Afriart gallery usually plays host to some of the most talented artists in Kampala today, and on Friday, it presented us with the works of Paulo Akiiki. I got there, and was greeted warmly by the gallery orderlies, who also pointed me towards the drinks table, to pick my poison. After seeing to that need, I went inside and proceeded to feast my eyes.
When I went to the ’Reflections: Power of the sun’ exhibition, all I knew was that Paulo gets inspiration from the ever sparkling bright sun. It appears that the sun is also a signature in his paintings. The subject of this particular exhibition seemed to have its roots in the drier regions of East Africa. It was the abundant use of yellow in the paintings and the use of the sun that caught my attention. I went on a fact-finding mission to ascertain my findings.
For the first few paintings that I saw, I was sort of playing a game of ‘find the sun’. It was pretty straightforward in most of them, but in some others, it could’ve easily been confused with a tree. When he says that he blends two artistic traditions – the African aesthetics juxtaposed with a touch of the modern arts concepts – I see the uniqueness of his work. He doesn’t emphasize details, but when he does, it is with a clear purpose. At least I managed to note the Nilotic influences of the clothes in some of the paintings. The trademark Maasai shawls were evident, and so was their proud and dignified body language captured so vividly in a piece called ‘Perspective II’.
Paulo Akiiki uses the impasto style (heavy chunks of paint technique) with which he specializes mainly in oil on canvas paintings and acrylic on board. He blends two artistic traditions to make a new, unified and sensitive whole, a great reflection in his master pieces. He has a strong focus on elongated, youthful female figures, whose striking self-composure underlines that they are controlled, proud, and dignified. He paints landscapes that seem to merge with the sky and the ground. You’d be forgiven to think that everything seems to be floating. Such is the uplifting effect of ‘the power of the sun’ in his paintings.
Another painting, ‘Just the two of us,’ caught my attention. It seemed to summarize the artist’s impasto style the most. Large swirls of colour depicting the vast emptiness of desert, an orb to the side, gentle curves of brown sweeping this way and that, and two miniature figures in the foreground looked like quite the impression of having a companion in the struggle we call life. We may be like insignificant grains of sand in the desert that is our existence, but the desert isn’t a desert without several grains of sand, is it? I had several sips of my drink taking in this painting. I think I also saw a crested crane somewhere in that picture. Way to be a proud Ugandan artist Paulo!
I also noticed that in a lot of the paintings, the focal point was off-centre. This is in strong contrast to a lot of paintings I’ve seen. I later learnt that this is part of the modern style referenced earlier. This, in combination with the gentle swirls, makes for a soft, easy sight to take in. It helped that there was a seat in the inner room; otherwise I’d have dropped from the dizziness caused by the swirls.
There were a few snacks on the house, but I saw them when I was almost done with the paintings. Afriart gallery is quite the homely place to go to and appreciate art, if you’re with the right company. But with all the dazzling art on display, what more company would you need?
Image: “Love for a Child” http://www.terigalleries.com/akiiki.shtml