Beauty and harmony in monochrome

Saturday August 11 2018

The half-face portrait of a buffalo by Damba Musoke

The half-face portrait of a buffalo by Damba Musoke. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

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Ugandan painter Damba Ismail Musoke says, “No harmony will ever beat monochromatic harmony.”

A series of his realistic, black-and-white animal portraits are on display at the Polka Dot Art Gallery in Nairobi.

There is the half-face portrait of an imposing buffalo against a black backdrop, oozing with vitality and danger.

A side portrait of an elephant is bathed in sunlight. Beside it is a leopard looking to one side, the details of its wrinkles, whiskers, and spots portrayed with great precision.

Another painting, not in the show, is of an impressive male gorilla, scowling from under heavy, hairy brows. You can almost feel the thick coat of fur.

Musoke says he likes working in black-and-white because it keeps things simple and neutral.

He visits Uganda’s national parks for inspiration, documenting the environment to show Ugandans the beauty and importance of wildlife.

“Among the Baganda, most of our clans are named after wild animals,” he says.

While the paintings at the show all have pure black backgrounds, some of his other monochrome images are lighter.

The half portrait of a white rhino is set against a hazy grey mass that looks like a cloud of dust, bringing in something of the surrounding environment.

A pair of young elephants lean tenderly head to head on a pale grey backdrop that seems like it is infused with sunlight.

Musoke studied at the Makerere University’s renowned Margeret Towell School of Fine Art.

He co-founded the Njovu Arts Studio in Kampala, where one can find more of his work on cityscapes, landscapes and social activities.

His woodcut prints of semi-abstract images are created in bright colours. Many of them feature translucent fish or the same goose-like birds posing with outstretched necks.

Musoke says the animal subjects symbolise human conditions as indicated by titles such as The Kiss, Moving Couple and The Future is Bright.