Faces show the Covid effect in an exhibition of Ugandan masks

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By BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on – claiming lives, devastating economies and upending livelihoods – so do the terms used to describe it.

In Uganda, face masks have become the norm. Additionally, local radio presenters have adopted the terms “Senyiga Omukwabwe” and “Lumiima Mawugwe” to refer to the pandemic.

One of these words piqued the interest of Samson Ssenkaaba aka Xenson, and the result is his latest art exhibition titled LumiimaMawugwe at Xenson Art Space in Kampala.

Xenson says her exhibit is her reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“LumiimaMawugwe is one of the terms that has been used by radio presenters to talk about Covid-19. So I adopted it for the exhibition. Art is a reflection of our society and what we are going through he says.

During the early days of the pandemic, he found sketches of masked portraits that had been signed in 2015. Xenson recalled seeing Chinese people wearing masks around 2014 in downtown Kampala. He also remembers going to Kabale district where the air was refreshing compared to the cosmopolitan city of Kampala. This sparked a series of drawings and ideas.

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Symbolism

In the exhibit, the face mask depicts the Covid-19 pandemic as “a symbol which in this case is the talisman. To be protected from Covid-19, you need a mask, even to access a public space.

More than 24 works of acrylic on canvas, bark and car tire rubber are exhibited. Most of them are portraits of people wearing face masks, necklaces, in various hairstyles and headgear.

They include Bakawonawo, Remnannts 1 and 2, Tweyagala feka, Nanteza 1 to 5, Kaguta, Ssentamu and Byanyima.

Tweyagala feka depicts five young girls playing the famous local game with their face masks and the same puffy hairstyle.

Kawonawo depicts a man wearing a rubber mask made from car tires, and Bakawonawo shows three men wearing rubber masks made from car tires. Remnannts 1 and Remnannts 2 are works composed of acrylic, barkcloth and rubber masks.

Nantes 1

Nantes 1, by Xenson. PICTURES | COURTESY

“Bakawonawo and Remnannt is the story of us who survived the pandemic and the stories we need to share,” says Xenson. “The exhibition brings the public to reflect on the Covid-19 and its impact, and expresses the difficult times that the opposition, in particular the young people, faced during the 2020/2021 elections.”.

The lyrics to Xenson’s new song, Bugulumu, are also on display. The inspirational song seeks to bring comfort and hope in traumatic and depressing times.

The song blends African folk music and African griot tradition with a distinct akogo (thumb piano) and soft orchestral bridge. It has rich ancient Luganda proverbs (engero) as well as poetry.

The exhibition opened on November 6, 2021 and will run until January 14.

Xenson is a multimedia artist who interrogates contemporary issues through installations, videos, performances, poetry, fashion and paintings.

He is the founder of Xenson Art Space, a curated multi-disciplinary art space aimed at nurturing the new creative generation; providing a space for artists to exhibit and showcase their work.

Xenson, who holds a degree in painting and graphic design from Makerere University, has participated in exhibitions and residencies around the world.

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