Ideas Africa: Cutting Across Borders
Talking to Alal Rose Jane, proud owner of Ideas Africa.
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First published: June 17, 2009
Many people have looked at the art industry as a non-performing sector. This industry had always been seen as a last resort business where jobs are lacking. Then, it was unimaginable to tell someone that you earn a living from doing art.
This however, cannot be said for Alal Rose Jane. She has been in the art industry for a long time. She recently started exporting her artwork to Europe and Asia, following her attendance of some international trade fares. With the way things are going for her, there is no doubt that the sky is the limit for her.
Alal says that it is a dream come true for her. After years of trying to break through the already competitive art world, Alal has been able to transform her portfolio from a mere art and craft maker to a businesswoman.
Alal spoke to UGPulse about her experience in the world of art.
Olive: How long does your art expertise span?
Alal: I have nurtured my love for art since I was in Senior Two. I was making crafts then and earning a small living out of it. With time, I diversified my skills to suit my business and today, I can proudly say that I am the owner of Ideas Africa.
When was Ideas Africa born?
Ideas Africa was opened in 2001 as a non-registered company. I was stationed at Buganda road where I sub-rented from someone. I also operated from home so I had to juggle between the two places. In 2005, I officially registered Ideas Africa and here I am at African Crafts Market.
What do you basically deal in?
My products include batiks, woodcarvings, paintings, textiles, jewellery and baskets. I could do more but I am limited by time. I am a born artist so I have the skills to do anything artistic. Art is wide and there are many things that an artist can deal in.
Adungu, the traditional harp.
So do you really make the pieces I see in your shop?
Not really, Some are mine while other artists make the rest. You know, I try to promote other people's products by helping them sell their art pieces.
Most of the artists I am helping out are disadvantaged, as they have nowhere to showcase their products. You can find that one is talented but has no money to rent a place or stall.
It is absurd to see skill rotting away yet you can do something about it. I decided to step
in and help out some people.
So is art a profession for you?
I am a teacher by profession. I teach art at Aggrey Memorial School, Bunamwaya. I would classify both teaching and art as my professions.
As a teacher, I work with many artists and through this, I give them advice on their work. When I am not so busy, I visit them at their respective workshops and supervise their work. There is a lady I met at a market. She was making dolls that were not good enough and not selling at all. I advised her to try out a few options to better the product and it worked. Ever since I started selling the dolls in my shop, over 800 of them have been bought.
What kind of materials do you use to make your pieces?
There are different materials I use for different pieces. For the clothes, I mainly use raw cotton. I apply a method called appliqué when designing shirts, dresses, trousers and skirts. Appliqué is a type of needlework in which pieces of one color or type of material are sewn or stuck to another large piece in a design or pattern.
I sew the batik onto the raw cotton to create a design. This is after I have cut out the desired shapes. I then take the pieces to a tailor to sew them up into a full outfit.
I also make tye and dye attire. I made the one I am wearing.
I see some paintings here with all the beads and stuff. How do you do that?
Actually, such an art piece is called collage. Collage is a form of art in which pieces of paper, cloth, photographs, beads, etc, are arranged and stuck to a surface.
I usually use bark cloth to create the art pieces especially where it concerns people. I then add other accessories to give the piece a real human touch. If you look at one of the portraits, you will see that I have used earrings, beads and braids to give the women a breath of life. The background is usually a tye and dye piece of cloth.
Do you think that the art industry has grown?
The art industry has drastically changed unlike before. There is a lot of competition in Uganda now. Many people are struggling to join as well. People are beginning to realize that there is a lot more you can achieve from art.
Six years ago, it was hard for someone to tell you that he or she makes a living out of art. There was a negative attitude towards art in terms of being a means of livelihood. Today, many artists are using the money they earn to pay fees for their children. It has brought people who had stashed their talent away to come out and be proud of what they do.
Have you encountered any problems in the industry?
There are many problems but the major one is lack of financial support. Artists in Uganda have the brains and know where the market for their products is but do not have the money. However good your ideas are, finances may limit you.
Another thing is the competition. The one among Ugandan artists is fair but Europeans are now setting shops here. This has made it hard for the resident artists to sell. The Europeans easily get loans from the banks, which we have no access to. It is really stifling and choking our business.
Have you tried to target the market outside Uganda?
Yes, I have! There is market for African products abroad though finances limit us. But at least I have had the opportunity to showcase my crafts in Europe and South America.
When I have time, I travel to these places about twice or thrice a year. There are usually international trade fairs so I use such opportunities to showcase my work and hope for more clientele. One thing with whites is that they love things that are peculiar but attractive so they easily get attracted to African stuff.
These days, I get orders to export my artwork abroad. This has really boosted my business.
Does that mean that the international market is an easy target for Ugandan arts?
(Shakes head) I wish it would be! It is very hard, even for us who attend the trade fairs. These fairs are big events where the crÈme de la crÈme of artists in the world converge. The competition is stiff so you really have to be good at what you do.
Does the government fund your trips to these international meets?
It does not do that. I use my personal finances to attend them. One thing the government has not done is to support the artists in Uganda. Even the artists' umbrella association, National Arts and Crafts Association of Uganda, have not been helpful. Many artists have tried to get help through the association but have been turned down.
Most times, there are programmes that fund artists but in some instances, the association wants registered artists to benefit. Most artists in Uganda are not financially stable. This kind of bureaucracy is a let down to the arts industry.
Do you do anything else apart from making art works?
I am an interior designer. I also decorate at social functions, especially weddings. But this is all in the line of art, you know.
Do you have any future plans for Ideas Africa?
Footballs made out of banana fibres.
At the moment, I am running a project in Luweero district for children making footballs made out of banana fibre. It is slowly picking up and I hope that I can introduce it to other places so that children without an education can earn a living out of it.
I hope to continue in my art trade and be able to diversify. Maybe I will open up my own clothing line. (Laughs)
Bowls carved out of olive wood.
Bark cloth painting.
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First published: June 17, 2009
Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.
A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.