From Grass to Grace: The exhibition that raised an interesting debate

Group photo taken in front of the Gallery at the close of the exhibition

Mathias Tusiime, the man who used to fix our white canvases onto frames, assisted female Art students to suspend their murals on high studio walls in the late nineties is now a soaring Ugandan Artist. The popular story about Tusiime receiving no formal educational training in art, or cleaning the studios at the school of Industrial and Fine Arts is slowly but surely becoming insignificant. That story may soon find a good place in books of contemporary African artists and museum archives.
His Auction and Exhibition of about forty or more paintings which opened on the 3rd of May 2019 was a well-attended function. Most of the social media invitations indicated 5:00 p.m as the opening time , but for the love of Tusiimes art and cause, most of the art lovers waited patiently until the arrival of the guest of honor.

During the first half of the waiting period Tusiime looked a little bit nervous but was constantly comforted by his number one client, the former cultural attaché of the Italian Embassy, Pietro Auverono. The diplomat seemed to have a clue as to when the guest of honor would arrive. Finally the guest of honor arrived and Tusiime was now standing between Pietro and The Deputy head of Mission of The Italian Embassy, Lorenza Gambacorta. Tusiime was now balancing in between like the bald headed Jedi master Mace Windoo, confident and not confident but sure of victory due to an invisible force locked within his soul.
After the speeches, Tusiime gained momentum. He was seen confidently making gestures in the air as he explained his works to the two Diplomats before an army of photographers. He was accompanied by the president of the Uganda Visual Artists and Designers Association Eddy Waddimba. Tusiime runs an organization, The Uganda Community Art and Skill Development Recycling (UCASDR) Project which seeks to improve the livelihood of communities through art.

I first wrote about Tusiime in 2013, the year in which he was invited by the University of Florida Center for Arts in medicine. He flew to the US to conduct a workshop about his work in the University of Columbia, USA Mbali Institute, Merryland University and New Orleans University. My main task was to write a piece about Tusiime in the context of why he had won the hearts of Western Art collectors. Could it be that the Western Art Collectors found something unique in “Tusiimerism” Or “Katarikawerism” which is lacking among formally trained Artists? In General I analyzed the work of Tusiime and that of our departed Art Maharaja Jack Katarikawe. Like most scholars about contemporary African Art such as Kasfir, Kyeyune, Ifee, Sanyal, Kakande Kwesiga, Tumusiime, Ssempangi, Nnagenda Kizito, I was converted to their philosophy. This philosophy advocated for practicing and adopting a form of Art that is skewed towards African consciousness in terms so subject matter style and finish.

Deputy Ambassador Lorenza Gambacorta (Centre) together with Mathias (on behalf of UCADSR), present a painting and certificate of appreciation to Mr Averono Pietro for his support to UCADSR

It is surprising that both Tusiime and Katarikawe benefit greatly from this school of thought yet most formally trained African Artists continue to stick to western principles and elements when making paintings, sculptures ceramics, Fashion. Jewelers, etcetera.
However, much as we categorize Artists like Tusiime, Katarikawe and a large number of other excellent African Artists as “self-taught” This notion about “self-taught” is challenged by some Artists. Their preamble is that since such artists like Tusiime and Katarikawe have been made and lived among Faculty members and the general Art students alumni in Makerere and other art institutions, they have received some form of formal education training in Arts either consciously or unconsciously. When I tried to bring up this debate during Katarikawe’s vigil, I was advised by the president of Ugandan Artists Association and his Kenyan counterpart, Lady Annabelle (an extremely gifted “self-taught” artist from Kenya) to give credit to self-taught artists and not to mix them in the same bag with formally trained artists.
I therefore apologize If I have mixed Tusiime’s art in the same bag with that of academically trained Artists.
Story by: Ibanda Joshua