Fine artist Simon Banga is transcribing Ugandan national monuments into braille and tactile formats to make them accessible to the visually impaired.
The 50-year old has so far transcribed five historical sites in Kampala — The Independence, The Journey, The World War, The Stride and The Centenary monuments.
He is currently working on two projects, the Kabaka Mutebi Monument at Bulange in Mengo, and the Kawalya Kaggwa Monument on Kampala Road.
Dubbed "Braille-as-Art", the project is an illustrative platform through which the blind interpret artworks by touching.
Banga explains the three stages of transcribing into braille.
“It begins with translating monuments into photographic information so as to create them in a manageable format that can be accessed by the visually-impaired.
''I then create sketches using photography to transcribe the monuments into simple lines and shapes,” he said.
In the second stage, Banga uses various techniques to produce the monuments as illustrations. “I started with testing different mediums on surfaces such as water colours, charcoal, scram led paper, among others. The blind experience seeing through touching.”
“In the third stage, I transcribe the illustrations into braille as art.
''I simplify the monuments into basic shapes and structure, avoiding all unnecessary details like colour and tones which the blind cannot access,” Banga says.
He recreated the Independence Monument using cotton cloth and manila paper, and the piece was shown at the Tracing the Que-rator exhibition at the Nommo Gallery in Kampala in April.
Banga says his inspiration comes from “Article 21 of the Ugandan Constitution" which "promotes equality before the law regardless of sex, colour, ethnicity or region or political beliefs”.
He learnt the craft from artist, historian, and human-rights lawyer Angelo Kakande, an associate professor at Makerere University, who won a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. He used part of the grant to train Banga.
Uganda has taken significant strides towards laws and policies that guarantee the visually challenged to access public spaces, Banga says.
“However, this success has not been realised with respect to public culture and art. It is from this background that I produced artworks that can be rendered accessible using illustration as a tool.
Kakande says, “Transcribing national monuments into formats accessible to the visually impaired is an obligation under the international and national laws applicable in Uganda. Uganda has been slow to fulfil this obligation.
“This accessibility may be limited to those who can read braille and these are not the majority of persons with visual impairment.
''However, it is a welcome contribution; it fills a critical gap in the country’s cultural landscape.”
Journey into art
Banga says he began the journey by enrolling for a course in braille at Enabling Services Uganda Ltd in Kampala.
“I started with simple line art with minimal details that can easily be transcribed into braille and tactile, and later on I took on a one-month course in Braille Grade One.
Banga says he provides communities with joy, interaction and inspiration through thoughtful critique to political, economic and social systems interrogating communities to engage thoughtfully and make steps towards social progress.”
Born in Kampala in May in 1972, Banga has been drawing since his childhood, a path that later led to his professional career. He is married to Judy Nyirinkindi and they have three daughters. He lives in Kampala with his family.
He is currently a lecturer at Kyambogo University where he teaches drawing, illustration and computer aided design. He previously taught at Makerere University.
He has held and participated in a number of exhibitions.