Ronex Ahimbisibwe is celebrating 19 years of painting with his 20th solo art exhibition titled Options, at the Afriart Gallery in Kampala.
The prolific artist is presenting multimedia works. He sees art as an active social agent that should educate, call for dialogue and critically articulate contemporary society.
Ahimbisibwe says he is driven by one question, “What if?” What would be the outcome? He says questions bring out our characters and personalities, and contradictions make us human.
On show at the exhibition, which opened on February 7 and will end on March 1, are 27 mixed media works.
Ahimbisibwe has held a solo show once every year since 2002. “It’s the best way to account for the past year. Sharing my thoughts, experiments and experiences. It’s a summary of the past year. I derive the themes of my shows from two sources: how I work and the process, and the challenges.
“This year’s exhibition, Options, is from my challenges. When an artist has an idea, it can either be developed and edited in their mind or later sketched. The dilemma is how to choose the size of the work or materials to be used. I wanted the public to have the chance to be part of the process of choosing. If they were the artist, what would be their choice?”
Ahimbisibwe has participated in numerous group shows all over the world.
His works include paintings, sculptures, woodcut prints, digital art, photography, furniture and mixed-media installations.
Ahimbisibwe was born in 1977 in Mbarara District in Western Uganda. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial and Fine Arts from Makerere University in 2001, and has since been living and working as a full-time artist in Kampala.
How has your journey been on the art scene?
It is challenging, especially living in countries that don’t value the role and importance of creative industries in shaping and developing society. I count myself lucky that I live off my ideas. Many people in the world survive on other people’s ideas, or have to be employed to make ends meet.
What about commissions?
Creating involves processes, and for commissions an artist has to do a series of works that take time and materials. Many people only want to pay for the finished piece, not the series that you have made before you achieve the final work. For example, if I make five samples and one is selected, what am I supposed to do with the remaining four? Shouldn’t they also be paid for?
If I instead continued doing my own work, it means I would have five pieces. Economically, commissions don’t make sense. I have done some commissioned work, but only for clients who have collected my pieces before or those who give me absolute freedom. Most of the commissions I get I pass on to other artists. That is why it takes me a year to plan for an exhibition.
Are you making a decent living from your art?
I am not complaining.
What would you have been if you were not into fine art?
I might have been a structural engineer. I love constructing things.
How do you manage your wardrobe?
I am in dirty overalls most of the time.
While in East Africa, where are you most likely to spend your Saturday afternoon?
In Uganda. I have travelled to most East African countries. None of these countries beats Uganda — its weather, food and the warm people.
What is your best destination in East Africa?
Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale district in western Uganda. It is breath-taking.
Do you have a must-visit list?
I want to see the ancient Nyero rock paintings and visit Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda. I am curious to see how our ancestors visualised their thoughts and what materials they used, and maybe find out how those symbols have survived this long at the Nyero rocks [since 1250 AD]. I would also like to visit Mombasa and Zanzibar. Uganda being in a landlocked country we have no coastal beaches and there is a lot of history one could learn from at the coast.
What do you think is East Africa’s greatest strength?
It is the diversity in our cultures, though we seem to use it to divide instead of finding ways to celebrate it.
What is your best collection?
World music. I find it deep, spiritual and elevating.
What is the most thoughtful gift you’ve received?
Advice. When I finished university, one lecturer told me: “Leave the principles and elements of design at Makerere University gate, go create your own.” That statement still has an impact on me to date.
What is the best gift you’ve given?
I convinced my mother not ask for bride price for my sister, so we were two against my father who was not pleased but had to give in. I think it’s the best gift I gave to my sister.
Though cultural, I think it makes women feel like a commodity. Without bride price, women are partners in a relationship. And I believe there is more respect among couples. In case of a disagreement, men tend to use bride price as leverage or intimidation.
What book you have read recently?
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, by Joseph Murphy. Murphy suggests that the subconscious is the invisible god that one has to tap from.
What film has impacted you the most?
The Men Who Built America. The four-part series focuses on the lives of six American men and how their industrial innovations and business empires revolutionised modern society. I love history, so most of the movies I watch are based on actual events.
What’s your favourite music?
Dancehall and country music.
Which is your favourite website?
It’s actually a social media network — Pinterest. I find it has more useful information than other social media platforms.
What does not miss in your fridge?
I don’t have one. We live in a blessed country, Uganda. Why freeze things when I can have them fresh?