By Sophie Alal
Kampala can boast one more bright spot to her assortment of art spaces. Kampala Premier Inn recently converted a courtyard and living space into an art gallery. The inauguration of the space took place on 18th July. Co-owned by Ms Rosemary Mutawe and Ms Hannah Gray, Kampala Premier Inn’s main offerings include accommodation, a café and Wi Fi.
Ms Gray and her team worked with the artists to set up the scene. From the warm yellows and earthy tones on the walls and corridors to practical details such as sofas laid out under an airy natural canopy of papyrus, they intended the space to have a homely feel and for artists to take charge of their work.
“They curated their art the way they wanted it to be,” says Hannah.
“This gallery is going to be extremely artist controlled,” says Ronald Kerango. He turns 29 in October, and is a practicing artist and coordinator for the group.
Mr. Kerango believes that it should be every artist’s prerogative to decide how their work should be displayed. He cited different forms of curation, and in keeping with the preferred free style says, “I’m trying to go against the tradition that when you go in, the first thing you get is the title and the price tag.”
Most of the paintings and prints on display are pieces from previous exhibitions. They hope to bring in new works in the coming months.
Visitors were divided on the merits of display. Ms Merrit Eby Gates was of the view that it is refreshing to explore new ways of exhibiting although, “The titles could lead you in directions that you may not have imagined.”
Frank Matovu, an architect, approached the works from an angle of possibilities. “I liked the diverse techniques. There is lots to learn if you are someone who is into the arts or just an appreciator of art.” However he advises that conventionally curated art simplifies architectural projects. Meaning that if a buyer had a particular space in mind, it would be useful to know details of pieces to purchase. “Most of the time you are looking at something that will add value to a space, or lend a certain kind of essence to it,” he says.
Ngula Yusuf and Ddamulira Shira are two painters who have pieces on display. Previously, they have worked and exhibited at Njovu Art Gallery on Buganda Road. Unfortunately the gallery was torn down and a vacant lot now awaits redevelopment. Given that Fas Fas, another arty haunt on Kiira Road was also shut down, to most artists it means the struggle for space continues.
Waddimba Edward, General Secretary of Uganda Visual Artist’s and Designer’s Association, was pleased to experience the opening saying, “The fresh blood from university, and those who haven’t had formal education have a chance here.” He drew attention to the former courtyard, “The structure here is welcoming. It is open. You don’t have to go through closed doors.”
In Mr Waddimba’s view, “Most galleries have a culture of sticking to particular artists in order to remain in business. They consider business first rather than promoting new artistic talent.”
Consensus was that there is a need to gradually break away from the grip of the commercial gallery. They are seen as exclusive spaces where cut-throat competition leaves little leeway for new talent to come out and shine.
“The space is run by a group of artists whose responsibility is to go out and scout for upcoming artists that don’t have a chance to get into the usual upscale commercial galleries,” says Kerango.
Older generations of artists and gallery owners are seen as gate keepers of the establishment. People who have taken it upon themselves to contain, police and influence artistic spaces. He detailed how this creates a scenario where artists may lose artistic control over their work while new talent may be restricted.
The collective is ready for independence and experimentation that shall bring more exposure and possibly success.
Ddamulira Shira, Ronald Kerango, Paul Kaspa Kasembeko, Tindi Ronnie Chris and Ngula Yusuf were joined by fellow artists Sheila Nakitende, Wasswa Donald and Nabukenya Helen from @rt Punch Studio.
There you have it, an artist-run space that is open 24/7, or a niche offering limitless creative freedom all the time? Whatever it shall turn out to be, there is need for more local spaces for art to flourish.
“We are trying to lift artists up because they are so talented,” says Ms Gray and adds cheerfully, “And also to make our place look lovely.”
The current show runs till the 18th of August.