Artist Edward Kamugisha Ssajjabbi works on a painting at his studio home in Kabale, Uganda, July 22, 2022. (Photo: Xinhua)
File photo taken on May 8, 2018 shows a painting by artist Edward Kamugisha Ssajjabbi on display during the 8th Beijing International Art Biennial. (Photo: Xinhua)
In one of the paintings, Edward Kamugisha Ssajjabbi tells a story of the Beijing Winter Olympics as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
The artwork also shows three people pushing the coronavirus into the fire while a scientist conducts research. It also features a lamp signaling the light of life and modern buildings representing Beijing. The Great Wall of China can be seen in the background.
This is one of the Ssajjabbi canvas artworks depicting the relationship between China, Africa and the world.
Born in Kabale, a remote hilly southwestern district of Uganda, Ssajjabbi has used his talent through perseverance to reach the international scene.
Ssajjabbi has faced multiple successes and difficulties en route to the global scene.
As a young boy, Ssajjabbi used to frequent his father’s bar where a painter exhibited his work.
“I admired the way he did it and loved helping him when he retrieved objects from around him during the execution process. Later, when he left, I started frequenting our bar with papers and pens to copy what he was doing. Ssajjabbi, who is also an academic, told Xinhua.
“This forced me to explore colors, specifically using yams and bananas for white, smashing batteries for black, and even using earth for different colors. That’s how I found myself in art,” he added.
Years later, Ssajjabbi was able to study from graduate level as an art teacher to PhD in design and visual culture.
“I have done several art exhibitions, both alone and collectively, locally, nationally and internationally, which have consistently introduced me to art and its benefits,” he said.
In addition to teaching art at Kabale University in the southwest of the country, Ssajjabbi also paints on canvas for commercial purposes. He doesn’t have a real art studio, but uses one of the rooms in his apartment.
His pictures are mainly about tourism, life in rural Uganda and culture. Most of Ssajjabbi’s customers are foreign tourists who flock to the region to view mountain gorillas.
DARE TO CHINA
While Ssajjabbi has traveled the world for art, his first foray into China was in 2019 when he was invited to participate in the Eighth International Art Biennale in Beijing.
The Beijing International Art Biennale, held since 2002, promotes global harmony through exhibitions of contemporary artworks. More than 100 countries are represented at the Biennale, more than 5,000 artists present their visual works of art.
Earlier this year, Ssajjabbi virtually participated in the ninth edition of the Beijing International Art Biennale.
He said the biennale is important for African artists because they exhibit their art alongside artists from around the world.
“There are many artists from different countries around the world participating in this biennial, and through this, African artists exchange their culture with the rest of the world through visual communication,” he said.
“Africans will also increase their understanding by sharing different approaches in the execution processes of the art forms,” he added.
Ssajjabbi argued that through visual communication, China also understands more about other countries’ cultures.
He said he was invited to China’s Taiwan and Senegal in West Africa for the 2022 Biennale.
At home, Ssajjabbi shares his China experience with his students at Kabale University.
Through art, one can appreciate and also inspire others to love their culture, Ssajjabbi said.
“Chinese have preserved their culture, which they share with the rest of the world through art, so we must compete and catch up,” he said.
Ssajjabbi argued that art is a key component in a country’s development.
“In almost every industry in a country, art is used to promote development. In engineering, for manufacturing, you need sketches and drawings as sources of inspiration, not a previously known culture that exists without clothes, and that is fashion and design,” he noted.
“In hospitals, ceramics are used to make bone parts to replace broken ones, and there are even teeth made of clay. Art is a forerunner of development, there is no development without art,” Ssajjabbi added.
Ssajjabbi is optimistic that he will complete his PhD in design and visual culture within the next five years. He hopes to use the knowledge generated to guide students at higher levels of education, particularly in research.
He said he will also use the knowledge gained to improve his artworks, especially paintings.