The Netherlands through my eyes

My experience during the Parallel Portrait Project

Martha Namutosi travelled to the Netherlands together with her lecturer Nathan Omiel for an art exhibition at Minerva Art Academy. In the previous issue, we ran  a story of Omiel’s  experience during the trip. This week, Namutosi tells her experience

The theme of portraying the elderly was a new subject that captured my attention on first sight through an email sent by my lecturer Eria. The e-mail was informing me that I had been selected to go to the Netherlands for an Art exhibition about the elderly.

In my society, elderly are considered to be knowledge transmitters, especially to younger generations. However, often they are  ignored because of the physical and mental disabilities that come with aging. So the trip came as an opportunity for me to research, interact, understand ‘elderly-ness’ and also portray it from my artistic perspective.

Right from the beginning in the Netherlands, the project was interactive involving both the students and teachers on the same platform. This concept of student-teacher discussions helped me gain more confidence in presenting my ideas though it seemed tough at the beginning because of the critics.

I also had several discussions on Facebook with students and teachers from Minerva Art Academy and Uganda Christian University (UCU), on how ‘elderly-ness’ is perceived in different societies. I raised some questions which prompted more practical research.

I was challenged to explore different media to portray my grandmother who always kept for me rice sacks for future art projects.

It was such a great privilege for me.

My experience in the Netherlands was great and very educative. Socially, I felt very comfortable with my hosts Elena and Lola who received us on our arrival in Groningen. Wytze and Lola took us around the Art Academy, and helped us plan for our stay.

At Minerva Art Academy, both teachers and students were very welcoming, interactive and were curious to know more about our lives.

Most people that attended the exhibition appreciated the whole concept of portraying the elderly accompanied by inspirational stories.

The viewers I interacted with associated more with the background story about my grandmother and I. They were curious about how she inspired me to embroider the rice sacks which are usually thrown away or burnt after use.

After the exhibition, I attended some drawing classes which seemed so different from the ones I have here. Students in the Netherlands are encouraged to develop their own artistic styles and concepts. I noticed that each student had unique work. And the teacher interacted with each of the students throughout the lecture while giving helpful comments and thoughts about their works. Probably this is possible because the number of students is not big, making it easy for the teacher to deal with each of the students.

I also loved the fact that students freely suggested ideas to their teachers about class or work and their suggestions were considered important, which felt very different from our system in Uganda where a teacher’s word is final and always considered true and unquestionable.

This often limits creativity among students and encourages more of copy-and-paste. It also lowers the quality of work produced by the students.

The academy is well equipped with exhibition halls, studios and a library which offers a favourable art atmosphere to students doing art to carry out their projects. And from the conversation I had with some of the students, the availability of these facilities has enabled them execute good quality work, enabling competition at an international level as professional artists.

The other observation I made was that most of the work done by students at the academy was unique but also monotonous in terms of the materials used.

The major materials were paper, canvas and metal, whereas at UCU and for a number of practising artists, we use  various art materials like waste bottles, bottle tops, plastics, fabric throwaways, polythene bags, to mention but a few.  Anything around us can be used to create a masterpiece, and students are encouraged to use recycled materials for their art projects.

This move aims at preserving a healthy environment for everyone.

The programme at the academy is also limited in terms of the course units offered to art students. Students don’t really have a variety to choose from. In Uganda, most art schools offer a variety of course units like fashion, fabrics, ceramics, sculpture, computer graphics, drawing, painting etc. This really seems like a lot of work for students but  one acquires several skills and in the end is able to specialise.

In conclusion, I have learnt and personally benefited from my experiences during the Parallel Portraits Exchange Programme.

The visit to the Netherlands widened my interaction, understanding of different cultures, and the education system. Probably considering a few aspects in the Ugandan education system like research, creativity and professionalism of international standards, freedom of expression by students, adequate facilities, etc, would help improve the value of students when out in the real world.

I think the way elders are handled in Uganda is good but a little more attention would make their lives  even better.

Which I think questions my role as an artist in such situations.

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