Ugandan Artists: Meet Ritah Nabuyungo Edopu
My professional ambition is to work towards empowering especially poor women to be self-sustaining through use of their art talents which they have not been able to exploit due to lack of opportunities. In pursuance of this l have mobilized women in Soroti District to participate in painting, gardening and landscaping, art and craft, ceramics (decorative and utilitarian), development of functional simplified form of sculpture in an attempt to enhance their incomes and livelihoods. The project has further expanded to include male youth.
Ritah Nabuyungo Edopu
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First published: February 10, 2006
Education, either functions as a means to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the system and to bring conformity, or it enhances the practice of freedom, which serves as a means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality, discovering avenues of participation in the transformation of the world. I strive to do this through my painting, but realizing that to accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only plan, but also believe. For it takes courage to do what we desire to do since other people have a lot of plans for us.
Many people go about life without a sense of purpose, not cognizant of their talents and passions but that is not the case for this artist. From childhood, she always knew that she would become an artist and in fact, she decided to become a professional painter before she ever held a brush to canvas. Her father, himself an architect, hoped that she would follow in his professional path, but when she received a government sponsorship to attend Makerere University, she decided on studying Fine Art and Interior Design instead. Upon entering University, she made a decision to learn how to paint beautifully enough to build a career as a fine artist.
Ritah Nabuyungo Edopu is a Ugandan artist and university lecturer with extensive experience in painting, landscaping and interior design. She specializes in oil painting & watercolor painting and is knowledgeable in management. Ritah Edopu was born on March 6th 1976 in Kampala, Uganda. In 2004, Ritah finished her Masters in Fine Art at the Margaret Trowell School of Industry and Fine Arts at Makerere University. Right after that she launched her first solo exhibition, at the new AfriArt Gallery in Kampala. Over 50% of her works sold at the show, which is a tremendously excellent result for a first time artist. Encouraged, Ritah has since assertively gone on to market her work through a number of group art shows, both in Uganda and abroad.
Edopu is a founding member of the Art 4 LIFE Program, a programme that hopes to have an important impact on the global and local prospects for her art students - some of whom she provides career guidance to on a voluntary basis with the Ugandan University Women's Association. She hopes to share her success in the Art 4 LIFE Program with community organizations which provide mentoring and guidance to Ugandan youth, in planning for their future as Africans in today's global modern world.
Married with two children, she is the type of artist who researches her subject matter before painting. Every single canvas is prudently planned and sketched out in advance. She is very passionate about her cultural past. She uses abstract forms to preserve what is left of traditional African icons and symbols in the collective mind of modern Ugandan society. With the responsibilities of lecturing, raising two young children and furthering her own education with courses in management and design, she still finds time to further her artistic career. Edopu is definitely a force to reckon with and a great role model. Interviewing such a beautiful, inspiring, powerful woman was such a pleasure.
Jane: Where are you based? Is it Uganda or elsewhere?
Ritah: I am based in Uganda. My family resides in Najjera, Wakiso District. I lecture at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts Faculty at Makerere University specializing in painting-both oil and watercolor.
How early in your life did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I grew up in the suburb of the city center in the staff quarters of old Kampala Secondary School, my mother being a member of staff of the said school then. I remember as a child having access to the school art room and taking great pride in modeling tiny animals with clay, which was freely available, as the other childhood friends opted to play instead. Those were my earliest memories related to art. Unfortunately my primary schooling did not expose me to any art skills, and it was not until secondary school at Nabisunsa Girls School in1990 that l first attended a formal art class. Always excelling at that level, my tutor could have seen the potential in me because he continuously encouraged my progress in art through my secondary education. At university level l opted to go for a degree in fine arts which was contrary to want my parents expected. However with time they agreed with my decision and offered me full support.
Did you have any positive mentors along the way?
As a lecturer, am very inter-disciplinary. I have acquired knowledge in areas of Art, Interior Design, management, gender, accounting and finance. Law interests me and though l haven't attained any formal education in law I read a lot of law related issues. So my mentors haven't all been professional artists. My mother is my greatest mentor. Her names are Jamilah Kamulegeya, and is currently a commissioner in public service commission.
Tell us more about the Art 4 LIFE Program which you founded. What is it and what are you aiming to do with it? What are your goals and objectives?
Art 4 life program is one of the many projects carried out by the art Life in Africa foundation (LIA). Christina Jordan Haitsmas founded LIA in 1999. Less than three years later Life in Africa.com was featured in the 2001 UNCTAD report on E-commerce in the lesser developed countries as one of the most promising internet-related models for local economic growth to be developed in Africa to date. Later that year Christina received a three year fellowship with Ashoka Global Network of innovators for the public, to develop a strategy for expanding the impact of her micro-level online empowerment concepts to people at the a grassroots level, Africa wide.
In 2004 Christina invited me, together with some two artists to develop the Art 4 life project. The aim was to have a selected number of artists come together to produce and market the African image visually both at home and aboard, by promoting high value creative African art that could facilitate communication globally and at the same time it targeted at effective investment in communities while empowering African individuals with global and local knowledge, opportunities and resources. The program to date creates an industrial network of artists across the continent that employs cooperative sales, leasing arrangements and webbed auction events to transfer social-economic impact at the grass root.
I am happy that several Africans are working to improve our image internationally. As Africans we know that the propaganda that is out there fails to mention our successes and our positive achievements. You have two children, you are a wife, lecturer and you are constantly furthering your studies. How do you manage to find time for developing your art?
Life is something we create for ourselves, and we create it through our own strategic choices. We make decisions based on careful reflections, not just responding to circumstances. Having made those informed decisions, embraced strategic life management skills I have realized that each of these valves-family, profession, lecturing and studies are equally important to me. Success should be able to incorporate attaining personal life values without compromising one for the other. In my case, time management, which is about getting the most important things done, is paramount. As Ben Okri states in his "mental fight":
Past forms, past perceptions.
We have made these things,
We can unmake them.
. Accept no limitations to our human potential
We have the power of solar systems in our minds
You read poetry too! That is impressive. I love Ben Okri. He is an amazing poet. Your husband is a lawyer. Is he supportive of your artistic path?
My husband, as a best of friend has been behind every success made in my profession. He has been able to cover for my late hours of work at the studio by playing the mother/father role at home. He has offered me encouragement, even when as an artist l felt too depressed to work. He has been able to offer me the layman's perception of art and as a result it has developed my insight on how the public views our art. He has also constantly offered legal advice regards marketability of my paintings. Oh yes he is very supportive.
I am happy that he is and I hope that there are more husbands like that. Married female artists need that. What inspires you an artist?
I am greatly inspired by the rich cultural symbolism of the tribe that l belong to (Buganda) and yet which l consider myself a stranger. l get fascinated by the wealth of knowledge and level of communication of African symbols in general. I also get inspired by the role of the African woman in society to date.
What would you say was your greatest success so far as an artist?
As an artist, I have always strived to make my knowledge beneficial to the people at the grass root. In 2003, l started a project that was aimed at mobilizing women in Soroti district to participate in painting, art and craft, ceramic (decorative and utilitarian) in an attempt to enhance their incomes and livelihoods. The project is successful and has been expanded to include other income generating activities which involve the male youth as well. This has been my greatest success, the ability for other people to benefit from my skills and not just the success l attain through the sell of my paintings.
Is there a particular reason why you prefer the abstract form as your painting style?
The symbols that are evident in my paintings are abstract to me, for l was born and raised in the city therefore have limited experience of rural living, except as gathered through research. At the same time abstract as a painting style challenges the observers of the artwork towards better understanding of the message implied therein. My role as an artist is to communicate to the public, the interpretations are left to them and always the results give me wider direction and inspiration.
You live a very modern lifestyle of career mothers as opposed to your traditionally raised mother. Do you find that this conflicts in any way with your African identity?
Conflict is but an issue of the mind, our future is greater than our past and perception is but a mind game. What l was not able to attain in the past does not deprive me of my sense of belonging. I believe it is most important to create my desired reality as we play the positive role in changing the world as Africans holding unique qualities that help us see the sole purpose of our existence. Jane, l have always felt more African than any African around me.
What legacy do you want to leave for your daughter and son?
We have a son and a daughter aged five and two years respectively. I leave them the words of Og Mandino stated as follows:
Remember, nothing external, people or events, has any power over you,
Unless you allow it-because you control your thoughts.
Break the chains of your thoughts and you break the chains of your body too.
Never be ashamed to dream big dreams because as you dream, you shall become.
I like the way you quote poetry. Few people do that these days. If your children wanted to be artists just like you, would you discourage them or encourage them? How important do you think it is for parents to support their children's talents/dreams/passions?
Truthfully being an artist in Africa is very challenging. We as artists have a big role to play before we are appreciated by our communities. But a good parent encourages her children to stand up to these challenges and strives to aid them pursue their dreams. Yes l would encourage them to pursue art if it was there calling and happily guide them along the way. I don't agree with parents who discourage their children from pursuing their dreams because as a parent l realize that each of us come into the world for a particular task. If that task is not performed then he or she will have done nothing and as a result feel an emptiness in life.
That is a very powerful phrase and I hope parents learn from that. Parents cannot live vicariously through their children. We all have our own individual purposes in life. In fact putting expectation on our children to the detriment of their own dreams can harm them.
Yes I agree with that!
You are in the process of mobilizing women in Soroti district to participate in art and craft, ceramics in an attempt to enhance their incomes and livelihoods. Why do you think it is important for women to be empowered and in charge of their own financial wellbeing?
Empowering of women involves strategies aimed at making women as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the communities at the grassroots so that both women and men benefit equally, thus ensuring that inequality in terms of resource distribution is not perpetuated. I think it is important for women to be empowered and in charge of their own financial well-being because it helps promote and advocate for increased participation of women in the decision making process both domestically and at the community level. Empowerment aids promote the integration of gender perspectives in the communities. Empowerment could also promote and advocate for the integration of gender sensitivity in representation of policies related to good governance, and administrative establishments at the district levels. Basically a financially empowered woman is able to take her children to school and provide for the well being of the family. That I believe is very important
In your opinion can the Ugandan artist positively improve the image of their country abroad? Why?
Yes l believe Ugandan artist can help improve the image of their country aboard, however it is important that the government too realize that Ugandan artists have a big role to play as ambassadors of our country. Therefore it is important that policies are made that provide a conducive atmosphere for the artist to communicate and yet feel and get recognition that he/she has made a positive contribution for his or her country.
I agree with you there. Uganda seems to have a full-blown feminism movement with a large membership. Would you classify yourself as a feminist?
No l wouldn't classify myself as feminist. I would characterize myself as a young artist who is passionate about issues related to women empowerment and who strives to make some positive contribution to ensure that the woman that is today is better off than the woman that was yesterday...
What are the avenues for people who want to purchase your art? Where can they find it either online or physically?
My contact is as follows:
RITAH NABUYUNGO EDOPU
Email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone 256 77 420982
Who are your roles models?
Joyce Meyer, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Condoleezza Rice.
Thank you Ritah for the interview
It was my pleasure.
For more information on Ritah Edopu please go to http://www.lifeinafrica.com/see/art/4/life/3/edopu/
MEMBERSHIP OF PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION
|2005||Sheffield school of interior Design||pursuing post-graduate Diploma in interior Design|
|2005||Uganda Management Institute||Post-graduate Diploma in Management (DIMA)|
|2005||Makerere University||Masters in the Art (Painting) M.A.F.A.|
|2004||Institute of Advanced Leadership||Post-graduate Certificate in Counseling and Child Psychotherapy|
|2004||Vision Quest Africa||Certificate in Leadership and Management Dynamics for Individuals and Organizations.|
|2003||Makerere University||Certificate in Information Technology|
|2003||Makerere University||Certificate in Pedagogies "Basic Pedagogic Skills to Teachers of Higher Institutions of Learning"|
|2000||Kyambogo University||Post-graduate certificate in elementary, Interior design & landscaping|
|2001||Kyambogo University||Post graduate certificate intermediary, Interior design and landscaping|
|2001||Kyambogo University||Post-graduate certificate in advanced Interior design and landscaping|
|2001||Makerere University||Certificate in bookkeeping-Business School|
|2001||Makerere University||Certificate in customer care-Business School|
|2001||Makerere University||Certificate in Business Management|
|1999||Makerere University||Degree in Fine Arts (B.I.F.A)|
|1998||Uganda Cooperative Alliance||Certificate in Computer (4 packages)|
|1999||Solo Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2000||Group Exhibition||Nommo Gallery|
|2000||Young Artist Exhibition||Tulifunya Gallery|
|2001||Different but One, Lecturers' Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2001||Nude Exhibition, All Artists||Nommo Gallery|
|2001||Solo Exhibition||Kyambogo University|
|2002||Women World Exhibition, All Artists||Makerere University|
|2002||Different but One, Lecturer's Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2003||All Artist Exhibition||Nommo Gallery|
|2003||Solo Exhibition||Afri Art Gallery|
|2003||Different but One, Lecturers' Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2004||Solo Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2004||All Artist Exhibition||Nommo Gallery|
|2004||Solo exhibition||Gallery 346 Umshilanga Sands, Durban, South Africa|
|2004||Solo Exhibition||Newark Gallery, New Jersey, USA|
|2005||Different but One, Lecturers' Exhibition||Makerere University|
|2005||All Artist Exhibition||Nommo Gallery|
|2006||Different but one (TEN)||Makerere University|
CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS ATTENDED
|1999||Dissertation:||The Legacy of Margaret Trowell in the Development of Fine Art in Makerere University, (Makerere University)|
|1999-2000||DISH Project:||The views of rural women on modern family Planning methods|
|2001-2003||Masters Thesis:||The visual integration of African and Western concepts of Nudity in painting at M.T.S.I.F.A. (Makerere University)|
|2004||Research:||The Role of Childhood Parenting in the Emotional/Personality Disorders of Infants, Adolescents and Adults in Uganda. (Institute of Advanced Leadership) Case Study Soroti District.|
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First published: February 10, 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.