Ugandan Artists: Meet Eria Nsubuga 'Sane'
"My interests in art dwell around what is around me. Nature, as well as day to day activities of the common man are my major sources of inspiration. I delight in simplicity, and as a result a lot of my work has been linked to naïveté. I however make no apologies for being true to myself."
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First published: January 23, 2006
Visual artist Eria Solomon Nsubuga was born 17th January 1979 in Central Uganda. He went to Lake Victoria Primary School and King's College Budo for his primary and secondary education correspondingly. He began his artist career in late 1999 while still in his undergraduate days. In 2001 Eria graduated with a first class Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Arts degree at Makerere University's Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts. Nsubuga did Sculpture, Oil Painting, and Illustration as his major subjects along with Drawing, Art History, Business Administration, Art Appreciation, and Research Project being the core courses. He is currently in the final phases of a masters degree in the same institution.
He is a member of Index Mashiriki Artist group, the Executive Committee of the Uganda Artists Association, Uganda Debt Network and Ngoma Artists (Uganda). He was also selected for a coveted cultural exchange programme in Bavaria, Germany. The exchange programme opened doors for Ugandan artists to exhibit their work in Germany and to made people in Germany more conscious of African art and vice versa. It is hoped that the programme will in future broaden to embrace other artists in music, dance, drama and writing. The Cultural Department of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored him.
I think this picture was taken in Bavaria at THE WALHALLA.
Nsubuga likes to see himself as a critical artist who reflects an image of his society in all angles. Small things which many people take for granted about life, those things that many humans sometimes take for granted are of interest to him. He likes to study people and their relationship with other people as well as the manmade and natural environment. One thing that strikes you about him is his modesty, which will endear him to UGPulse readers. Nsubuga is a shy, enigmatic artist yet politically and socially motivated. When I interviewed him, I discovered another side of him; Nsubuga the musician.
Jane: I heard that you sometimes go by the nom de plume S.A.N.E? What does that mean?
Eria: When I was a child I liked the numerous abbreviations my civil service heavy weight father S.L.N. Serwanja had. My older siblings also had long ones like K.K.G.E.T.T to stand for Kiggwe Kiganga Godfrey Eria, A.J.T.M. Alfred Joel Twebaze Mulwana and so on.
Those abbreviations are quite a mouthful. Whats the rest of the story?
Well, while at King's College Budo I began to think of what my identity could be. What kind of signature, what kind of face, what kind of job, stuff like that. I have always wanted to stand out as different from any group because I do not like uniformity that much. I wanted to get an identity so I began to use the first letters of each of my 4 names Solomon Arinaitwe Nsubuga Eria in different order like 'NASE', 'SNAE', 'EASN' and so on. Eventually I settled for 'SANE'. Thus the pseudonym Sane was born. I surely would have forgotten about it within months of coming up with that name had I not written it all over my school uniform, and exercise books. My friends like Derrick Uwizeye Rwitare picked it up and started to call me by it. Up to this date my work is signed 'SANE'.
Art by ERIA NSUBUGA
Not wanting to conform and wanting to stand out as different is a typical artistic trait. I can relate to that. Now please explain, Arinaitwe is a Kinyankole/Kiga name and Nsubuga is a Kiganda name. Those are two different tribes. How did that come about?
My mother, Margaret Nduruma Serwanja is a Mukiga from Ndorwa West County, Kabale District, not so far from the Uganda-Rwanda border post of Katuna. I was born around the time when the war to get rid of Idi Amin was getting really hot. My mother told me those were times that required Gods intervention to survive; to get food, water, security etc was very difficult. I got Arinaitwe from her as a name which identifies me as sharing a part of her background. Its also a reminder of Gods supernatural providence. It means God with us. It is a pity I never took it up as one of my official names.
Well now we know that its a part of you too. When you were going to school at King's College Budo, were you taking fine art?
Most definitely. I was always drawing. I drew when I got bored in class, when I got a crush on a girl, or when I wanted to make fun of somebody and certainly in the art classes. I was absolutely shy and sometimes stammering because I would speak so fast and every time someone asked me 'what did you say?, I would get so nervous, so I could not express myself properly when speaking, but my drawing gave me special satisfaction. I did art for each of the six years I was at Budo. In S.4, I won joint top prize at King's College Budo in art.
Art by ERIA NSUBUGA
A shy artist. Now thats a first. King's College Budo has a reputation for raising gentlemen. Do you think that impression is accurate or overrated?
I think you are being soft on the terminology. Most people I know say that Budo raises snobs. Standoffish characters with little regard for others except their own fraternity. But in this country most people are jealous of Budonians, what we call 'Nugu' (jealousy) in modern Luganda. Gentlemen? Maybe. But I honestly think that Budo taught me to respect myself and others. In that sense perhaps Budo raises Gentlemen.
(Laughing) I think every school has their share of snobs. I went to Gayaza High School and girls from there had a so called reputation of being snobs too. But I will say on the record that I have several Budonian friends and relatives and they are far from being snobs.
I am glad that you went to Gayaza. I love and respect ladies from Gayaza High School. You are spot on. I guess every school has its share of nice people and the really unpleasant or overcompensating personalities. Every now and then, Budo produces people on the opposite side of the social scale. Some of the people I have come to look up to in my field are actually Budonians like Henry Mujunga Mzili and Enoch Alirwana Mukiibi.
You have exhibited your artwork in East Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) as well as Germany, Holland, U.K., Greece, Japan, and U.S.A. Where did you get the warmest reception?
Uganda is my best. Few Ugandans appreciate my art. Yet even though Ugandans never ever buy my art, I am glad that Uganda is my primary location, when it comes to interest. It is mostly expatriates who buy art in Uganda. Germany is my second favourite so far, because I have been there and seen the possibilities, and probably Japan. The U.S is such a massive place that I feel insignificant in the context of being such an oddity.
Art by ERIA NSUBUGA
Why would you say that few Ugandans appreciate your art? Would you say its a cultural thing, or maybe a question of some people just not being able to afford it?
Thats a tough question to answer. To tell you the truth I really do not know what Ugandans look for when they think of buying art. A few Ugandans can afford buying art and even then, sales sometimes are tied to politically aided deals between older artists with friends in high places. A cultural thing it definitely is. I agree. I think that if opinion leaders; people like Sudhir Ruparelia or Martin Aliker were to be seen buying art in a high profile way, then maybe others would follow. Not everybody buys my art because they like it. Sometimes its because of wives or children or other people who influence the buyer to acquire the art.
On a lighter note, maybe when I am really famous and American presidents and Hollywood icons, or corporate fatcats from Europe and America buy my art, then definitely the Ugandans will come running for my art. Its definitely a thing connected to cultural influence. By the way one of my pieces called A Girls Hopes was bought by a British actress, Emma Thompson. She came to Uganda last year. I think she has a daughter.
Oh I love Emma Thompson, especially in the movie Sense and Sensibility. I could not help but root for her in that love story. But back to you Eria; you won a joint prize for the Gtz 30 Years in Uganda art competition on 17th November 2005. Was that one of your biggest successes?
Well, I was honoured to win the prize. It was not such a big event but am glad I won it. I am still a small artist from a small country so yes it was one of my biggest successes. Yes, I have won a few other small honours too.
Youve got a pretty impressive curriculum vita. You also completed a six week cultural exchange programme in Bavaria, Germany. According to Ankey Rathey, the Cultural Attaché at the German Embassy he said you were a good ambassador and represented the country well. Can you briefly describe that experience?
I think the CV is rather flattering.
There goes your modesty again.
Well, I do not feel I have too much yet. I am trusting God that my best artistic years are ahead of me. The German experience is the pick of my artistic life so far. I was humbled to find the level of art and art literacy so absolutely high that I was tempted to stop doing art for some time. Gladly I did not have to. I also realized that the place of the African artist in the scheme of things is way down the food chain, so to speak. I was saddened by the fact that as a Ugandan artist my path would never reach its end without serious engagement of the huge and unfair Western ideas about what African art or artist should be. None the less I thoroughly enjoyed my German experience with the people, the food (Swein bratte and much more) and the art.
Art by ERIA NSUBUGA
You are also incredibly prolific. You use various mediums like painting acrylic, oils, watercolour, canvas and paper. What inspires you?
My primary inspiration is my people. The simplicity and uncalculated way of life of ordinary Ugandans, the boda bodas, taxis, the disorganized city, the beautiful scenery and the animal and plant life, the smiles of hungry and poor people, the bad politics, African love, the African woman who incidentally is in my opinion the eternal symbol of our resilience in the midst of trials and tribulations.
Your family must be proud of you. Are they?
My parents were very supportive. They did not try to make me do subjects or pursue careers that did not satisfy me. Sometimes they are proud of me and sometimes I suspect they are not. You see being an artist does not give one a big reputation like stereotypically traditional jobs like doctors or lawyers and engineers but people respond to strength and versatility. I am the only one in the entire clan to have acquired a first class degree. They are certainly proud of that. If a family with various professions were to find itself having hard working artists then they certainly must be proud of the artist that I am.
Some people say that art is a luxury and others say that its a necessity. Whats your take on that as an artist?
I say that those who call art a luxury should remove their shoes, their socks, their underpants, shirts, trousers, throw away their curtains, their CD covers, their music, their wall paper, their watches, their cars, their furniture Need I go on? Artists are all around us. The inherent human need for creation and beauty is what makes us superior to other creatures. They are so much a part of our necessary existence that perhaps simple minded people can be forgiven if they do not see the obvious and thus take art for granted.
Amen to that! You are a very active when it comes to the arts exhibits scene. How do you manage to find time for your art? Also how do you manage to know where different exhibits are happening?
Thanks for the several compliments. But I fear you are being political and not wanting to offend me with direct questions. I some how do find the time, I don't know how. But I work fast and am always looking out for opportunities on the net, in newspapers, galleries, etc.
I thought those were direct questions. But as I mentioned earlier, I believe you are being very modest. There are many artists world wide that have not had as many exhibits as you have. So given your busy schedule as an artists, do you have time for anything else?
Yes, am involved in my local church with young people, the youth choir, singing. Right now am learning to play three instruments, piano, guitar and bass.
I am interested in touching on that more. Why those particular instruments?
I have always loved music; classical music, hip hop, African music etc. You name it and I will always find something lovely about it. I always listen to music critically. I am currently involved with a youth group at my local church and I have picked up a real interest to develop my musical self. You never know, I might release my own music soon. I am serious.
A friend of mine in Germany sent me a guitar after I told him in a casual conversation that I love music and that I hoped to go to music school soon. So right now in my local church, there is a need to train musicians and I am one of those trying to learn bass guitar and piano in addition to the acoustic guitar. I love the violin and saxophone sounds too. Perhaps I will pick them up when the chance avails itself. We are hoping for a real surge in the positive direction for young people who are looking for opportunities to influence other young people positively through the power of good positive music.
Art by ERIA NSUBUGA
Some artists, because of financial reasons or other reasons still have to do the 9-5, and their art on the side. Do you do your art on a full time basis or do you have another 9-5?
No, am not yet pushed to do extra jobs. I am still doing okay with art only as my source of income. Probably I may be forced to do that. But my ideal situation would be for me to make the money through what I am good at.
Who are your artistic influences?
Professor Nagenda, Ignatius Serulyo, Romano Lutwama (RIP), Alfred Mulwana, Henry Mujunga, Kizito Maria Kasule and Stephen Kasumba.
As a male figure what you think of the female emancipation movement in the Ugandan visual arts scene? Do you support it?
I am happy that women are being given more opportunities. I feel that this should be improved further, so that they do not have to be exploited so much. For example we have many strong talented women artists in this country like Maria Naita, Rose Kirumira, Sylvia Katende, Amanda Tumusiime and Lilian Nabulime. I am glad that I have learnt a lot from them.
What are your current projects?
I am trying to finish my long delayed Masters in Fine Art degree. I am also preparing for exhibitions in Uganda and abroad.
What is a beautiful woman in your experience?
A beautiful woman is one who values herself, does not allow herself to be manipulated, one who values her beauty without belittling others lesser than herself. She is hardworking, focused, and physically endowed with figure, lovely eyes and nice dentition. A beautiful woman must have a good heart.
The ladies may want to know. Are you single?
Hmm. I am single but not free.
Do you have any words of advice to any young people who may want to follow your path?
Resilience, even in the face of poverty or failure. Hard work is critical. They must focus on working every day, and then who knows? Major breaks seem to come out of the blue when you are working on your dreams.
Where can people who want to buy/see your art find it?
They can contact me on +256 71 810 976 or do a google or any other engine search for Eria Nsubuga or Eria Sane.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
I want to be remembered as an artist who never gave up, who dwelt on the issues of the day. An artist who helped and served his country.
ERIA NSUBUGA EXHIBITIONS
17th-26th SEPTEMBER 2004
"CET04 TOKYO DESIGNERS BLOCK CENTRAL EAST" INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION, (GROUP SHOW)
26th JULY- 5th SEPTEMBER 2004
"NETTETAL" BARKCLOTH EXHIBITION (GROUP SHOW) HINSBECK, GERMANY
12th AUGUST 29th SEPTEMBER 2004
ATHENS ARTIADE 2004, (GROUP SHOW)
29th JUNE -24th JULY 2004
"ACHOLI STORY"- PICKINGS FROM THE NORTHERN UGANDA WAR SITUATION, (3RD SOLO)
ALLIANCE FRANCAISE, KAMPALA, UGANDA
26th JUNE -30th AUGUST 2004
AFRIKANISCHEN SOMMER 2004; ENLAOE PROMOTION ASSOCIATION ART AND CULTURE, (GROUP SHOW)
CASTLE WAY 9, WESTERKAPPELN, GERMANY
31st JANUARY 2004
THE BREATHING BIJLMER FESTIVAL, O-NIVO RESTAURANT, (GROUP SHOW)
AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS. (GROUP)
4th-12th DECEMBER 2003
OLYMPIC ART AND SPORT CONTEST 2004 EXHIBITION, (GROUP SHOW)
NATIONAL MUSEUM, KAMPALA, UGANDA
2nd 21st DECEMBER 2003
EAST AFRICAN BIENNALE, (GROUP SHOW)
DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA.
5TH NOVEMBER- 14TH NOVEMBER 2003
WOONGROEP HOLLAND, (GROUP-INDEX MASHIRIKI)
1ST NOVEMBER30TH NOVEMBER 2003
EQUATION CAF, AIDCHILD, KAYABWE-EQUATOR, (DUO SHOW)
25TH OCTOBER- 7TH DECEMBER 2003
KUNSTSUPERMARKT IV, FIRST SCHINKEL STRAAT, (GROUP-INDEX MASHIRIKI)
23RD OCTOBER- 12TH NOVEMBER 2003
"ARTAFFAIR 03 ", RAMOMA GALLERY (GROUP SHOW)
26th SEPT- 31st OCT 2003
EXHIBITION OF TWO UGANDANS,
MEMBERS OF INDEX MASHIRIKI, ERIA NSUBUGA AND PAULO AKIIKI, (DUO SHOW)
VAN BEEK ART SUPPLIES, AMSTERDAM , NETHERLANDS.
22nd SEPT-11thOCT 2003
AN ART EXHIBITION OF WOODCUTS, ENGRAVINGS AND MONOPRINTS, (GROUP SHOW)
NOMMO GALLERY, KAMPALA, UGANDA.
20th SEPT -10th OCT 2003
SECOND SOLO EXHIBITION, INDIGENOUS EXPRESSIONS
TULIFANYA GALLERY, KAMPALA, UGANDA.
13th SEPT 2003
EAST AFRICAN RESIDENCY OPEN DAY, GODOWN ARTS CENTRE, (EXHIBITION OF TWO)
APRIL- JUNE 2003
KUNSTSUPERMARKT 3, (GROUP SHOW)
BILLBOARD DEALING WITH CORRUPTION, UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UGANDA DEBT NETWORK, KAYABWE,
MPIGI, UGANDA. (GROUP SHOW)
24th SEPTEMBER- 15th OCT 2002
FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION, TULIFANYA GALLERY,
TEXT MESSAGES, DAVID YOUNG GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, U.K.
WILDLIFE EXHIBITION, UGANDA GERMAN CULTURAL SOCIETY, (GROUP SHOW)
ILLUSTRATIONS FROM AFRICA, EXPOSITION AT LECOLE FRANCAISE, (GROUP SHOW)
DISCOVERIES 5: YOUNG ARTISTS SHOW, TULIFANYA GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
KAMPALA, UGANDA (GROUP)
DISCOVERIES 4, TULIFANYA GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
KAMPALA, UGANDA. 2001
WOMENS WORLD EXHIBITION, MAKERERE UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
IMAGE WORD IMAGE POETRY PRESENTATION, GERMAN AMBASSADORS RESIDENCE, (GROUP SHOW)
KOLOLO, KAMPALA, UGANDA.
3RD ALL ARTISTS EXHIBITION, NOMMO GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
DISCOVERIES 3, TULIFANYA GALLERY, (GROUP SHOW)
This is picture of myself and Namibian multiple olympic silver medalist FRANKIE FREDRICKS.
ART RESIDENCIES / WORKSHOPS
13TH APRIL- 26TH MAY 2004
OBERPFALZER KUNSTLERHAUS, SCHWANDORF,
3RD MARCH 2004
GROUP WORKSHOP WITH ORPHANS AT AIDCHILD,
4TH AUGUST- 13TH SEPTEMBER 2003
EAST AFRICAN RESIDENCY (KUONA TRUST),
25TH DECEMBER 2003
WORKSHOP WITH REHABILITATED FORMER STREET CHILDREN (CORNERSTONE DEVELOPMENT),
DESIGN AGENDA GALLERY AND CAF,
GROUP (INDEX MASHARIKI) ART WORKSHOP, ZINNUNULA OMUNAKU CENTRE,
KYEBANDO, KAMPALA, UGANDA
UGANDA DEBT NETWORK ANTI-CORRUPTION MURAL, KAYABWE (EQUATOR), UGANDA AND UGANDA
NKOZI, MPIGI DISTRICT, UGANDA
WORKSHOPS WITH NGOMA INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOPS, MAKERERE UNIVERSITY AND DEHEZI
"IMAGE WORD IMAGE" WORKSHOP, UGANDA GERMAN CULTURAL CENTRE,
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First published: January 23, 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.