Five gift ideas for 2020

It’s officially that time of the year, the beginning of the year where your friends, family, and workmates have sent wonderful gifts to you. You are excited about the precious items you have received but very confused about what kind of gifts you will send your friends.

It’s Ok for you not to reciprocate with a gift, however, if you are the kind that cares about relationship building and strengthening, than you should be thinking of gifts to offer. I understand the hustle that comes with shopping gifts for friends and if you are tired of racking your brain just to determine what gifts to buy, here is a list of five gifts you would buy.

Wall Art

If you are looking for a gift to inspire your favorite person, consider buying a wall painting for them. A wall painting would be ideal for people with decent homes and have empty walls. While selecting a wall painting, consider the person’s personality and the kind of colors they love.

A gift should be loved and appreciated. Do not choose a painting because you love it, consider the person you are gifting.

Traditionally the wall paintings were done on canvas and batik, however, artists are becoming more creative with there work and are manipulating the material to come up with unique paintings, At the NACCAU crafts village, you will find paintings on Back cloth ( Lubugo) paintings done with Banana fiber all beautifully made.

Walking stick
There are two kinds of walking sticks being sold in the NACCAU crafts village. One made out of Ebony and the other out of wood.

The ebony stick is pretty expensive compared to other wooden sticks but more durable than the others. If you have an elderly friend or relative, the walking stick would be an ideal gift for them.

While buying this stick, consider the handle shapes.

Kitchen Items
The Ugandan master craft women make beautiful patched oven gloves, Aprons, and Tablemats in colorful patterns. These would be ideal for a friend getting married!
I once sent a set of these to a friend as a gift for her wedding, she wrote back to me saying

‘I feel like a professional cook’

Both the gloves and table mats are cushioned to protect you from the heat. Consider your friends’ body size while purchasing the apron. The aprons come in different sizes.

 

Bags!
That friend who changes bags every day is a bag Fanatic. The NACCAU crafts village has unique bag options you can choose from to gift.

Cross bags would do be a perfect gift for a teenager or an early and mid-twenties lady, Clatch bags are ideal for a classy wife and mother, and a handbag for a corporate woman in your life!

African shirt.
In today’s fashion trend, every man should own African shirt wether in Kikooyi or Kitenge fabric. If you have an elderly man in your life, these shirts would wow them as a gift. African shirts are meant to be worn free size so worry not about the person’s size as you shop!

Would you like to share experience regarding the kind of gifts you have shopped this year and the feedback? Let’s get the conversation going in comments.

 

Evolution of Visual Arts in Uganda

Bruno Sserunkuuma in his studio ( He over sees the marketing and promotional activities of the Association)

Bruno Sserunkuuma could be seen as one of the old guard, who has survived working in Uganda. Originally a painter, Sserunkuuma became a potter who benefitted from his association as pupil and graduate fellow with Makerere University, a critical source of sustainable funding and resources as well as technical instruction.

Sserunkuuma’s artistry has clearly been influenced by the vision of the original founder of Makerere’s School of Fine Art, Margaret Trowell. Director of Makerere Art School from 1939-45, Trowell represented a colonial pedagogy. She wished to respect existing traditional methods while introducing technical knowledge as a pragmatic way to develop the visual arts in a region where representational art was rare. ‘We start from it, study it, and honour it’ was her dictum.

The ceramicist’s output is a product of this philosophy. He produces pots and vases that demonstrate both acute cultural sensitivity as well as clear technical mastery.  Women feature heavily in his tall, minutely-detailed vases and pots.

“I was very close to my mother and as a result the role of women, particularly in rural settings, is very prominent in my work”. These pieces earned him 2nd prize in UNESCO’s Craft Prize for Africa in 2000. He has since exhibited globally.

Bruno is a kind of national ambassador for visual arts. His work is founded on good draftsmanship. When I asked George Kyeyune what was the fundamental strength of art in this country, he replied: “resilience”. “Lots of European artists have stopped painting images. Here we are still very traditional. We value drawing as a foundation for artists. To me that’s a strength.”

Vice Chairperson of the Association (NACCAU)

Nuwa Wamala -Nnyanzi a celebrated, self-taught, Ugandan artist of international repute was born on October 28, 1952 in Uganda. His late father was a laboratory assistant and his mother is a retired midwife and nurse. Nnyanzi is married with two children. He attributes his talent and success to the Grace of God.

Nnyanzi’s works of art are in batik, pastel, acrylic, oil and water colors which are earthy, vibrant and reflective of the strong and sweet African sun. The lines of his works flow and turn with the fluency of an African drum. Looking at his art, one feels the vibrant life in an African setting. Nnyanzi started painting in 1978 while in exile in Nairobi, Kenya.

He has held many exhibits and slide\talk presentations in Africa, Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. In 1996 he had the privilege and honor of hosting among many other dignitaries, the late Ron Brown, who was Secretary of Commerce of United States of America, at his studio/gallery in Kampala, Uganda.

The King of Batik Painting

Although Nnyanzi works in many other media, he specializes in batik painting. Nnyanzi through extensive research and experimentation has managed to come up with a style where more than one dye can be applied to get tones and varied shades. The result of which is remarkable. After all the required dyes have been applied, the wax is removed by placing the batik between two absorbent pieces of paper and pressed with a very hot flat iron. The wax melts with the heat and is absorbed into the sheets of paper, leaving the batik crisp clean. The rugged edges of the images are retouched using black dye in a fountain pen. Nnyanzi’s works of art are executed in multi and mono hues. He intelligently and successfully manipulates the colors and shapes with such ease that leaves the viewer spell-bound.

Nnyanzi’s choice of titles for his pieces too, is a work of art in itself. The titles are as descriptive and reflective as they are poetic, which makes them an integral part of the art itself. Nnyanzi’s concern for humanity and cultural values manifests itself vividly in his art, which successfully captures and depicts the emotions and movements of human beings.

Blending art with activism

In his shop at the National Theatre, Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi seems to disappear behind the clutter around him. Every inch of space on the walls is taken up by framed art pieces of every size. If you dropped a pin on his desk, you would have trouble finding it among the tins, envelopes, papers, and paint brushes. The space surrounding him is taken up by boxes, mats and bags.
There appears to be a beautiful symmetry in the clutter, though. Everything seems to be where it is supposed to be; even the small radio gives the appearance of having occupied the same spot on the large brown desk for eons. Perhaps, most surprising is the tall, white bookshelf – a testimony to Nnyanzi’s research work and documentation of his own work.
“If you had come two months ago, you would have been amazed because I was working on something and my desk was a mess,” says the 64-year-old visual artist and Rotarian.”
My first impression of Nnyanzi is of a quiet man who only talks when necessary. How wrong I am! Every question leads to a conversation. I choose not to follow the flow of the questions I have typed out and this brings on a talk about the stereotypical (he calls it genetic) behaviour of the members of our clan – mbogo (buffalo) clan.
Before I take his picture, he says, “Wait! I have to first wear my makeup.” Alarmed, I wait for what I hope will be a short makeup session, only for him to pull a brown face towel out of his bag. He gently pats his face with it. “That’s it; now take the picture,” he says, adding, “What matters is my art, not my face.”
He shows me his most famous art pieces, asking me to interpret what I see. Only those conversant with his work can understand that this is a tough task. But, I passed it; of course, with him providing cues.

His thoughts on Independence
A few years ago, Nnyanzi was Mengo’s minister for culture and art and his passion for the kingdom slips into the conversation when he talks about how Kabaka Muteesa I laid the perfect foundation for Uganda to become a protectorate, not a colony.
“Independence was a missed opportunity. Whatever was promised and expected never came to pass. It was supposed to be a smooth transition and then, take off, because we already had the infrastructure for development. However, when the colonialists handed over power, they expected us to be democrats when they themselves had not been. They never held a single election the time they were here, yet they expected us to hold regular elections.”
He reasons that it was absurd to expect Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote to act differently.

“When there were dissenters, he detained them, just as the colonialists used to do. We can only fault Obote for being an African behaving like a colonialist. When he and (Idi) Amin were challenged in Parliament for corruption, they went berserk.”
At Independence, Nnyanzi was 19 days shy of his 10th birthday, but the political fever affected him. “I remember my uncle repeating a statement that had appeared in the media, ‘Abaganda okwefuga bakuyise kikwangala.’ (Baganda have described Independence as a sham). That stuck in my mind. I was studying at Duhaga Boys in Hoima and there was a classmate who was politically charged. He threatened me all the time, saying that if Independence came, they would chase all Baganda out of Bunyoro. So to me, independence was for Banyoro. While others were eagerly waiting for it, I was not. And I was too traumatised to tell my mother what was going on at school.”
The only highlight were the fireworks on the hill near the Catholic Church at midnight and being given buns, soda, and a badge with the Ugandan flag at school.

Becoming an artist
For Nnyanzi, art was something he stumbled upon and ran with, to survive. Although he had studied Art as an O-Level student, he did not pursue it.
Between 1972 and 1977, Nnyanzi was an officer of the Uganda Army and deputy in-charge of the medical stores at the General Military Hospital. However, a dispute targeting his superior, Lt Col Dr Gideon (Nsiko) Bogere, sucked him in. “I was detained for nine days for mischief and plotting against the establishment. I do not recall if I was actually plotting something but I was resentful. When I was released, I went into hiding in Jinja with my cousins Col Suleman Hassan and Badru Hassan who were in the military police. We were all jailbirds. Suleman had a bus company and I was the personnel manager. We worked for a year until we received information that a roadblock had been setup at the bridge to net deserters.” The army deserter travelled to Kampala and got clearance from the District Commissioner (who knew he was a deserter) and travelled to Kenya. “In Nairobi, I met Acholi and Langi who we thought had died. They had just disappeared from the barracks, an act which saved their lives.”
He credits his exile with turning him into an artist. “If I had remained in Uganda, I would not have been an artist. In my first year of exile in Nairobi I met an old friend, Dan Ssekanwagi. He was an artist and had been doing some work for Uganda Television, now UBC. He told me batiks were marketable in Nairobi. I did not know what batiks were, and he had little knowledge on them. So, we read and studied other people’s art. The rest is history.”
In 1990, he returned to Uganda with his two young children (one of whom is media personality, Malaika Nnyanzi) after 12 years in exile. At that time, there were no colours in Uganda that an artist could use – only black and white. It was entirely impossible to reproduce an art piece. “People asked me who was going to buy my art, since Ugandans do not appreciate art. I believed that Ugandans appreciated it, but they could not afford it. I was determined to teach them to love art. I did good business exhibiting at the Sheraton Hotel, which became like my sitting room in the evenings.”

Art as a tool of political activism
Nnyanzi stresses that he only tries to capture the motion and emotion of social and cultural issues in his art. “I made a conscious decision in Nairobi not to dwell on the negative. I was not about to sacrifice Uganda on the altar of Obote or Amin. Many people speak ill of Uganda as if the entire society is violent. I capture and show the negative aspects in my art, but out of 20 pieces, there will only be one because Ugandans are peaceful and friendly.” As we talk, he searches through files and bags to bring out some of his pieces portraying the negative aspects, which include Tormented Crested Crane, Kony’s Handiwork, and one about soldiers beating people. “If you looked at them today, you would relate with them. Art can be a tool of political activism. The only surviving relics of Independence are the artistic impressions – the coat of arms, the flag, the Independence monument, and the national anthem. Everything else has been destroyed, discarded, or neglected. Governments have changed and the army and police have been renamed. People today are using imagery, cartoons, and effigies to send out messages and cause revolutions world over. I can cause change in someone by capturing an emotion in a picture or painting.”

Evolution of Ugandan art
For Nnyanzi, the evolution of Ugandan art has been in the fact that art is no longer confined to the academic world. “People are exploring. It is no longer with the traditional paints, but using various media. The only problem is that they are in a hurry to produce work and get money.”
The price of Nnyanzi’s individual art pieces ranges from Shs2,000 to $2,000 (approx. Shs7.2m). “I think I have made history by surviving on art alone, without holding a day job,” he jokes. “I should be in the Guinness World Records. My work has evolved over time. Besides batik, I do graphic and fabric designs, calendars, and wood art.” Nnyanzi, who redesigned the Buganda Flag, has art as his only source of income, either in production, holding workshops or giving talks. The rest of the work he does is voluntary, including being a Rotarian. At the end of the interview, I got a chance to see some of Nnyanzi’s old and famous works. It has been a rewarding three-hour tutorial on the power of art.