Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Henry Lumu | Ugandan Contemporary Art



Artist: Henry Lutalo Lumu
Country: Uganda
Dates: 1939-1989

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.

4 comments:

Capone said...

Henry Lumu Lutalo,

One of East African outstanding artists. We miss him a great deal.He showed us the way forward without holding back in teaching us to learn and dream large in the art world. Thank you so much....

Dan Sekanwagi said...

Henry was the most liberally generous artist in terms of sharing of artistic techniques in a steeply competetive art market in the 1970s and 1980s back in Nairobi Kenya where several Ugandan artist sought refuge from a terror military regime back home. I guess that is the hallmark of confidence in ones craft that teaching one's technique does not diminish ones marketshare. Henry lives on in many of us who benifitted from his generosity.

Dan Sekanwagi
www.sekanwagi.com

Atwoki said...

What a star! Henry was an innovator and no doubt would have been one of the torch bearers of Ugandan art were he still alive. His influence on artists such as Dan Sekanwagi and David Kibuuka is proof that his work has trans-generational appeal. More information on his work would be very welcome.

Soul in need of more Jesus. said...

I have an original Henry Lumu painting on what appears to be bark cloth and attached to a hand woven matt. I am looking to sell. This is a fairly large piece at almost 4 ft. in length. My email is productmastr@yahoo.com if you are interested.