Ugandan Artists: Meet Paulo Akiiki
"His prolific work manifests sure sense of colour and a remarkable concentration of expressive power."
(Hedendaagse Afrikaanse Kunst-June 2002)
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First published: January 12, 2006
Born in 1972 he hails from Bunyoro, one of the biggest kingdoms of Uganda in East Africa. Traditionally, the Banyoro people are cattle keepers and farmers but like many other Africans, they are highly musical, intensely creative and dignified people. Son of a medical doctor and a housewife, this artist exploded on the Ugandan artistic scene as one of the most accomplished artist-painters of this generation particularly amongst his contemporaries.
Paulo Akiiki's artistic interest started when he was four years old. He was an exceptionally imaginative and creative child. He started out by doodling and drawing on everything he saw as a child. Later on in his life, he would go to a recognized art school upon becoming conscious of his potential. Paulo would go on to move from his home in the region of Bunyoro, Uganda to continue his studies in Uganda's capital, at the Faculty of Industrial and Fine Arts of the celebrated Makerere University in Kampala. He pursued painting, sculpture, graphics and business administration with painting as his major. He successfully and with honours graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Industrial and Fine Arts in 1998.
Although he has experimented and produced art with various media, oils, acrylics and oil pastels are his primary mediums. Paulo's paintings are characterized by semi-abstract impressions, both figurative and non-figurative in nature. His subject matter portrays both modern and the traditional life -the latter being the prevailing one. Artistically, Akiiki endeavors to integrate his traditional African art experiences with modern Western ideas and artistic techniques. His focus is on sensitive social truths like AIDS, the emancipation of Ugandan women and education of the African child. We see this in pieces like emancipation is… women joining forces, and teaching her daughter.
Teaching her daughter... 38x50cm Acrylic on acid free cardboard.
Akiiki is a very dynamic member of society. Employing his entrepreneurial skills he registered his own business-the Ujuzi Art Studios-in Kampala soon after his graduation. He has been practicing his art from there. Seeking for a way to give back to his society as an artist, Akiiki became a founding member for Mashariki-an artist's group index. The group was commenced with a vision to share amenities, knowledge, and marketing skills. These happen to be some of the challenges for many African artists and so he was able to benefit from servicing this niche.
Akiiki is also a member of the Uganda Artists Association. His clientele includes mostly diplomats, businessmen and tourists. Accordingly he has made numerous working visits to Germany, the Netherlands, Kenya, Tanzania where he has contributed in several art workshops and exhibitions. As always it was a great pleasure to interview this socially conscious artist and share his voice with UGPULSE readers.
Jane: When did you start exploring the idea of becoming a visual artist? You know not everybody that drew well as a child decided to become an artist.
Paulo: Well, I started art at an early age of four by scribbling on the dry earth and my parent's house walls. I used anything that could write like charcoal, pieces of soap, food, sticks and pencils from my sisters. The interest of one day becoming a professional artist however grew gradually and I ended up in a formal university art School where upon I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Industrial and Fine arts in 1988.
Children our future leaders.
You were very dedicated from the beginning. What did your parents have to say about that?
My parents were very supportive all the way during my training to become a professional artist. They generously financed my education and I feel I owe them a big thank you!
To what extent do you feel that you owe your growth as an artist to Makerere University?
Makerere University is one of the greatest art institutions in Africa, thanks to the hundreds, if not thousands, of great art talents they have guided through. They made me polish my career through their various highly talented and inspiring teaching staff. They often told us that the academic papers were not the final achievement we should anticipate for but we should build a career upon which the true artist in us will uphold.
You have pursued painting, sculpture and graphics. Which one would you say you are better at and why?
At the university I trained in painting, sculpture and graphics with painting as my major. I love all the three disciplines for their uniqueness but I am more bent towards painting. I enjoy painting because of the freedom involved when I am traversing the painting ground with colour. Colour raises emotions and creates mood.
You started your own business, the Ujuzi Art Studios, in Kampala. What led to that transition?
After school in 1998 I immediately registered my own art company called The UJUZI Art Studios with an aim of formalizing my business dealings with all interested people in my art.This has in turn led several government and non-governmental organizations to contract me to do several art projects for them. A case in point is the EU Delegation Headquarters in Kampala, which commissioned me to do paintings for the Delegation's walls and many others.
Sh@t!! Forgot something again 19x47cm Acrylic on acid free cardboard.
That is an excellent opportunity. Being commissioned by such an organization is an artists dream. You have exhibited in Germany, the Netherlands, Kenya and Tanzania. Where did you encounter the greatest success?
I have exhibited in many art galleries and conventions both locally and internationally in places like Germany, The Netherlands, Kenya and Tanzania, France, Spain, England and Denmark to mention but a few are some of the countries where I have exhibited.
In each of those countries I have had a particular reason to achieve success. I cannot measure high success in one country and ignore the others, because each one has a bearing on my achievements when I look at them individually.
You are a founder member of an artists group Index Mashariki. Can you tell us more about it?
I am a founder member of Index Mashariki. It is an artist group set up to help artists members share facilities, expertise, marketing efforts and also on the humanitarian ground. Index Mashariki members pledged to contribute financially part of their net proceeds to local development projects through rural outreach programmes geared towards support of especially the disadvantaged children and/or orphans whose parents were lost after dying of HIV/AIDS.
For many of your exhibits a portion of proceeds goes towards financing HIV/AIDS. Is there a particular reason for that? Is it your way of giving back?
The reason I offer part of my proceeds to the needy is a moral responsibility which I feel any artist or other able professionals can afford to extend to these disadvantaged brothers and sisters.
Trascending into afterlife... 38x50cm Acrylic on acid free cardboard.
You have been involved with a Spanish-French Traveling Art Show called BAZART. One year you were even the 3rd best-selling artist of the 35 participating Artists in BAZART. You sold 160 works via this Traveling Art Show! What is BAZART?
I am so happy to have been involved with the Spanish-French Art Organization called Bazart. It is based in Barcelona and its aim is to bring together artists from across the globe in a joint traveling exhibition that moves from country to country selling affordable art. The criterion for joining is that every participating artist at any one entry point has to supply 100 original works of art for the exhibition period of 6 months and at any one time the organizers are free to call upon the participant to relinquish supplies. It is hectic.
Hectic, I am sure but very rewarding, right?
You are right. It's very rewarding. I cannot complain.
Your fiancée Vivienne Abwooli, who excels in marbled and screen-printing, is also a visual artist. Do you believe that adage that only artists can understand each other?
As you mentioned, my fiancée Vivienne Abwooli, is a visual artist dealing in marbled printing, tie-and-dye and screen-printed fabrics. I am very proud of her and happy to promote her work any time. I do have a fantastic time with her and our daughter Genevieve Goretti. I am lucky that I fell in love with a very creative, loving mother, patient wife, faithful and understanding friend. I do not believe that it is only artists that can understand each other, however you can rightly say that the advantages of artists marrying each other overrides the other side of artists vis a vis other professionals.
What is a beautiful woman in your experience?
In my experience a beautiful woman is a woman who opens up her heart to you, gives you her whole, loves you honestly, inspires you as a painter, is ready to make a good wife, a good parent and is God- fearing
I have noticed that Ugandan musicians get a lot of press in Uganda. Do you think that Ugandan visual artists get enough media attention?
It is true that Ugandan musicians do get a lot more media coverage than the visual artists. This is because visual art for a long time has been considered by the populace as a thing for the more affluent, hence little interest. For example the level of appreciation of art is generally low. However, with the increase in the literacy rate we are slowly seeing the graph changing with an upwards movement. Many people are coming out to our exhibits and are curious about what our creations portray in the literal sense. The more literate people can now access our websites and make out sense of abstract, semi abstract and realistic paintings. Television and news paper owners are slowly starting to offer the visual artists advertising space.
What are your current projects?
I am currently painting lots in preparation for the forthcoming Common Wealth Head of States Conference which will be hosted by the Ugandan Government in 2007 and as an artist I look forward to participating. I am also well equipped with at least 150 ready to sell oil on canvas paintings which I have prepared over long tireless months. They are tacked in my archives. I am looking forward to getting a possibility to have them well exhibited.
Do you have any words of advice to any young people who may want to follow your path?
To all young people still searching for love, my advice is to be very careful when selecting the love of your life. Watch out for HIV/AIDS because it is for real. It will take you away unceremoniously if you take a reckless love ride. Love should not be made to feel commercial. Be tolerant. Men and women emerge from different cultures-men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Exercise restraint wherever there is a problem or if stressed please talk to someone about everything that may be hurting you. When you shy away from trouble it accumulates and then explodes beyond repair. For those who are happy where they are please do stick to it and you will enjoy your love life. Do not rush into relationships. There is someone out there waiting for you.
In other words make sure that you are alive so that you can pursue your passions. That is very good advice. People in general seem to have forgotten that AIDS exists. Where can people who want to buy/see your art find it?
People who want to buy and see my art work can visit me on my website www.ujuziartstudios.com It is still under construction but can offer a great impression of some of my art products. We package and ship to any destination in the world via reliable courier companies like DHL, FEDEX and EMS postal. This arrangement can be made upon agreement of sale and purchase between the client and the artist. (Ujuzi Art Studios).
Well Paulo, it looks like you have plenty of wonderful opportunities in your path. I wish you the best of luck with the rest of your journey as an artist. Thank you Paulo for the interview.
It was my pleasure!
Emancipation is...women joining forces 12x41cm Acrylic on acid free cardboard.
For more information on Paulo Akiiki, please visit his website at www.ujuziartstudios.com.
FULL PHYSICAL AND MAILING ADDRESS:
UJUZI ART STUDIOS
BUKOTO (Opposite Kadic Hospital)
Plot 1515 KIRA ROAD
By EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
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First published: January 12, 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.