Ugandan Artists: Meet Sylvia Katende
Sylvia Katende.

Ugandan Artists: Meet Sylvia Katende

"This experience (in the art world) has enabled me to develop my artistic expressions and in strengthening and promoting other people's talents and interests."
Sylvia Katende

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
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First published: October 5, 2006

When you look at her beauty and youthful exuberance, you would find it hard to believe that she has all the accolades, awards and achievements under her belt. Yet she is one of the top 3 female artists in Uganda specializing in sculpture. She also excels at painting and drawing. Ugandan-born Sylvia Katende is also a Senior Lecturer at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere University and currently pursuing a Ph.Degree on "Children HIV/AIDS life experiences expressed in Visual Art" with special emphasis on orphanage centers and IDP camps in Uganda. She was the former Acting Head of Sculpture and Drawing Department at the same university and Fine Arts school, teaching Sculpture Drawing and research before she embarked on the Ph. Degree.

Katende is a very active member of the Ugandan society. She was the Publicity Secretary of the Uganda Artists Association since 1997 to April 2002. She is also the adjudicator of UNFPA poster competitions and Children National Art competition, organizer of the Women's Annual Art exhibitions and young artists' exhibitions among many other roles. She has also exhibited her work both locally and internationally. Some of her works are in Italy, Netherlands, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, the USA embassy cultural office, Uganda and several other places.

Sylvia Katende
Sylvia Katende.

Katende has won several art-related awards. In December 2003 she got a first prize for the Olympic Sport and Art National Competition. This work was exhibited in Athens at the 2004 Olympic Art and Sport Contest exhibition. Other prizes, which Katende has won, include: First prize: monument executed at Kampala recreational park 1990, second prize: model Civil Aviation Authority in Uganda for Entebbe International Airport 1998, fourth prize: Uganda Human Rights Art Competition 1997 and first prize: Best female student for B.A. F.A. Degree 1984 (recognized by Uganda Association of University Women.)

Katende has membership to the following organizations and bodies: the Uganda Reproductive Health Advocacy network-Chairperson - Media committee, Uganda Association of University Women - outgoing Vice-chairperson, Caltec Academy Fraternity Makerere - Vice chairperson and Uganda Artists Association - member, outgoing publicity secretary. Katende has a Masters of Arts in Fine Arts Degree, Post Graduate Diploma in Education and a First Class Honours Degree in Bachelor Arts of Fine Arts from the School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere University in Uganda.

Bride by Sylvia Katende
Bride by Sylvia Katende.

Jane: Have you always been interested in visual arts?

Sylvia: Yes, I have always been interested in art since childhood and I do still practice it actively.


Did you parents support that?

My late father supported me so much because he used to tell me that I have a talent.

As a lecturer and former Acting Head of Sculpture and Drawing Department in the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts Makerere University, teaching Sculpture Drawing and research do you feel like you are making a difference for Ugandan artists?

I feel that I have contributed so much to most young talented artists by engaging them to work with me particularly when I get commissions. Others request for recommendations, while the rest still consult me and even give my name as reference and consult to others.

You were a teacher at St Mary's Girls School Namagunga, one of the best girl's schools in Uganda. Was it a positively conducive environment for visual artists?

I was posted there by the Ministry of Education after my teaching practice. It was the first school I taught at. However not too long after I stared teaching the first class, I was called after three months to be a teaching assistant at the school of Fine Arts. I eventually started my masters degree. Something I may term as learning on the job.

There is a great love for women in your pieces. You are a sort of cultural ambassador for women. Why do you feel the importance of positively representing women?

In most African countries most women and girls are still disadvantaged. They have a lot on their minds, which is either kept in secrecy or denied to speak out. Since I am a woman, I have experienced, observed, and imagined certain things and so I am in a position to talk about that. Therefore it is quite easy for me to express my inner feelings about the subject matter concerning women. However, I also consider other topics like animals, landscapes, etc.

Ok, you mentioned that the female child in Africa, in general, is rather underprivileged. How can we empower girls to realize their fullest potential?

By strengthening art and craft in schools and also having female artists as role models visit the girls schools and conduct career guidance.

You have an art piece called Dialogue. This is about the domestic violence dialogue. It portrays women full of anger but at the same time coming together to try and find a solution. It's a very powerful piece because of its topic and given the high prevalence of domestic violence world wide.

Dialogue by Sylvia Katende
Dialogue by Sylvia Katende.

Domestic violence is something which is still in debate. As most women are not literate, especially those in villages, I think visual images can help them a lot to realize were they stand and probably come together to have a common voice.

Your description for your piece We're Not Confused was that the freedom of being nude does not mean that one is confused; it is more a case of appreciating yourself. This idea was depicted from the annual Miss Uganda competitions. There has been an ongoing battle between supporters of the Miss Uganda beauty pageant and those that oppose it because they think it's demeaning. What do you think of the Miss Uganda beauty contest?

We're Not Confused by Sylvia Katende
We're Not Confused by Sylvia Katende.

I was one of the judges of Miss Uganda in 2001. I think it is a personal choice. I am an artist, so I may see things differently from many people. Modeling to me is like art work. It involves freedom of expression; there is appreciation, criticizm and judgment. It is an international avenue .The world moves with modern technology and advances. Therefore people should start to appreciate beauty; in any case, most prominent art works in the world are nude. The occasion comes once a year! But what about the skimpy dresses which are worn everyday by the girls these days?

You've touched an important topic, and that's appreciating beauty. Given that most of the beauty promoted in the media has eurocentric tendencies to the point where the African woman is literarily invisible, what is your idea of a beautiful African woman?

The African woman has unfortunately up to now not considered herself to be beautiful, especially when she is not brown (light-skinned)! That's why they end up bleaching themselves. It is high time the African woman considers her structure beautiful. I don't know why big means ugly in Europe. I think that form is beauty and the African woman needs to promote African forms, for example, big lips, bums hair styles etc.

Your piece Campaigning refers to the point that Ugandan women have participated fully in politics, campaigning for high posts in the Government. In this aspect Uganda is well ahead of many other African countries, being second to South Africa for example with the number of women in parliament. Why do you think it has progressed to this level given all the political turmoil Uganda has had?

Campaigning by Sylvia Katende
Campaigning by Sylvia Katende.

Women who are learned have been given the opportunity to speak out and also influence those in the rural areas .There is a lot of women empowerment and also affirmative action which was implemented.

What did you think of the government's preference of sciences over the arts controversy that happened last year?

This decision didn't consider art-related minds. Not everyone is born a scientist.

Lots of artists feel that there is a general lack of appreciation for visual artists in Uganda. It's seen more as a luxury. Others argue that it's not an air of apathy. It's just that many people just cannot afford the art even if they appreciate it. What is your take on this issue?

Most people don't seem to understand Ugandan art partially because some of it is modern art in abstract. They need to be sensitized and also artists need to work more on topical issues, as well as cultural and probably social issues. 

Uganda is becoming famous on the international scene for its profusion of prolific visual artists. Why do you think that there is a surge of visual artists now?

Most artists have got the opportunity of participating in international art workshops and also exhibiting internationally.

You were involved in the International Artists Workshop at Namasagali College in Uganda. Namasagali was always one of the most misunderstood schools in Uganda and yet it produces a lot of artists of all genres. What did you think of the college?

There is a lot of freedom there; and art is a freedom of expression and visual communication. It gives self esteem and confidence. A good artist is the one who develops style and most Namasagali students have style.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?


What are your current projects?

I am currently a fully registered Ph.D student. I am using art expressions of children both from household and community environments to collect information out of them. The study focuses on orphanage centers of HIV/AIDS-related environments and refugee camps in Gulu. The children will draw and then model as well. I hope to interpret their works.

What is a beautiful woman in your experience?

The one with style, self esteem and a role model.

Do you have any words of advice to any young people who may want to follow your path?

Be determined to face any challenge.

Where can people who want to buy/see your art find it?

Makerere School of Industrial and Fine Arts or Ngoma international arts workshop

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

The idea that being an artist is a talent not an academic failure.

In order to contact Sylvia Katende, her contact email is:



1984 - One man exhibition BIFA Degree, Uganda

1990 - One man exhibition Masters Degree, Uganda

1995 - Joint exhibition Sheraton Kampala, Uganda

1995 - Artistically Speaking women Gallery Caf , Uganda

1996 - Artistically Speaking Women Makerere Art Gallery, Uganda

1996 - International Day of Girl Child Conference Center , Uganda

1995 - "Different but One" (Lecturers Exhibition) Uganda

1996 - "Different but One" (Lecturers Exhibition) Uganda

1997 - "Different but One" (Lecturers Exhibition) Uganda

1996 - Namasagali Workshop and Exhibition Makerere Gallery, sponsored by British Council, Uganda

1997 - Human Rights Joint Exhibition, Uganda

1998 - Opening of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (Women Artists Exhibition) Uganda

1998 - Joint Exhibition in Honor of President Bill Clinton's visit to Uganda Sheraton, Uganda

1998 - Joint Exhibition at Uganda German Cultural Center, Uganda

1999 - Wildlife Exhibition, Italy

1999 - "Different but One" Lecturers Exhibition, Uganda

1999 - Curator: International Women's Day Exhibition, Uganda

1999 - 2000 Millennium Art Exhibition, Netherlands

2001 - End of year all Artist Exhibition Nommo Gallery, Uganda

2001 - Different but one lecturers Exhibition, Uganda


Workshops Attended

1995 - Artists Portrayal of population messages

1996 - Artists in development Workshop Uganda April

1991 - International Artists Workshop Namasagali College Uganda August

1998 - Ngoma International Artists Workshop at Buluba Hospital Uganda, August

1999 - International Artists Workshop Botswana

2000 - Career Guidance and Counseling in Schools

2000 - Career Guidance and Counseling Booklet Writing 2000

2000 - International Artists Workshop Bagamoyo Tanzania

2000 - Advocacy on reproductive Health for the Youth



Farah Francois - UNDP representative portrait

Mrs. Nafis Sadik - UNDP representative portrait

KCC monument at Kampala recreation center

Portrait Chairperson International Rotary

Other Services:

2003 - Participation in writing National Advocacy strategy for Reproductive Health Development Programme

2001 to date - Volunteer of Career Guidance and Counseling in High schools and Tertiary institutions

2002 August - Judge Miss Uganda Beauty pageant contest

2001 to 2002 - Member, Organizing Committee of the International Interdisciplinary Women's Worlds 2002 Congress in Uganda.

1998 to date - Adjudicator UNFPA Annual Poster Art Competition

1999 to date - Adjudicator Anti-corruption Annual Art Competition

1998 to 2005 - Organizer Women's Day exhibitions in Uganda.

1999 to date - Board of Governors (Vice Chairperson) Lubaga S.S.S Girl's School and Caltec Academy

2001 to date - Uganda Reproductive Health Advocacy Network- Member/chairperson, Media Committee

2000 to date - Adjudicator KIWI shoe polish National Art competition

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
more from author >>
First published: October 5, 2006
Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada.

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