In memory of Geoffrey Mukasa: Exhibiting at AKA Gallery at Tulifanya
Geoffrey Mukasa – friend and “genius loci” – will they name a street after you – one day, print a stamp with one of your iconic paintings?
Written by Klaus Betz
The French, no strangers to Fine Art, call their greatest artists “Les phares”. A “beacon” you are for the growing family of Ugandan painter-artists. Yet, there is no ‘Pantheon’ for you and no ‘Musèe Pompidou’ where the curious, rich and learned come to hold artistic communion with their Beckmans and Matisses with whom you not only share cadmium and caput mortem but also depth, sensuality and creative energy.
Reticent (let my paintings speak for me!) frail, solitary (amongst your own fraternity and kindred), haunted by the demons of your destroyed childhood – from where then, dear friend, we wonder, did you take this energy emanating from (much of) your work.
From where these serene, sometimes austere and often sexy portraits and cultural “landscapes” when your personal life was now and then thrown into turmoil and every so often became overshadowed by tormenting thoughts and memories.
True enough, appreciated foremost by the Western eye with its unforgiving aesthetic and formal criteria, your work has fascinated (fascination being the litmus test for the work of the genius) many an artistic mind and collector. Indeed, your genius married African spirituality, African humanity with the greater concepts of pictorial art – no mean achievement of yours where many of your colleagues fell short of it.
Geoffrey Mukasa, you have come a long way – physically and spiritually. From Uganda to India you travelled where your artistic formation took place and where you were administered a substantial dose of oriental eroticism. Onto Europe where you found the motif (and love) for your sensuous nudes – back to Uganda where your creative energies took possession of its people, culture and nature.
Geoffrey, friend and comrade in arms, today we have come together to celebrate your work one last time, to the give-away party, so to speak:- Your paintings the bride, we the guests, you the father of the bride – left behind, empty handed…..
Geoffrey, your works gracing walls in many a house, pride of many an art connoisseur, found all over the world….
Geoffrey, Your art! The street? The stamp?
Klaus Betz is a German artist and friend of Geoffrey Mukasa.
The life of Geoffrey Mukasa
Geoffrey was born on 21st June 1954 at Mulago Government Hospital Kampala to Rose Mary Wasswa and Dr. Ssembeguya. He descends from some of the most prominent and historique political figures in Uganda. He was the grandson of Sir Apollo Kaggwa, (1864–1927), appointed Prime Minister (Katikkiro) of Buganda 1890-1926.
Written by Josephine Mukasa and Rose Kirumira.
He was the first born of his mother and third born to his father, Dr. Ssembeguya and had the opportunity to live in the palace of Buganda Kingdom at Bulange, Mengo where he had access to the rich Ganda political culture. His mother and brother say that Geoffrey was a good and quiet young man who loved riding the bicycle, an Indian sports bicycle, and watching cowboy films. These interests later led him into his best free time favorite activity of drawing cowboys, horses and guns.
Growing-up: Schooling and Friends
He went to Agha Khan Primary School; Mityana Boarding Secondary School in Namukozi [1967-68] where he studied with the prominent Ugandan artist Nuwa Nyanzi. Nuwa Nyanzi says that he was quiet and short tempered. He never displayed or showed any possible artistic inclination and this may have been due to the fact that art was not part of the school curriculum. He later joined Kibuli Secondary School where he completed his UACE offering Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
Geoffrey had been accepted for studies in the United Kingdom to take a course in interior design, however he did not make it due to visa problems at the time. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art from Lucknow University, India (1978-1988) then came back to his homeland and worked as a graphic artist with Ministry of information 1981-1984 at Uganda Television.
Working with Lutwama, Mpagi and Eli Kyeyune
After Geoffrey finished his formal training in Fine Art, India and came back to Uganda, he also continued to develop his natural gift for drawing and painting. He worked together with colleagues and friends, late Romano Lutwama, Fabian Mpagi and Eli Kyeyune, who were some of the Ugandan master painters in the 70s ,80s and 90s.
He spent several years acquiring a derivative style of his own. He spared a room in his house for a painting studio. He became a distinguished and highly regarded artist, admired for his industriousness and probity. He was capable of quickly assimilating his techniques and had a great gift for expressing his own vision. He executed commissions for banks and embassies.
However, there is a certain irony in understanding Geoffrey, for little was known of the facts of his life. The desire to preserve biographical documents is not a highly developed practice in Uganda, so there is almost no reliable evidence about the shaping years of Geoffrey’s life. His first years are largely as blank in historical records, a blank on which we project the shadow of the man he was to become, not the firm outlines of his youth.
Geoffrey’s mother and father belonged to well to do families. Both the riches inherited from his parents therefore they could afford to live on a substantial income. He grew up with his mother with limited attachment to his father. Even the death of Geoffrey’s father had little effect on his prosperity especially as an art student or a practicing artist. Isolation formed the basis of Geoffrey’s temperament. It created his definite independence and a fluent side of his nature of loneliness.
His mother says that his body was feeble but with a creative brain and very diplomatic mannerisms. Geoffrey is survived by two beautiful girls. The children seemed to be an emotional balance wheel, innocently soothing his excitements, ministering to his despondencies acting as a sounding board for his ideas and most remarkably, allowing them to be used as bench marks against which Geoffrey sometimes notably and always carefully measured his artistic progress.
Residing in Munyonyo
Geoffrey, until his death, together with his children resided in Munyonyo in the house which once belonged to this mother. Within the house, the section of the garage served as his studio. Munyonyo about fifteen kilometers from the Kampala City center is a rich suburb with parts of it facing the picturesque view of Lake Victoria. It is typical of Uganda’s rich lake shore landscape with plenty of rainfall and sunshine. The surrounding fields exhibited abundant urban crops of the area included fruit trees of mangoes within low income homesteads, bungalows and upscale hotels.
Geoffrey’s house was relatively small with dark stone walls broken by small windows, heavy dark green vegetation surrounding but which gave him a view of the road. This green country side made an impression on Geoffrey’s landscape backgrounds in some of his acrylic and oil paintings. They show a remarkably happy expression, with sunset or sunrise scene as backdrops to scattered houses, lively flowers or trees. The ideas of these landscapes perfectly match the simple lives of the people and vegetation found in the area. They are done with stylistic device with some realistic interpretation of the landscape in which Geoffrey grew up.
Josephine Mukasa is Dean of the School of Commercial Industrial Art & Design at Nkumba University. She is also the supervisor at the AKA Gallery at Tulifanya House.
Dr Rose Kirumira Namubira is one of the few Ugandan contemporary female artists specializing in the sculpture of the human form in wood normally with other media, clay and concrete. She is currently the Deputy Dean of MTSIFA.