donald Augustine, who is the Chairman of Artpunch in Buziga. The Artist has asked if I could write a speech for his Opening on Friday 31st March 2017 at Afriart Gallery – Kenneth Dale Drive, Off Kira Rd, Kamwokya from 6pm to 9pm. I will be wearing a full bodysuit of colourful off-cuts with hat and matching shoes that where created for me by the Artist, Hellen Nabukenya.

Joe Pollitt | Artwork by Hellen Nabukenya

“Good evening ladies and gentle. Some here tonight may know of me, some may have heard of me, most may not but I have flown in from London to be here with you on this very special occasion. This monumental solo show of the new works by Wasswa. My name is Joe Pollitt, that’s right, I am here. Here with you all, here I am, here in the flesh. Tonight, I am introducing Wasswa Donald’s historical show. Together, on this night, we are making history. This show will be recorded, shown to millions around the world. All those with smart-phones, get them out, hold them up and stream this show live to your friends around the world. “To live is to become” is a solo show and the artist is a wealth generator. He has generously paid his whole team and enabled their families to eat. Tonight, this show will be an education. An education into wood found in your glorious forests, here in Uganda. Tonight, with you all, we are naming the National Tree, the Mugavu, the National Tree for Uganda. The Mugavu grows wild here in your glorious forests and the Mugavu has deep roots but few care about this undiscovered tree. I am told by the artist that the Mugavu is almost ignored, sadly overlooked but tonight, here in this gallery Afriart, together we are naming the Mugavu, the National Tree of Uganda discovered by the the Artist, Wasswa Donald.

Joe Pollitt | Artwork by Hellen Nabukenya
The Artist is internationally emerging and tomorrow he flies to Germany, he is rising and with his perfectly framed screw-ups; his dysfunctional, functionals; his King and Queen ebonies, he is rising up to meet his destiny. His worth is extremely important and tonight I am here to announce that his work is International. The Ugandans around the world will see this work and weep at its brilliance. The Ugandans around the world will be so proud of the hard work that has gone into polishing these superior woods of the world that grow so easily, here in Uganda. We are witnessing great changes here in the Capital. The works you are about to see are some of the best I have ever seen anywhere. All of us here tonight are going to be seen. We are going to be recorded and we are going to make history. Together we are writing out a brand new chapter in Ugandan Art. We are making ourselves visible. My dream is to see the first sell-out show here in Kampala. I am not here to talk. I am here to buy. Well-come to the show, “To Live is To Become!”"

Artist | Hellen Nabukenya

Friday, 14 April 2017

To Live is To Become | Wasswa Donald


Exhibition: To Live is To Become
Material: Teak Polished
Source: Northern Uganda/South Sudan
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
            Photo by Wasswa            
A few weeks ago now, I travelled from London Heathrow down to Kampala, to take part in what turned out to be, one of the greatest shows on earth. Having waited for a decade for the Artist to come of age, it is only now, I can see he has found his form and is really in the driving seat when it comes to his Art.  The reason for travelling to Uganda is to see, live with my own eyes, the new artworks by the Curator and Artist, Wasswa Donald, who is having an exhibition at the AfriArt Gallery in the City Centre. What excites me about this Artist is that he works almost exclusively with conflict woods; "Blood Teak" and "Conflict Ebony", with the exception of Mugavu and Mvule woods. Soon he will be the only Artist to be bold enough to even consider working with such riches from the forests. His entire show celebrates the African hardwoods and I was hardly likely to miss such an ambitious and politically incorrect show.

Kampala is not a city set-up for people as yet, still a work in progress. A cable-car system would be good, trains also would be nice and a subway, underground or metro system is essential. No clocks or watches, just mobiles charging, no wonder all are on African time. It is amazing any bride makes it to the church on time. The jams here make the London Orbital of the M25, look positively flowing. Even when the cars start moving, you quickly realize this is an active mechanical graveyard, where old foreign cars never die. The die-hard Datsuns, the original Toyotas and the classic 1960's Bedford vans are all here, still moving. Kicking up dusty storms with their pot-holed damaged undercarriages, chucking out black blooms of smoke from terminally ill, unchecked exhaust-pipes. Getting around the city is a life threatening experience as motorbikes dart in and out of the traffic with families of 5, welded together onto two-seater death-trap. In stark contrast there are brand new Mercedes Benz, top of the range 4x4 Landcruisers, People Carriers and leather interior Land-Rovers. So money is there but in the hands of the few but Kampala is potentially, one of the finest Cities in Africa. The people are warm, friendly with a great sense of humour. The majority are charming, polite and generous, especially when you fall through the grates meant for cattle outside a bar, boasting comfort for the middle classes; those with disposable income for eating and drinking yet not 10 yards away, there are roads with no pavements, no streetlights to warn of the dangers that lie underfoot. There is a gentleness that makes all things possible and life bearable and with a certain injection of the right energy and funding, I can see this city becoming one of the most livable in all of Africa.

Over the past 10 years I have been a voyeur into the process and progress made by Artists inside Africa in this post-internet era. Those that have excited me the most are Artists from Uganda, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Nigeria. They have quickly grasped what it means to be an Artist and collectively have a genuine aptitude in the understanding of what is expected of them when it comes to the International arena. Many of the Artists have been abroad for workshops and some have even travelled to various countries inside Africa to explore and discuss ideas across the Continent. This has been a long and arduous journey for many, as most in these countries are fully unaware of the importance or even the meaning of Art. You hear or read these words over and over again, there is no word for Art in Africa as it is everywhere. Now there seems to be a new dawn rising, a new awareness and conscience emerging, something that I refer to as the "Awakening of a Continent".  


Wasswa Donald and Joe Pollitt | Kampala March 2017
Having arrived from London exhausted and of need of refreshments, I headed out to the nearest tavern and after a few Black Bells beers I was myself again. Wasswa, Hellen and the Baby King were so generous in their hospitality and was given a great spot out in the garden. Wasswa and I made full use of our time and erected the Royal Tent in the compound. Here I was to sleep for the next few weeks being eaten alive by giant ants, learning to bark with the wild ferocious dogs who were so near to my sleeping-bag I could almost feel their breath on my cheek. I was woken by the birds by 5am and started my days with an over-zealous cock screaming in my mosquito bitten ears and then, if that wasn't bad enough, along came the bird that seemed to just swear at me to wake up. Fukin-wake-up, then two seconds later, Fukin-wake-up, Fukin-wake-up, Fukin-wake-up. The Fukin-wake-up bird is up so I guess I should wake up too, he's unlikely to stop now he's started.

In the first few days Wasswa worked furiously with a team of workers and Hellen had decided to create her Mistresspiece for me to wear on the big night. She too had a team of workers busy stitching together various flamboyant pieces of cloth onto an extra large boiler-suit and matching hat and shoes; the final work was something to admire. It looked utterly stunning, something out of West Africa and the Voodou-lands of Benin. The outfit was made up of Hellen's splendid colourful off-cuts. A few days before the main event, Wasswa calmly asked me if I would like to OPEN his Show. "Of course", I declared, "I will be honoured." I was flattered and excitedly to even be asked and immediately agreed then swiftly went back to tavern to think. I frantically typed out a speech and was determined to have it published in the New Vision, (the main newspaper in Uganda) the night before the show. Here is what I wrote to the newspaper, but sadly it was never published.

See the Speech: http://africanartists.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/speech-for-new-vision-joe-pollitt.html

Opening the Show


Joe Pollitt Artwork by Hellen Nabukenya
Photo by Hellen Nabukenya
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Date: March 2017

Of course on the night things were a little different and the speech turned out to be disastrous and as always things started to go pear-shaped as the crowd were just too frightened of the suit of many colourful off-cuts to even hear what I had to say. To be honest, I think the audience thought I was some kind of weird strippergram or the Gallery Clown without the big shoes. Earlier, I had desperately gone over my lines and practiced my speech shouting, "Mugavu, Mugavu, Mugavu - that is your National Tree, shout it out with me, "MUGAVU, MUGAVU, MUGAVU". LET US TOGETHER NAME THE NATIONAL TREE. NAME HER WITH ME NOW. MU-GA-VU, MU-GA-VU, MU-GA-VU and so she is named. MUGAVU is the National Tree of Uganda."


This event was supposed to be such a wonderful ritual, which sadly fell short because nobody on the night seemed to be that interested. Perhaps next time things maybe a little easier but definitely we need a dress-rehearsal beforehand and a pre-warning for the audience to participate in such antics. So right from the beginning the show as an utter screw-up but that aside, I think we got away with it. The audience gleefully entered into the Gallery, blissfully unaware of the historical significance they were about to witness. 

*N.B. The Artist has found a kind of language that we need to understand before we see the works. The Mugavu is the central figure in the exhibition, it is a weed, grown wild and mostly ignored, somewhat neglected so the wood is symbolic for the Ugandans of now. The conflict woods of blood teak, ebony are highly priced. They are valued and respected, so these woods when grafted onto the Mugavu are symbolic of the aspirations of Ugandans today or perhaps what precious goodness the Mugavu has inside. Alternatively, you can see the creatures as morphed aliens some beautiful, some ugly. The still lives are single blocks of Blood Teak, they have their own kind of determined energy. Having understood the code somewhat, please enjoy the show.

The Show | To Live is To Become
 

Title: To Live is To Become
Material: Teak Polished
Source: Northern Uganda/South Sudan
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda             
We start with a work that comes from title of show, "To Live is To Become". Boldly lying on a white firm stand the sculpture lies flat and motionless, like an attractive carcass with a shape that draws the audience in to touch and explore with the exciting undulating contours of the wood that seems to take on a life of its own. Look how beautiful this is. So solid and too heavy for a single person to carry. It is polished to perfection. The sloth of an artwork was meant for all those present on the night to enjoy and revel in the simple, natural discovery of Art; the beauty found. A chunk of Ugandan teak, sourced from the borders of Northern Uganda and South Sudan. The wood is so obviously premiership quality and just like a beautiful black woman unaware of her beauty all are instantly compelled to shower her with love, wanting to declare her beautiful to the world. The more we say it, the more she shines. Before we know it, all the world sees her as we see her, as radiant and glorious.  What a treat, what an event we are witnessing. "An Awakening of a Continent." This work was not created for any individual but for an audience and the Artist proudly tells me, he is not sorry. The first phase of the show was audacious. My initial reaction was that it had certainly been worth the visit, my timing could not of been any better as Wasswa had found his voice and had Curated his show with utter confidence. It was such a delight to see and a proud moment to be apart of.

Title: Sleeping Derrick
Material: Burnt Teak
Source: Northern Uganda/South Sudan
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
          Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda 
Another still life is this artwork, "Sleeping Derrick". This was certainly one of my favourite works of the show. Lying so precariously on the stand the audience had no other option but to walk around the crime scene. The rich colours of the original wood seeping through the charred areas that were burnt in order to evoke a much deeper, richer, darker flavour. When stood upright the artwork looks like a Derrick, which are used on oil fields and oil rigs and when mentioning this to the Artist he explained he nothing to hold Derrick up with and quietly and ever-so gently, he lay the heavy-weight work on the stand, then stood back and smoothly declared, "now it is, "Sleeping Derrick"", with a slight smile of contentment on his face. How wonderfully simple and uniquely Ugandan, what seems like an issue is defused in an instant. The title is most appropriate as Uganda has recently, within the past two years, found huge oil reserves that the Government have yet to capitalize on and are seemingly unable to find the necessary infrastructure in which to dig the black gold to reap the rewards. That is clearly a plan for a brighter future, a better and more prosperous tomorrow but until that time comes, Derrick will be sleeping.


Title: African Throne
Material: Mugavu and Teak
Source: Northern Uganda/South Sudan
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
          Photo by Wasswa             
There were so many winners on that night. To be apart of something so epic and historic was an absolute joy and being welcomed in so graciously by the artists made the evening an Event. The Throne was absent but is certainly an important part of the conversation of this exhibition but space was limited but what was there was plenty.

It was evident that the artist was clearly in control of his medium and showed to be a Master of his ideas and able to shape out new horizons. From here on in the possibilities become endless. It certainly felt like we were witnessing the birth of a Continent, an awakening, the like that has never been seen before and with this new found confidence and a sense of occasion; many were starting to believe that they had arrived at a place where they felt entirely in control and beholden to nobody. As the artists confidence rises so the country rises. Wasswa Donald and his extraordinary Masterclass in wood ensures Uganda is seen as more than merely International but rather as the trailblazers in the Art World. This show is exceptional, really it needs to be seen around the world. This would look fantastic in the Tate Modern and MoMA in NYC would love this.


Title:  Emisinde gya ba kamyuffu
(Stampede of the Fixers)
Material: Mugavu Wood
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Wasswa
Back to the wood, but this time to the Mugavu, the National Tree of Uganda. Wasswa was keen to name the Mugavu the National Tree in his introduction to the show, which was delivered rather poorly by myself, Joe Pollitt. Most there, on the night, were so shocked to see me they didn't actually listen to what I had to say but I did name the National Tree of Uganda - The Mugavu - 31st March 2017 around 8.15pm. (Let it be noted down for history).

Title: Mugavu Creatures
Material: Mugavu Wood
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
The Mugavu is traditionally used for the sides and backs for guitars so it has it's roots deep inside the creative environment of the country. The Mugavu grows wild and found everywhere but it is not farmed. It is indigenous to Uganda and grows nowhere else in the world. When polished the wood has a deep rich almost burgundy colour. In most regions where Mugavu is found it is used to fire bricks or as firewood in the rural areas. This precious commodity is so undervalued and should be regarded as one of the country's greatest resources. Wasswa has paid homage to the tree and polished the wood up to expose the richness and created defiant sculptural creatures and by doing so has transformed the overlooked treasure of Uganda. He has blown new life into the Mugavu and in celebrating the National Tree he made the Mugavu Internationally recognized. These artworks are really the centrepiece, the pieces that mean the most and the true heart of this remarkable International Show. The works are displayed as if they were an afterthought but in reality they are the showstoppers and what the exhibition is all about. The show, in it's essence, really highlights all those that are neglected and who are far too often undervalued, "To Live is To Become".

Title: Mugavu Creatures
Material: Mugavu Wood
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
Through these new series of Mugavu sculptures, the artist explores the nature of undesirable habitats, in which both fear and desire are the root causes for change. This can be regarded as a metaphor for lives under tyrannical regimes and those that face constant daily abuse. Numerous lives in East Africa have to contend with just such maltreatment and these important Mugavu works speak out for the voiceless masses. The artist believes that when confronted with such atrocities and intense difficulties the very fabric of society will change accordingly. Nature, itself will simply mould out a series of new-beings, which will fundamentally be able to acclimatize themselves to their terrifying surroundings. It is the incredible ability of nature to adapt to her environment that so intrigues the Artist. Essentially, he is keen to ignite the debate that re-examines who we are as creatures on planet earth and hence the new initiative of the TMWA, which is an acronym for The Most Weird Animals. By morphing the different woods together the Artist is able to produce a seemingly new race of Super-beings. These ideas and strong works of Art need far more visibility. As a full Exhibition this complete work of Art would be best seen in Paris at the Pompidou Centre or in Madrid at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which is home to those that want to challenge Nations but here in Kampala these superb Artworks will simply die and all too quickly be forgotten.

Title: Familiar Figure | Wild Creature
Material: Mugavu and Ebony
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
It is important to note that the Artist sources his rich materials from the various forests around Uganda. His main regions of interest are the forests on the border areas of Congo to the North where ebony is found and on the borders in the North where plenty of teak was planted in South Sudan. It is widely known that Sudan, North and South, have used teak resources to fund armed rebellions and it is often referred to as "Blood Teak".  Teak is not indigenous to Africa.  Seedlings were planted in the colonial era across the continent, from Benin and Nigeria to Tanzania and South Sudan.   Forestry expert Abdalla Gafaar dates the first plantation in South Sudan to 1919, at Kagelu, Central Equatoria.  Planting activity intensified in the 1940s, across the Equatorias and Bahr el Ghazal.  In 2004, thirteen teak plantations were found and mapped by satellite and in 2007, a further five plantations, covering a total of 7,680 hectares (76.8 km2), were found.  Most of the mature trees standing today are between 35 and 50 years old but the Artist chooses only the trees that have been damaged or have fallen naturally; even so they are still among the best to be found on earth and with these rich resources he puts them to perfect use.

Title: OREO | The Wildest Creature
Material: KING AND QUEEN Ebony
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
Here is OREO, King and Queen Ebony, the most revered tree in the forest. When you peel back the bark of the ebony tree the first layer you see is white ebony, often referred to as "Queen Ebony" and then once you peel that off you come to the black ebony known as "King Ebony". The wood is as heavy as granite so the artist has subtly placed strategically thin ebony twigs to hold this beast up and in doing so the work transcends a delicacy and a fragility that encourages the audience to wonder how these gentle legs don't just snap. This sensitivity is unusual in African Art so we are witnessing a change occurring, what I refer to as an Awakening.


Title: OREO | The Wildest Creature
Material: KING AND QUEEN Ebony
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
Here is another angle. The smoothness to the wood and texture is like a sheet of glass, it is staggeringly beautiful. I think this kind of beauty breeds creativity and it would be marvellous to hear the Ugandan Jazz singer, Sandra Nankoma, if she could or would write a song and sing to the OREO, The Wildest Creature, at some point. To capture that complicated, undefinable duality that lies inside each and every one of us.  The OREO has such majestic poetry exuding inside and out. Sandra would be the ideal singer as she uses her voice like a Jazz instrument and is one of the greatest talents in Uganda today. How perfect it would be to hear her sing out loud in her own Ugandan Jazzy way, just how glorious the King and Queen Ebony are when gently balanced on fragile twigs. This is elegance found.

To accompany the creatures, Wasswa has created as series of drawings. His masterful penmanship in black and white, echo the surreal creatures in the Mugavu wood. What a compliment, the two work so well together like a perfect coupling, like strawberries and cream or matoke and black-eyed peas. So this exhibition is courageous, ambitious and certainly considered.


Title: TMWA | The Most Weird Animal
Material: Black pen of paper
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
















Title: TMWA | The Most Weird Animal
Material: Black pen of paper
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda
Title: TMWA | The Most Weird Animal
Material: Black pen of paper
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda



Title: TMWA | The Most Weird Animal
Material: Black pen of paper
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda



The artist is punching way above his weight, especially when the majority of his audience are highly unlikely to fully understand his brilliance. That, in itself, has its own brave and somewhat insane charm. The show is a complete work of Art that can only be added to but not reduced. The show balances itself and it is so tender in its approach to the audience. The subtle equilibrium of the gentle twigs propping up such heavy-weight woods. The sheer man and women-hours taken in constructing this fantastic show and sadly Kampala has yet to understand this sense of occasion and the magnitude of this Groundbreaking Show.

The next phase of this solo show is the "Dysfunctional Functionals".


Title: Dysfunctional Camouflage
Material: Teak and Ebony
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017
Photo by Ronex | Art Uganda

Title: Dysfunctional Functional
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017 

Photo: Ronex | Art Uganda

These are quiet exceptional works of Art. Wasswa Donald and his 'Dysfunctional Functionals', both are stools, seats or tables but in a Gallery they are represented as sculptural works of Art. They look like such rejects, such misfits, freaks and outcasts but when rotated and placed on their practical legs they turn out to be extremely useful tables, stools or chairs. The perfect contradiction from the wild to the tame. This is great work indeed and to me these artworks are pure GENIUS.

Title: Dysfunctional Functional
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017 

Photo: Ronex | Art Uganda
This show talks to me in volumes, it shows me that the reject can be King and failures can succeed. This is the response I was hoping for and had been waiting for. The response to Simon Njami, who told the Artists they were just not ready to be seen Internationally. What a fantastic response Wasswa Donald has given, this beats them all with a big wooden stick. Put that in your pipe and set fire to it Mister Simon.







Title: MY SCREW-UPS 1,2 and 3
Artist: Wasswa Donald
Date: April 2017 

Photo: Ronex | Art Uganda

THE FINALE | The Pièce de Résistance Wasswa Donald, MY SCREW-UPS 1, 2 and 3. This work aimed to challenge the audience in ways few other artists would even dare to. What was fantastic on the night was to see a fellow artist and one of my all time heroes, Henry Mzili, take to the stage and clearly and concisely explained to the confused faces the work that they were all frowning at. The work is so simple in it's complexity and calling on other fellow artists to push the boat out and dare to exhibit works that have more of a conceptional meaning than pictorial or monetary value. This, for many, was certainly outside their comfort zones but most left enriched by the experience. This was really a brave move on the part of the Artist but in years to come people will look back and know they were apart of the History of Art of Uganda. It was an absolute delight and pleasure to screw-up the Introduction and to end up with these poetic artworks that tells a wonderful story that shall remain in my memory forever.

Author: Joe Pollitt