Nakisanze merges high fashion with traditional art

Wednesday January 20 2021
Sarah Nakisanze.

Artist Sarah Nakisanze. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI


On display at Sarah Nakisanze’s recent exhibition titled “My Granary, My Home” were five artefacts made from local materials such as bark-cloth, cowrie shells, raffia fibres, and straws, among others, focusing on Social Sustainability.

Social Sustainability is the third dimension of Sustainable Development referring to the state of good quality of life enabled by valuable societal relationships and ecology sustenance systems.

Nakisanze says that Social Sustainability can be attained through social ideas that facilitate societal welfare including equity, wellbeing, social cohesion, participation and sustainability awareness.

"My Granary, My Home" was held at the Makerere Art Gallery, Makerere University in Kampala from November 13-27, 2020. The virtual opening ceremony was held on November 12. The exhibition was curated by Martha Kazungu.

In the exhibition and publication under the same title, Nakisanze presented visual insights into her PhD research demonstrating how haute couture serves as a tool of information dissemination and social sustainability in traditional basket making in central Uganda.



Nakisanze says haute couture as a fashion domain and visual communication aesthetic has transcended basic representation of cultural art.

Ms Nakisanze examined the notion of social sustainability through the commercialised past traditional basketry practice in central Uganda.

She collected data from basket weavers, in Kampala and Wakiso districts, through observation and focus group discussions. The data was taken through a creative practical inquiry, and translated into five haute couture artefacts, each representing a specific concept.

According to Nakisanze, equity refers to society’s inclusive access to the past traditions, for instance, wisdom, knowledge, skill and models of action from the past for the development, because the material is a property of society. No copyright laws required.

“The blossoming head gear composed of the basketry ware, depicting fruits on a tree, further iconic of the renowned Tree of Life, augments the productivity. In fact, during the research, one of the participants confessed that the basketry skill and business knowledge had been handed down to them from their mother, who had equally acquired it from her mother,” she added.

“Seemingly through the mammary gland, the pattern sustains that indeed past traditions fend for, and are engrained in society… The root-like garb tail is equally indexical of the rootedness and deep-seated position of the past traditions.

It is then possible that the practice is taking care of multiple generations, which illuminates its abundance,” she adds.

Granary of wisdom

In defining the wellbeing artefact, Ms Nakisanze says, first, the artefact top is a traditional ‘mukeeka’ accessorised with ribbons imprinted with universal symbols of the wellbeing resources. The symbols signify; education, income, habitat, water, health care, clothing and community integration.

The bottom is a bark-cloth decorated with raffia, reflecting a containing garb. Grouping the garb pieces locates the arrangement in a cultural context that visualises both a hut and granary, historical containers for the security of life, valuables and foodstuff respectively. Adorned with the wellbeing symbols "My Granary, My Home" is suggestive of basketry as a life fulfilling practice, that stores and provides for society, she adds.

"Together It Lights" represents social cohesion within the traditional basketry practice in central Uganda.


Sarah Nakisanze art.

Sarah Nakisanze’s piece on "My Granary, My Home", expressing social cohesion. PHOTO | COURTESY

How cultural exploration can result in better design

Nakisanze is a fashion designer, educator and art practice researcher who engages a lot with indigenous traditional craft materials and other fibres for eco-product designs within artisanal communities, and for her artistic fashion expression.

She is a lecturer of fashion design and research at the Margaret Trowel School of Fine and Industrial Art, Makerere University in Kampala and offers knowledge in product design and artistic skills. Her research interests include visual culture, fashion and product design as well as material culture exploration, production management, North and South trade relations.

Her designs and social enterprise research, creations, innovations and knowledge have been showcased on local and international platforms. She works in fiber, particularly bark-cloth, to create fabric patterns based on traditional motifs.

Her art works are labelled Nakisanze Sarah and eco-product design works Lususu managed and presented by Easy Afric Designs Ltd. The company is a socially motivated fair trade-oriented organistion based in Kampala, creating high quality eco-chic fashion accessories, home décor, corporate items and gift packaging options.

The hand crafted products are mainly made out of ‘bark-cloth’ a unique international cultural heritage fabric, sustainably harvested by hand from the fig tree known as ‘Mutuba’ (Ficus natelensis) in Uganda. Bark-cloth is complemented with other natural and/or safe fabrics and fibres.

She is also an activist and facilitates workshops on rural craft practice and HIV/Aids awareness.

She holds a BA in Fine Art and a Masters in Fine Arts degrees from Makerere University and her PhD research is an interrogation of communities she has explored in past years. She seeks to build onto a visual discourse of cultural traditional aesthetic as a locus for empowerment and liberation of the artisanal woman and artist.