Artist John Bosco Muramuzi’s elaborate paintings portray city life and countryside living in intense colours. His canvases are busy, filled with multiple scenes from his rural origins, Kampala where he lives and has had personal experiences.
Muramuzi hails from the Ankole region of southwestern Uganda, a place famous for long-horned cows of the same name. “I used to rear cattle and goats in the village between the ages of six and 13,” he said.
Consequently, the rural to urban journey is a frequent reflection of his art, a combination of memories, observations and lots of artistic licence.
Muramuzi’s pictures are like a rich tapestry that requires time to explore and scrutinise closer the cornucopia of images and colours. Animals, children, crops, cars, huts, rats in millet fields, motorcycles, trees and jerricans. The canvas is a myriad of ordinary objects and people prominently outlined in black.
He says that the reason he makes his paintings a mass of complicated visual language is that “it cannot be easily copied. You may not know how I started or how I finished.”
Some pieces strike you immediately for their bright bold colours such as The Red City, a vivid portrayal of Kampala. Tall buildings, housing estates, bus terminals, travellers, festivals and city traffic are jam-packed onto a gorgeous red backdrop.
Muramuzi, 31, has lived in Kampala since high school. He likens it to a big village where urban life is mixed with characteristics of the countryside such as flourishing banana fields. He lives on the city outskirts where aspects of the natural scenery still exist.
“Where I stay is colourful and the landscapes have beautiful colours so that’s why I use different colours in my work,” he says. Bright paints bring out the joyfulness of a hectic or chaotic environment, “because I am not capturing the sad part of the city,” says Muramuzi.
The artist studied Industrial Art and Design at the YMCA Comprehensive Institute. In other paintings, he goes easy on colour and works with a monochrome palette.
Although he employs a flat style of painting, he also cleverly draws your eyes from bottom to top through upward flowing elements like slender trees or roots that weave across the picture. The tendrils also serve as connectors between the past and the present, the village and the city.
One of his earliest experiences with creativity was with his mother who was a weaver, and also while in primary school where his teachers would allow him to draw on the blackboard.
Looking at his paintings, I like the sense of movement that he portrays such as cars, buses and motorcycle taxis racing along, women fetching water, children playing or somebody sweeping a compound. They bring aliveness to his illustrations and animate the narrative.
Most of Muramuzi’s paintings are large, but he also creates miniature pictures which are equally as busy and story-filled.
Cows often feature in his work, like in "Cattle Keepers", a highly detailed painting of rural life.
Understated background colours of pale green and light brown evoke the quietness of the countryside.
The cows in the painting are particularly interesting. Muramuzi has drawn them in a simple childlike fashion, a statement to a connection to his childhood days of cattle herding.
Muramuzi is currently working on paintings for a solo exhibition called Back to My Roots. It documents the ups and downs of his rural to urban migration and will happen at the Umoja Art Gallery of Kampala from August 27 to September 27, 2022.