Ugandan Artists: Meet Benedict Bukenya
What I have observed since then relates to social, political as well as environmental realities. I have deemed it necessary to open up to the challenges experimentation, cooperation and exchange. Being part of network programs locally and internationally contributing to the growing international dialogue that explores our cultural differences. I have worked with different artists groups and participated in various group exhibitions, and workshops in Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Namibia and South Africa.
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First published: March 15, 2006
In 1999 along with a few other artists, he held special exhibit, which was honoured by Her Excellence Nancy Powel the American Ambassador to Uganda then. It was a big honour because none of the artists had a university degree. This particular exhibit was greatly appreciated by the public, as well as the media. He proudly appeared on WBS and CNN.
When you think of Benedict Bukenya imagine beautiful wood carvings and spectacularly colourful abstract paintings. His artistic interest began at an early age when he made cups, pots, and animals out of the fresh earth of the termite hills. Because there were no swamps near his home he could not find clay for his works of art. But imagination and innovation were things that he had been blessed with as a child. As a result he made small figures of various sizes and themes to serve as toys for himself and his friends.
Benedict Bukenya is a woodcarver, sculptor, craftsman, graphic artist and web designer. He was born in Kampala, Uganda. He was introduced to woodcarving as an extracurricular activity while still a secondary student at St. Henrys College Kitovu. At that young age, he managed to display his works at the Lugogo show grounds with the St. Henrys college arts and Crafts team. This made him develop even more of an interest in visual arts.
In 1997 he enrolled to Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts of Makerere University Kampala. Later he was offered a small studio space at the Gallery Caf in Kampala.
"Here I took under my wings other young artists with whom I shared the facility."
He has since then worked with different artists groups and participated in various group exhibitions, and workshops in Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Namibia and South Africa.
Jane: How early in your life did you get involved in the arts scene?
Benedict: I think as early as I was observant, I remember making small ports and animals out of fresh earth of the termite hills (anthills). There was no clay near my home.
What did your parents think about that?
Maybe just optimistic, at that age.
You are a graphic artist, sculptor, web designer. Did you get all this training at Makerere?
First informally as an extracurricular activity at high school, then through apprenticeship at a college art studio during my vacations and this was basically for woodcarving.
Secondly formally through Makerere University where I was exposed to new media. Again that was basically in graphic design, painting, sculpture. Courses in art history, art appreciation, presentation, communication design and drawing really made me think in a broader sense. They opened up possibilities.
Thirdly was informally again through exchange workshops and networking programs.
What was your experience like at Makerere University? Was there any particular inspiring professor who stands out in your mind?
It was a transition from woodcarver to Sculptor, craftsman to designer. One very inspiring professor was Mrs. Rose Kirumira for the grandeur in her sculptures.
Many critics say that Makerere University has lost its glory, and yet it is producing such beautiful art. What would you say to such critics?
Not the glory may be the tradition; its a query of modernization.
You have an art piece called Shy Kajubi. That is a common Nsenene (Grasshopper clan) name? Did you choose that name because that is your clan? What inspired it?
I don't belong to that clan; I was inspired by the value of the name amongst the youth today. Its a jargon for a person characteristic of cataclysm. Kajubi is a youth, he is energetic, he could be 'harmful' very talkative (ajubisa - adds salt to soup he didnt make)-He steams up a situation and when it is high he coils away. He opens up and then hides his face. He is a coward. Possibly He was a back bencher. He is a barking dog in society. He is a fox he is wise. Kajubi leaves long from the Ugandan Aids scourge.
I read an essay which you wrote called IT REALLY WORKS where you outlined the profiles of Ugandan artists. You mentioned the importance of the internet and networking among artists. Can you please elaborate on that?
The internet and networking at large is just an eye opener. You get to see the other side of the world. I was trying to advise fellow artists to try open up beyond their studios.
For potential sponsors, art supporters, and benefactors who may want to help in any way, what are the general challenges that Ugandan artists face? How can they help?
I think Ugandan artists need a common platform. Issues, tribulations and the future of art and artists in Uganda need be addressed. Organizations like Ngoma International have tried, but these are mulfunded. There need be fresh partnerships, fellowships and affiliations to cope up the situation, especially with the culture and development sectors.
The Ugandan visual art scene is very vibrant, despite the turbulent history the country has had. What do you think has caused this explosion of young artists on the Ugandan and international scene? Why are there so many artists?
The political environment provides for the potential of art and art making, many changes have been prevalent of Uganda recently and these are very striking and inspiring. This can be observed in the performing arts as well; the youths are hitting the music chats aggressively. Besides, art education is widening each day and many art institutions; schools, galleries, studios are showing up.
Tale of Kuku
How has the reception of your art been in Uganda?
At times it has been gloomy, very few Ugandans do understand my art. I have a few pieces back home with local collectors.
What about on the international scene?
Maybe consoling, many windows are optimistic.
Do you think the Ugandan government does enough to support the arts? How could they improve?
Maybe for music, dance and Drama. I think the working Environment for visual arts seems just, but with bare support on ground. We need more programs from the ministry.
What are your current projects?
I am scratching my head on how to improve life through art.
Ssuubi Studio Projects; a community based arts development initiative aiming to bring together, nurture and uphold the potential of the deprived society (targeting children, their mothers and non working youths) in order to develop a creative vision for positively changing the community. The main objective of this initiative is to reflect such assets as skilfulness, awareness, and empowerment onto this society, using art as a mirror. http://www.art4development.net/FundsMessageBoard.html (scroll down until you see Ssuubi Studio Projects Seeking Support)
Tears of Labor
What is a beautiful woman in your experience?
A well reserved woman.
Do you have any words of advice to any young people who may want to follow your path?
They need be focused to determination and handwork. There is potential in teamwork sharing and exchange.
Where can people who want to buy/see your art find it?
Afriart Gallery - Kampala
Nommo Gallery - Kampala
The Cape Gallery - Cape Town
The Townhouse Gallery Downtown Cairo
Mawazo Gallery Dar es Salaam
African Colours Chester House Nairobi
Ramoma Gallery Nairobi
University of Namibia Windhoek
Ssuubi Studio Center
14km Masaka Road
P.O box 26754 Kampala Uganda
Mobile +256 772-415 539
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
I want to be remembered as a Noble
2002 Aptech Computer Education - CPISM
2000 Makerere University Kampala - B.I.F.A
1997 St. Henrys College Kitovu - U.A.C.E
1994 St. Henrys College Kitovu - U.C.E
1990 St. Josephs Primary Nabbingo - P.L.E
2005 Thupelo International Artists Workshop -Cape Town
2005 Regional Network Meeting for Artists - Kuona Trust - Nairobi
2004 Ngoma International Artists Workshop - Uganda
2003 Tulipamwe International Workshop - Namibia
2003 - 1st East African Residency Program - Ngoma Studios - Kampala
2002 East African Artists Meeting - Kuona Trust - Nairobi
2002 - "Open Studio" Project -Townhouse Gallery Cairo
2002 - Web Design Training - Dehezi International - Kampala
2002 - Internet Training Workshop - British Council Kampala Office
2002 - Computer Training Workshop - Makerere
2001 -Uganda-Denmark Sculpture Workshop - Makerere - Kampala
Jun. 2005 - Order Of Nature? - Afriart Gallery lugogo
Nov. 2004 - Boda Boda Era - Nommo Gallery Kampala
Oct. 2004 - 42 Years of Independence - Nommo Gallery Kampala
May 2004 - Ngoma International Exhibition - Nommo Gallery Kampala
Oct. 2003 -2nd solo exhibition -Alliance Franoise de Kampala
Jun. 2003 Tulipamwe International Artists exhibition -Omba gallery Windhoek
May 2003 Tulipamwe International Artists exhibition -University of Namibia
Apr. 2003 -Ngoma Residency Output Exhibition -Nommo Gallery
Dec. 2002 End of Year national Group Exhibition -Nommo Gallery
Sept. 2001- The 2nd Annual Nude " -Nommo Gallery
Nov. 2001 - Sculpture in the Gardens " - One off Gallery Nairobi
Feb. 2001 - UNEP/DEWA (GC.21) - UNEP Headquarters Nairobi
Dec. 2000 - " 3rd All Artists Exhibition " - Nommo Gallery
Nov. 2000 - " Metallic Images " (Solo) -The Gallery Caf Kampala
Sept. 2000 - " The Nude " Exhibition - Nommo Gallery Kampala
Dec. 1999 - " The boys are back " - The Gallery Caf Kampala
April. 1999 - " Hope " -The Gallery Caf Kampala
Mar. 1995 - Wildlife Exhibition -The Gallery Caf Kampala
Management and Organization Experience
Member of the Working group - Ngoma International Artists Workshops
Founding Coordinator - Ssuubi Studio Projects Nabbingo
Director - Ngoma International Artists Uganda (NIAU)
Member - Uganda Artists Association
Lecturer (2001-02) - Michelangelo School Of Creative Arts
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First published: March 15, 2006
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.