If it's gossip, Nabulime has the cure: Wood and metal

Sunday November 05 2023

Lilian Nabulime carving her work in progress wooden sculpture titled “Whispers-Hold Me Tight” at the Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts at Makerere University, Uganda. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI | NMG


Whether it is male-female power relations in modern times and race or HIV infection and the experiences of young women on university campuses – not to forget rumourmongering, one can be sure Lilian Mary Nabulime will render it in sculpture.

Indeed, the lecturer and HIV/Aids activist is at her best working on wood and sheet metal.

Her works often juxtapose reclaimed tree parts with found and recycled materials such as cans, keys, chains, and plastic.

Some of these sculptures are showing at the six-week exhibition “Olugambo (Gossip)” at the Xenson Art Space in Kampala that began on October 14.

Read: Basalt is exalted in this exhibition

“Nkoye Olugambo" (Tired of gossip), for example, is made of wood, cans, aluminium and copper plates. "Nkoye olugambo" holds one of the bowls and looks down at the other bowls expressing disgust with gossiping. “Embozzi yo kumizigo siesta" (Sleep or reclining) is a group of sculptures that are reclining or sleeping. Gossiping can also take place while one is relaxing or about to sleep.


“Embozi za malwa” is made up of 25 sculptures that illustrate happy people with expressive faces, showing feelings of surprise, tipsy, smiling, yawning, and so forth.

According to Nabulime, the sculptures all developed in 2023 address gossiping using sarcastic figurines in a series of terracotta and wood sculptures.

The sculptures employ form, colour and composition, to name just a few. The sculptures’ style is abstract, conceptual, revealing expressionism and impressionism. They take on forms of hard or plastic materials worked into two and three-dimensional objects. Sculptures are traditionally reliefs or freestanding objects.

Read: Faces and phases of African life in art

“My sculptures make the viewer fall into a kind of fascination. When someone studies them deeply, he/she can feel their presence. Wherever the sculpture is placed, you can feel their sensations when you see them. I don’t use the materials anyhow but I use them with meaning in order to feel/read the message,” she says.

“Their facial expressions charm the audience with added values of colour, lines, shapes, tone and textures to make sculptures stronger. I always feel satisfaction when making sculptures that have meaning and address issues in society,” she adds.

“Through tree root stumps I am able to make unique sculptures. Once a sculpture is made then it’s the only one of its kind,” Nabulime told The EastAfrican.

She has a soft spot for the female because “women are beautiful, impressive, they adorn themselves thus inspire ideas for sculpture. On the other hand, women are vulnerable. Through sculptures I advocate issues that affect them namely HIV/Aids, empowerment, and education.”

According to Nabulime, much of the gossip emanates from drastic changes in our economic situations, some of which have roots in the Covid-19 epidemic and HIV/Aids pandemic.

“Gossip is a habit that is engraved within our human psyche. It is an integral part of our lives. It is an informal evaluative talk about absent third parties and usually about other people’s business and social life. It is frowned upon and often even condemned,” she adds.

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Gossip is very common in barbershops, community bars, beauty salons, restaurants, offices, Niigin (women groups that meet for social and economic uplift), church and so on, Nabulime observes.

“Also, in places where transactions involve long lines and lengthy sitting around and waiting, people are likely to start talking. These are places such as banks, hospitals, and residential places such as “emizigo” (rental one-roomed low-cost tenements/houses). Some stories told and heard by people using public transport such as taxis, buses, and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) involve gossip,” she adds.

According to Nabulime, people are motivated to engage in gossip in order to: entertain themselves and to exchange information; vent emotions and to maintain social order; vent harmless, constructive tendencies; address and advance one’s personal interests at the cost of others; gossip can be a means of social connection beyond its typical negative connotations.

To the sculptor, art is exciting and unique because each painting, sculpture, or photograph if created by hand, and comes together as an original work of art.

"It’s a tremendous experience to see or own a piece of art and know that there’s not another one just like it in the world!” she says.

Dr Nabulime, who describes Ugandan art buyers as private individual who shun publicity, has published a number of papers for international journals and authored books. She has also attended and presented papers in international forums.

She is the former Head of the Sculpture Department at the Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts at Makerere University. She holds hold a PhD in Fine Art (Newcastle University, UK 2007). She currently lives and works in Kampala and is a senior lecturer at MTSIFA alongside her busy studio practice.

She has exhibited her work at both solo and group exhibitions in Belgium, USA, Rome UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Algeria, and Germany.