As the Covid-19 pandemic rages — claiming lives, devastating economies and upending livelihoods — so too do the terms used to describe it.
In Uganda, face masks have become the norm. In addition, presenters at local radio stations adopted the terms “Senyiga Omukwabwe” and “Lumiima Mawugwe” to refer to the pandemic.
One of these words piqued the interest of Samson Ssenkaaba aka Xenson, and the result is his latest art exhibition titled LumiimaMawugwe at the Xenson Art Space in Kampala.
Xenson says his exhibition is his reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“LumiimaMawugwe is one of the terms that was used by radio presenters to talk about Covid-19. So I adopted it for the exhibition. Art is a reflection of our society and what we are experiencing,” he says.
During the first few days of the pandemic, he found sketches of portraits in masks that had been signed in 2015. Xenson remembered seeing some Chinese wearing masks around 2014 in downtown Kampala. He also recalled going to Kabale District where the air was refreshing compared with cosmopolitan Kampala. This triggered a series of drawings and ideas.
In the exhibition, the face mask portrays the Covid-19 pandemic as “ a symbol which in this case is the talisman. For one to be protected from Covid-19 you need a mask, or even to access a public space.”
On display are over 24 works of acrylics on canvas, barkcloth, and rubber from car tyres. Most of them are portraits of people wearing face masks, necklaces, in various hair styles and head coverings.
They include Bakawonawo, Remnannts 1 and 2, Tweyagala feka, Nanteza 1 to 5, Kaguta, Ssentamu and Byanyima.
Tweyagala feka is of five young girls playing the famous local game with their facemasks on and the same puffed hairstyle.
Kawonawo portrays a man wearing a rubber facemask made out of car tyres, and Bakawonawo shows three men wearing rubber facemasks made out of car tyres. Remnannts 1 and Remnannts 2 are works made of acrylic, barkcloth and rubber facemasks.
“Bakawonawo and Remnannt is a story of we who survived the pandemic and the tales we have to share,” Xenson says. “The exhibition brings the audience to reflect about Covid-19 and its impact, and expresses the tough times the opposition, especially the youth, faced during the 2020/2021 elections.".
The lyrics of Xenson’s new song Bugulumu are also on display. The inspirational song seeks to provide comfort and hope in traumatic and depressing times.
The song blends African folk music and the African griot tradition laced with a distinct akogo (thumb piano) and a mellow orchestral bridge. It has rich ancient Luganda proverbs (engero) as well as poetry.
The exhibition opened on November 6, 2021 and will run until January 14.
Xenson is a multi-media artist who interrogates contemporary issues through installations, videos, performance, poetry, fashion and paintings.
He is the founder of Xenson Art Space, a multidisciplinary curated art space aimed at nurturing the new creative generation; providing a space for the artists to exhibit and showcase their work.
Xenson, who holds a degree in Painting and Graphic Design from Makerere University has taken part in exhibitions and residencies worldwide.