Fred Mutebi is a master woodcut maker. But he is also an environmentalist, promoting tree planting in general and the Mutuba tree in particular. The bark of this tree is the producer of the famous bark cloth of the Baganda.
Fred combined one and one (my request and his mission) and produced an Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa on a very thin type of bark cloth surface. He also experiments with other types of paper, in some cases mixed with bark cloth, leading to special colours and fibres that, in this case, back the King.
We have one more artist to feature, but would already like to bring to your attention that you now have only three more days to go and see all the featured art works for yourself at Makerere University Gallery. Please do. Few (if any) have been disappointed.
Odama Jacob is good at making portraits of people in painting or sculpture based on a limited amount of visual information. He did this with former presidents Amin and Obote for instance. But when I visited him a couple of years ago he was making a group portrait of a daughter and her parents, based on three different photographs, one less focussed and containing less detail than the other. A picture of the three of them together did not exist. Until Odama made it.
When I asked him to interpret Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa he initially planned to make a water-colour version of it.
A month later he called me. He was done. It was not a water colour that he made. The photograph did not have enough information to go with. Even for him. And also my budget was too small.
Odama showed me an a3 sized black and white photocopied picture. It was clearly based on Stanley’s photograph. But there were also faces that I recognised from elsewhere. Stansilaus Mukwanya was there, on the far right. And Apolo Kagwa, behind the Kabaka. These two chiefs posed for a photograph during the first decade of the 20th century, about 30 years after Muteesa did. They accompanied Daudi Chwa, the child-king and Muteesa’s grandson.
When I expressed my surprise about his interpretation he dig into his waste bin. Out came the materials he had been working with. The cut ups of photographs, the previous versions of enhanced details of ‘the original’.
The chiefs around Muteesa have barely any detail to their appearances, leave alone a character that could be read from the faces. Odama conflated times. He merged photographs and enhanced still missing details in a very subtle way with pencil. This way middle aged versions of Mukwanya and Kagwa got to meet Muteesa when still a strong men.
And they helped Odama to make the faces of the men on Stanley’s photograph come out.
Last week we found interest for the Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa exhibition in Nairobi, and if all works out as now foreseen the show will be on there, in the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi for a period of a month in 2018.
In the mean time… We keep on reading up on Kabaka Muteesa I, and how he was pictured in words. James Augustus Grant, describes him in his book on the 1862 trip, in which he accompanied John Hanning Speke in a fashionista way:
“He was a tall, well-built young fellow, sprightly in manner, very vain, his wooly hair dressed with the greatest care; small head, remarkably prominent clever-looking clear eyes, good teeth, and long nails to his hands and feet; the instep of the latter was, as in most of the Waganda, highly arched, indicating a well-moulded sinewy leg. His bark-cloth “toga” had not a speck upon it, and was neatly knotted over the right shoulder, concealing his whole body. His ornaments of beads were made with great taste in the choice of colours; the most minute beads of white, blue, and brown were made into rings and rosettes, which he word round his neck and arms. Each finger had upon it a ring of brass; on the third finger of the left hand he word a gold ring, given him by Speke; with these he played while sitting at his levees, occasionally receiving a golden-coloured gourd-cup of wine from a maid of honour sitting by his side; after each sip, a napkin of bark-cloth was used by him to wipe his mouth. The only enseemly vulgarity he was guilty of while on his throne was to use his napkin to rub away the perspiration from his person. ” (p222/223)
and slightly later:
“The day after my first visit to the king, he came to return the call without giving us any warning. We heard a noisy crowd passing outside our enclosure, and immediately, through the fence, came the young king in a tremendous hurry. He was not the puppet of yesterday, but dressed, like a negro sailor, in an open coat of bed-curtain chintz, loose white trousers or “pyjamas,” having a broad stripe of scarlet; his feet and head were naked. He was shown into an iron chair, and seeing some books he turned over their pages as a monkey would; asked to see the picture of Rumanika, and said he would like to know when his own portrait was to be done.” p224
“From within [a large pyramid-shaped hut] a man of majestic mien approached the entrance; the was M’Tsé. He appears scarcely thirty-five years of age; certainly more than six feet high; his face is nervous but expressive of intelligence. From his large restless eye, a gleam of fierce brutality beams out that mars an otherwise sympathetic expression; his features are regular, and complexion a light coppet ting. He is dressed in a long cloak, common in fashion to that worn by the better class of Arab merchants. The texture is of blue cloth, trimmed with gold; around his head, in graceful folds, is wound a white turban; his waist encircles by a belt in gold, richly wrought, from which is suspended a Turkish scimitar; his feet are encased in sandals of Moorish pattern, procured from Zanzibar.” p102/103
“M’tsé was dressed to-day in a violet-coloured silk, embroidered with gold and wore a new Egyptian tarbouche (fez).” p113
And then, another kifananyi shows up… A girl, who is according to the writer “in form and feature the very picture of her father M’tsé”
Lets mix her in with all the pictures we have seen so far… for the best possible blend.
(see above and below)