Uganda’s multi-media artist Ronex Ahimbisibwe is currently holding a solo exhibition titled The Year That Was.
The month-long exhibition opened on October 2 at Umoja Art Gallery in Bukoto in Kampala, and will run until October 30.
Ahimbisibwe says the show was inspired mainly by the Covid-19 pandemic and events that have happened since it started including the elections in Uganda, Valentine’s Day, the Black Lives Matter movement, and police and their understanding of the curfew.
"The pandemic did not happen in isolation. The creative industry wasn’t regarded as an essential service by the government and was shut down. Visual artists mainly thrive on tourism and expatriates, and that’s one of the sectors that were mostly affected,” Ahimbisibwe says.
His artworks include paintings, sculptures, woodcut prints, digital art, photography, furniture and mixed media installations.
“Even trying to ship works outside the country was difficult especially during the lockdown. A piece that would normally take four to seven days to ship, would now take two to three months. So most art agents outside Uganda stopped asking for our works,” he says.
“But I used the challenges as my source of inspiration. If it wasn’t for the pandemic I wouldn’t have come up with the series I exhibited recently. Any situation, good or bad, sparks inspiration,” he added.
He says, “The survival of art galleries depends on artists. Both artists and galleries have to take the risk and make things happen. These months and next year may not be profitable, but to remain visible and relevant, artists have to continue creating and galleries take the risk with artists however few they may be.
“That’s why I chose to have this show, when we are still going through the pandemic. It’s risky, but worthwhile. Many galleries wouldn’t fancy showing works about the pandemic. That is why I appreciate the Umoja Art Gallery management who were willing to take the risk and show works on a theme some galleries wouldn’t find profitable.”
Some of the most eye catching pieces at the exhibition are of masked people. Ahimbisibwe says he made his mask shaped works in groups of different numbers to make it easier for viewing.
“I wanted to capture the old normal or what we used to call the normal, and the current normal or what we are calling 'to mask up'. In these works I combined the new normal with what life was like before the pandemic.”
Ahimbisibwe says that he made 57 pieces in the shape of a mask, and that 20 are on display. All are with the gallery. There are 30 paintings on canvas and 23 are round-shaped on a board.
The painting titled 2020 Blessings is a large image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with inscriptions capturing the lifestyles of Ugandans under the pandemic such as lockdown, police, maize flour, intensive care, where is the food, 7pm to 6am curfew, and closure of schools.
Ahimbisibwe says the painting is a summary of how he sees the pandemic and its effects.
Another painting, with three wooden rectangles and a human face, is titled Contemplating. It has a hanging mask, a human face on canvas, and one of the rectangles carries the headline of a newspaper that reads Virus mutes Easter Festival.
Ahimbisibwe says the message in Contemplating is: “How does one adhere to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and think of the future too?”
The painting Feeling Mellow shows a woman with one eye covered with a facemask.
Ahimbisibwe says of the painting: “One of the SOPs is to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. Maybe the eyes too need a mask.”