When following the crowd can be inspiring

“African gatherings have such a rich colour blend of clothing”

Paintings by Damulira Siraj Shira. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NATION 

Gatherings of people, especially among low income communities, give a wealth of inspiration to artist Damulira Shiraj Shira. His vivid pictures often show groups of people, particularly women in cultural dress.

“African gatherings have such a rich colour blend of clothing,” says Shira, who lives in Kampala.
A selection of Shira’s oil paintings are currently on show at Nairobi’s Polka Dot Gallery. Shira is also a wildlife and portrait painter, but I particularly like his illustrations of people. They are part of a series called Re-counts that focus on small groups of people and which he executes in different colour themes. There are women with bright attire and headwraps gathered together or carrying babies on their hips.
Shira uses indistinct lines to create simple figures and always depicts faceless visages. I found this technique did not lessen my curiosity or take away from the simple appeal of the image. Says Shira, “Blurry impressionism has always been my technique and has kept developing with time.”

Many of his people images are untitled, giving the viewer leeway to create their own story. In other pieces a few indistinct people are huddled together in one corner or very low down the frame, while much of the painting is taken up by hazy blank space painted in muted blues, bright yellow and burnt orange. It is illustrative, says Shira, of the beautiful natural light from the sun at different intervals of the day.

Shira, 31, has a degree in Fine Art with a major in painting and sculpture from Makerere University. He is also working on sculpture projects and it will be interesting to see how he interprets his subjects using three-dimensional media.

Much of his work is in Kampala at the Umoja Art Gallery, Asante Gallery and at his studio, Njovu Art. A selection of his paintings is also in Nairobi at the One Off Gallery, Nairobi Museum, Bonzo Gallery and the Diani Beach Art Gallery.

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