How to make Art interesting?
We believe that Ugandan art is already interesting and that the real issue is one of making the art more accessible to both the national and international markets. The original concept for setting up Signature Art was to create a non-for profit business that could provide the opportunity for Ugandan artists to exhibit their work in a modern professional environment.By Tricia Glover and Teri McLeod, Signature Art Group .
In our first three years in Uganda, we spent our time exploring the back streets of Kampala. Searching out private art studios, workshops, galleries, and looking at paintings in restaurants and bars. In all that time, we bought zero pictures! There was simply too much dust, heat and pictures – normally stacked one on top of the other – we were overwhelmed by choice, indecision and fatigue.
The solution was to bring the art and the artists to us, in one exhibition. An exhibition that had display boards, lighting, air conditioning, and a social atmosphere that made viewing art fun. We wanted people to be able to experience each painting as a unique expression of the artist’s view and one they could share with others or chose not to.
Our first exhibition was held at the Kabira Country club. And in the first night, the three artists – Ronex, Paulo Akiiki and Edison Mugalo – sold nearly seventy five percent of their paintings. Over a hundred and fifty people crowded into a relatively small room and were thoroughly impressed. In the press and television, the event was hailed as a success. This was because the public wanted to be there, they wanted to buy paintings and they wanted to meet the artists.
The second exhibition at the Serena was on a much larger scale. Our aim was (and is) to make each exhibition unique. This time a joint corporate sponsorship allowed us to import modern display equipment, and the rooms in the Serena were magnificent. Our advertising was aimed at promoting this exhibition as a high class social event with over 12 Ugandan artists taking part and fine wine and beer provided.
Over six hundred people attended, including generals, honourary members, ambassadors, company executives , students, teachers etc. Images of art surrounded by people from all walks of life were captured in the national press and television.
This was not an expat event as one paper described it. This was a cultural event in every sense of the word.
From the publicity generated, we have now had interest from New York, Canada and London to host a similar event.
What makes art interesting?
There is no easy answer. But for Signature Art, it is about creating difference. We work with the artists and our sponsors to try and create an exhibition that is beyond ordinary, beyond the back street studios. Essentially for art to succeed, here in Uganda we have to market art as a desireable product. An investment both in culture and for the future. A unique commodity that everyone who is someone wants to be part of.
Signature Art believes placing art on the social calendar is the first step to changing the public’s perception of art as a painting bought in hot dusty market with an identical copy being sold two stalls down. Each piece of art is different, unique, a imaginary thumbprint on a canvas that is forever changing, and every culture leaves its own legacy.
Ugandan artists have to be given the opportunity to create their own national legacy.
Start Journal invites you to read Henry Mzili Mujunga’s article Corporate sponsorship of the arts: Friend or Foe? on the same topic.