James Whistler, a famous nineteenth century American painter once said painting is visual poetry. While he may have said it in a different context, parallels can undeniably be drawn between his statement and the ingenious paintings of 35 year-old Ugandan visual artist, Veroniccah Muwonge.
It is easy to notice at first blush, that Muwonge wields a skilful painting brush. Hers is a paint brush that sketches expressionist and evocative art pieces. Most if not all of Muwonge’s paintings are heartfelt portrayals of everything from nature, traditional African cultures, people’s behaviours and everyday experiences of people she meets. In a sense, her art works represent an inward significance that is not outwardly obvious.
“I believe I was born to create. To create beauty in form of art. Painting feeds my soul. It is like food to me, I can not live without it. I use my art paintings to stimulate the mind. I enjoy making a world within another world. It is how I see art. The art process begins with imagination, generating ideas, and making up our own reality, fantasy, and dreams in a new form. Art is a universal language so I use it to bring out ideas that people know but do not give much thought to. Painting as a medium of communication is fun for me because I love color and its powerful effect on human emotions,” Muwonge says.
INSPIRATION TO PAINT
Casting her mind back, Muwonge says she was inspired and eventually made the decision to become an artist whilst in high school in Trinity College, Nabbingo and Taibah high school in the early 90’s.
“I thought I would become a performer growing up. I also enjoyed playing soccer, netball and ping pong but I just knew what I wanted to do with my life early on. I do not remember anyone influencing me to become an artist,” she says.
Muwonge however started painting professionally in 2003.
Traces of Muwonge’s artistic talent showed early as she narrates.
“I noticed how much I loved to draw whilst I was young. I drew a lot at the ages of 5/6-10. I knitted, wove, built tiny mud houses and learned to sew and crotchet at a young age. A ceramics piece was the first artistic piece I sold. I was in my senior 3 then,” she reminisces.
MESSAGES DEPICTED IN HER ART PIECES
Art is one of the best channels to highlight issues affecting our society, Muwonge notes. “I remember one particular piece I did titled “State Of The Nation”, where I used a woman’s face with exaggerated eyes, bold bright colors, mixed media (rubber tyre pieces) to depict the tension in Uganda at the height of the Idi Amin regime. When I did that piece, I got chequered reactions. But it served my purpose because I always prefer to make art and observe how people react to it. That is my way of getting into my audience’s heads. I learn so much about people from the way they interact and interpret my work. Through my artworks, i teach heal and inspire” she says Muwonge recently decided to incorporate photography into her work. She says, she has been able to transform her art pieces into new/unique characters with photography.
ON WINNING THE 2005 FORD FOUNDATION FELLOWSHIP FOR AFRICAN AND ARAB ARTISTS
Winning the fellowship stands out as a watershed moment for Muwonge.
“That was definitely one of the highest moments in my artistic career. I was young and fresh from college. I was still figuring out what life would be for me as an artist when the opportunity came. The recognition not only proved to me that I had potential, but also put me in places I had not even started dreaming of. I was awakened to dream bigger and to see the world beyond my own bubble. Life for me changed from that moment, in many more ways than I can count,” she says.
ON PROMOTING POSITIVE CHANGE WITH HER ART WORKS
Muwonge donates her art work for auction every year. “I like to use my talent to positively contribute to society. I donate my work to organizations for auctions to raise money for their projects in Africa. For the past three years, I have donated to Surge+Restore, an organisation that empowers people using the arts and dialogue. In 2010 I donated to a church in happy Valley Oregon, USA. The church does missionary work in Uganda. Currently am working on art projects for a local organization that supports survivors of domestic violence. The purpose of the project is to empower the survivors socially and economically. I have also helped the LETARTTALK organisation to empower and improve the lives of war affected youth and children in Northern Uganda with Fred Mutebi, a fellow artist,” Muwonge says.
Under the same project, Muwonge has conducted workshops in Masaka and Kampala.
IMPARTING ART SKILLS
Though she lives in Portland Oregon in the U.S, Muwonge intends to pass on her artistic knowledge to young Ugandans whenever she has the opportunity.
“I have taught art skills and helped women improve their crafts and craft sales across Africa. I intend to replicate that in my motherland, Uganda. Working with women groups taught me to appreciate the things we take for granted in life and to be more compassionate with others. It was a wonderful experience and a learning opportunity as well,” she says.
RESPONSES TO HER ART WORKS
Muwonge’s art works have received laurels whenever she exhibits.
As a testament, International organisations like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank purchased her art pieces for their humanitarian causes in Asia.
Muwonge’s works have been exhibited in countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria, Germany and the United States.
Muwonge wishes for an opportunity to get her work displayed in famous museums and to eventually build a museum. “Besides that, collecting amazing art works from different artists around the world would be my dream art project,” Muwonge says.
ON THE ARTS IN UGANDA
Muwonge is indisposed to the belief by many that the arts in Uganda have been glossed over.
“Artists in Uganda have worked so hard to claim the lost fame for the trade. There are many young talented people and they support and challenge each other. I applaud them for a job well done. The government however should do more to boost and encourage the talent. There is a lot of undiscovered artistic talent out there that deserves a chance to shine,” she says.
Muwonge was born in Kampala. She studied at Rubaga boys primary school (now Uganda Martyrs primary school) from 1989-1992.
She then joined Trinity College Nabbingo (93-96) for her O’levels. She sat for her A ‘levels at Taibah High School (97-98).
She thereafter joined Makerere University’s, then Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts. She graduated in March 2003 with a Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Arts.
Muwonge is currently pursuing a second degree in associates of applied science in Graphic design at the Portland Community College in Oregon in the United States.
“The art profession is very demanding. It requires a lot of hard work, patience and persistence. It is also difficult to maintain a steady income as an artist. Often I come across people who believe art is not a career. Their low opinions on art have however not dampened my motivation,” she says.
Muwonge was born to Vincent Muwonge and Rosemary Nalunga.
“My father wanted me to become an attorney and my mother a doctor. With time, they have embraced the person Iam and support and believe in my passion. My family has been a great motivation force for me as well and my son,” Muwonge says.
Muwonge is married, though she plans on it some day.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF WORK
At the moment, I spend most of my time at school. When I get chance, I go on hikes and exercise. Iam partial to live music, travel and hanging out though, I am naturally introverted,” Muwonge says.