BY BYRON OTTO
You may have seen various art pieces (or sculptures) on your way past or into the Technology Park (commonly known as Tech Park at UCU) at the south-west end of the university.
These art pieces were erected to depict various interpretations of diverse visual, imaginative and technical traits. The intention is that they would be appreciated for their beauty, intellectual and emotional power.
However, most of them are in ruins, and the usual reaction they evoke is criticism, if not ridicule, of the art industry.
The Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Art (BIFA) course has sculpture as one of the requirements for passing the exams. The students are judged on their imagination and initiative, as well as their ability to display pieces for aesthetic pleasure. However, their finished products decay due to lack of proper care upon completion.
Dr William Kayamba, the BIFA head of department, said that there is need for a curriculum review and for the department to break away from the Faculty of Education and Arts to form its own independent department.
“Our budget is cut, yet 80 percent of the work in the art industry is practical and only 20 percent is the theory we give to our students to support their practical work,” he said.
He added that there is need for the university administration to open an art gallery for exhibitions of art material and also as a source of inspiration to students offering the course.
“However, the art students also need to be proactive and not lazy. They should possess personal initiative to advance their careers because the job market after school is not conducive, and the level of art appreciation is low.
So it is up to them to increase awareness and appreciation of their work.”
According to Start, a journal of art and culture in Uganda, before Margaret Trowell founded the Fine Art School at Makerere University in 1971, she emphasised the importance of building existing artistic practices and later introduced new techniques such as silkscreen printing.
“This echoed the British style of administration in protectorates. Students came from all over East Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe, to Uganda, but this fertile artistic environment evaporated (following political instability in the country). All public debate was stifled and many prominent artists went into exile.”
Art can indeed be a source of job creation and income In South Africa, for example, it was noted that the first cultural and creative industry mapping in 2014 created between 162,809 and 192,410 jobs, about 1.08 percent to 1.28 percent of employment in the country, and contributed 2.9 percent to the country’s GDP.
The global mapping study as shown in an article published by The Conversation an online publication in 2016, indicates that employment in the art industry is relatively open to people from all ages and backgrounds, and is a good source of income for small scale firms. This means that art can be a profitable business enterprise, if resources are dedicated to enhancing its capacity.
Amon Asiimwe, a BIFA studio attendant said that the university needs to invest more in various fabrics other than only concrete materials, which have been used over time.
“Materials such as wood, bronze, silver, copper, and glass can boost the standard of art training at UCU,” he said.
Patience Yakoubu, a BIFA student, says she thought she was going to an abandoned factory the first time she located the art studios.
“I was surprised, I did not know what to make of the place, but I just had to work with what was at hand.”
Grace Ashe Sebulime, a BIFA tutor, suggested that the university administration could boost the standards of the department to the desired levels and inspire students to embrace commercial art.
“Programmes for the students to have field trips to art galleries and interact with other artists will help them produce their very best since the students lack exposure to the outside world,” he says.
Sublime also urged the students to look beyond classwork marks and the products of their classmates, and instead produce work ready to compete in a dynamic world.
Dr John Senyonyi, the university vice chancellor, says that breaking away from the Faculty of Education and Arts does not solve the problem in the art industry. It will instead increase the university budget in funding various faculties.
“I do not stop them from pursuing their need to break away from the Faculty of Education and Arts. For as long as they qualify to become a faculty, I have no problem,” he said.
He also noted that the university tries as much as possible to give financial support to faculties to enable them achieve their goals.
He urged the art department to organise exhibitions that will help them sell their products to generate funds that can be used to organise field trips as demanded by the curriculum.