By Richard Wetaya
Often it is
stated that old age considers, whilst youth ventures.
This adage especially holds true if you are referencing 25 year old enterprising visual artist Elvis Lusiba.
Lusiba has for the last 14 years chosen to use his artistic talents as a platform to better his circumstances and to impact other people, especially the apprentice young children, he teaches in different schools around Uganda.
“I use art as a tool to communicate, to effect change and to sensitise communities.
I and my colleagues at Global Native, a Ugandan Canadian nongovernmental organisation, use art to tackle issues such as self-expression, poverty, ignorance of self and unemployment. We do this through creative art workshops with youth and street Kids around different regions of the country. We teach orphans and other underprivileged children different art disciplines. My set aims are to rekindle the spirit of the youth and the underprivileged and to spread values that will hopefully impact and bring about a positive change in their lives,” Lusiba says.
At his work station in Masaka, Lusiba goes about his painting, etching, drawing and visual design work with an aura of dedication.
Idly and unconstructively whiling away time is not Lusiba’s inclination.
“I do not have time outside of work. 99% of my time is spent artistically and mentally working and visualising ideas. I do not just do art, I live art as a life style. It is part and parcel of my daily life. I’ am always thinking of new possibilities. I know one thing for a fact, if you resolutely believe in something, there can be no impediment to achieving it,” Lusiba says.
2012 stood out as a memorable year for Lusiba, on account of his impressive showcasing at the Mocada museum of contemporary Diaspora Arts in Brooklyn, New York.
Lusiba rose to the occasion exhibiting exquisite African mural paintings, acrylic paintings and African crafts.
Lusiba says his trip to America brought him to terms with the fact that African art especially paintings and outfits emblazoned with African artifacts are some of the most appreciated and treasured items in the western world.
Other notable showcases for his artistic works have been at the Afri art gallery, Bayimba international festival of Arts, Laba Arts festival, Mishmash gallery, the Lounge and at the Uganda Museum.
As a means of changing the lives of youths and children around different regions of Uganda, Lusiba and a Canadian Friend, Mike Parks started Globally Native, a nongovernmental organisation that uses the arts to effect change in 2012.
“We do this through interactive and creative live art workshops and community outreach activities with youth and street kids around different regions of Uganda. Our projects are arts education inspired and driven. We provide the children and youth with a platform to learn, grow and work with the visual arts. The children learn ceramics, painting, sculpturing, drawing, music, dance, drama, live t-shirt painting, printing and crafts making. Currently we are partnering with the Mile child foundation which hosts tens of interns and volunteers from all over the world to inspire and teach. The Mile child foundation essentially provides the children with basic help like food, clothing, accommodation, love and moral support. We also work with many other non governmental organisations such as the Art tree foundation (United Kingdom),Emlisada children’s home Nsambya, Nazareth children’s home Masaka, Weaver bird arts foundation via Jammasana (the murals of east Africa) Stand tall Education network (Canada) and many more,” Lusiba adds.
Lusiba’s art expressions are normally through acrylics on canvas, emblazoned t-shirts and mural paintings.
“I make customized, printed and painted t-shirts emblazoned with local designs in bulk and I supply them to art galleries, coffee shops and craft markets around Kampala. I also make them on client orders. I also make crafty simple paintings on canvas for sell whenever I travel around Uganda. I carry t-shirts in my back pack to market whenever I travel,” Lusiba says.
At present, Lusiba is organising to travel to Italy for a photo, painting and solo art exhibition.
He is also planning a tour around other European countries.
He reveals that the tour will involve art piece showcases and workshops with youth and children.
THE START UP
Lusiba started bearing a hand in art after he dropped out of secondary school in the late 90’s.
“I just started with abstract drawings behind the back of my book. I used my tuition fees to the tune of 420,000 to purchase the requisite art pieces I needed to get started. It was after a flash of intuition that I realized I could make a living out of what my paintings and 2.4 million sales from my hand painted T-shirts that I sold to an American volunteer organisation. I would have loved to continue with school like mum wished but circumstances did not allow. Mum often dissuaded me, saying art can not be a job and that I will end up in the narrowest of circumstances. At the end of it all however, I reached a deduction that pursuing a dream is better than working in an office, bank or being a doctor. I ‘am proud, I’ am not chasing money or working my whole life just to earn a salary. I’ am proud to share my artistic knowledge free of charge with the kids, I teach,” Lusiba explains.
Lusiba says he generates monthly income to the tune of 1.5million shillings.
“Sometimes it is less mostly when there are few Caucasian and Asian tourists in Masaka or the art workshops where I exhibit at. My income is, by and large, based on how many international people i reach out to,” Lusiba reveals.
ON HIS WORK WITH PEOPLE IN THE SLUMS
Working with underprivileged people, especially those in the slums is Lusiba’s passion.
“The slums are beautiful and diverse in terms of creativity and entrepreneurship. People who dwell in these slums have unique stories and challenges, from the single mothers who raise children singlehandedly through financial difficulty and the orphaned children who try to make the best out of the bad bargains they face every day. These stories inspire me to continue helping and to be a voice for the voiceless. I’ am also happen to be a product of that environment,” Lusiba says.
CHALLENGES HE HAS FACED
In the art industry, there is a lot of competition. For Lusiba, it is not the competition that unnerves but the unfairness.
“The art industry is unfairly competitive. The already established mature artists and the best galleries in Kampala do not organise art exhibition for starters. We the young artists struggle to take root and to make a living out of art. We have to bid time to be recognised,” Lusiba laments.
Lusiba says marketing his art pieces has been a tall order.
“I have the potential to produce thousands of artistic products but then where will i sell them. Marketing them is not easy. I have been trying to promote and sell T-shirt samples to coffee shops in Masaka but the owners are always wishy washy, undecided on whether to sell them or not. Whilst some complain of a lack of money, others out rightly tell me they are not interested in selling them, even when we agree that profits shall be shared. Many people in Uganda are still stuck in the craft level of art and are not willing to learn the contemporary visual aspect to art. By contemporary, I mean sculpture, artistic drawings, etching, pottery, street fashion, and painting. We need to liberate art from the age old academic tradition. The arts need to be supported by our government. We need more galleries, theatres and cultural centers to exhibit our artworks,” Lusiba says.
Lusiba was also hit hard when Mishmash gallery in Kololo closed. He says he lost monthly profits to the tune of Uganda shillings 300,000.
Lusiba was born to the late Charles Ddungu Ssalongo and Edith Nyende.
“My dad passed on in 2008. I and my two sisters were raised by our mother. Much as she did not want me to do art, she gave me all the moral support I needed and I owe every gratitude to her for being there for us in the harshest of circumstances,” Lusiba remarks.
Lusiba says his future plan is to construct an arts space away from the hustle and bustle of Kampala on some 20 acres of land in Masaka.
“We intend to construct a building almost like a university or a hall. We shall organise regular forums, workshops, documentary film screenings and modern art festivals for up and coming young artists and poets. We shall also have art studios for every type of art form and art galleries to display art works,” Lusiba says.