Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Henry Lumu | Ugandan Contemporary Art
Artist: Henry Lutalo Lumu
Henry Lutalo Lumu is credited by many of Uganda's artists as being one of the country's brightest and most widely influential talents of modern Ugandan art from as early as the 1950s until his death in 1989. Studying under Margaret Trowell at Makerere University, Lumu became adept at drawing at an early age. While also beginning to work with semi-abstract forms, still felt his art was strongly anchored within the precise drawing of form. Choosing to gradually modify the shapes, tones, and style of his works to incorporate less natural appearances, he nevertheless incorporated recognizable figures and objects executed in an innovative semi-abstract style.
However he still felt that students who were taught abstract techniques before becoming adept at drawing were cheated from becoming complete artists. In 1965, he expressed his disappointment with what he saw was an over-emphasis on abstraction at the expense of skilled drawing as a foundation for artistic expression:
"We are not yet ready for abstract art. Our audience wants some recognizable link with the work of art on view. The purely abstract painting, whose emphasis is on isolated aesthetic values, will not fit into any context that is familiar. Abstraction comes naturally only after a society or individual has thoroughly explored the objective world. If abstraction is encouraged in our schools, it will be a grave injustice to the eventual development of our art. The younger generations should be taught first to draw, to measure their universe carefully. After that intimate contact has been established, then they can run off into the wild with their imaginations."
While this debate carried on, art of this period benefited from a rich cross-fertilization of influences and creative talents culminating in several artists being recognized as stylistic leaders in the emerging modernism and mixed abstract styles which defined this era.
Further stimulating this competitive environment, Uganda’s premier petroleum corporations Esso and Caltex, held widely publicized art competitions rewarding leading artists by having their work grace yearly calendars published and distributed widely throughout the region.
Uganda’s Art on Television
Beginning in 1968, Lumu held regularly televised art classes on Uganda National Television. This broad exposure helped to stimulate growth of a dynamic, extended art community which was based around but expanded well beyond the Makerere campus. Fellow artist David Wasswa Katongole was hired under Lumu as assistant artistic director.
In addition to gaining wider exposure for art within Uganda, Lumu’s weekly broadcasts had the result of stimulating a new wave of aspiring artists to create new visual universes by mixing imagination and input from the world around them. Artist James Kitamirike recalls:
"Henry created these incredible scenes right before my eyes -- I couldn’t believe what I was seeing."
"I remember one show where he painted goats so real it seemed you could feel them breathe on you. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be an artist who could paint like that."
While Lumu's short life ended in 1989, his creative spirit and artistic legacy are immortalized in the works he created and through the generations of Ugandan artists which count him among their primary influences in their art and careers.