Updated: Sep 1, 2022
In a post-pandemic world, the art scene is trying to regain it's footing. Thanks to creative minds on the front lines, the future looks promising.
Graphic artist and painter, Dianah Bwengye, is making bold moves. Residing in Ntinda by way of Kabale, this 34-year-old Ugandan is reaching art lovers both within her country and outside of it. From a close family, Bwengye was a good but sometimes rebellious sister who preferred the top bunk. As a girl , she ordered and organized her classmates as a monitor. Her early abilities to design her world from her vision were obvious. Later on, at Bweranyangi Secondary School where she boarded during her teen years, she gained a strong sense of solidarity with other women. "You knew the other girls had your back, like a sisterhood ".
Bwengye uses various media to express herself. The graphic "Embraces at Bedtime" is an accompaniment to a poem referring to the abuse of girls and the echoes that claw deep into adulthood. The narrator, now a mother, is triggered by helping her daughter into bed. In this powerful image, the words of the poem swirl around her as a shadow lurks from a door which is supposed to be closed.
In addition to being proficient with a tablet and stylus, Dianah Bwengye is deeply rooted within traditional media as well. Her portraits took on a new dimension when during her Master's degree program, a professor commented that the work reminded him of Mexican Artist, Frida Kahlo. Bwengye had little idea about Kahlo's work but her own portrait's direct stares and organic motifs connect to an unconscious collective.
"Hope" is a commissioned portrait for a close in-law of Bwengye. The patron is the subject's husband who supplied a photo to aid creation of this painting. "She (the subject) was surprised with the painting when they returned from their honeymoon. She was so happy with it, she gave me money after the fact!"
Figures surrounded by plants are a staple in Bwengye's work. The entire canvas has a soft, diluted light green base with denser pigments expertly layered over it. The large flowers in the foreground offer a bold frame of the finely detailed face, done with tiny bush strokes and glints of delicately placed oil pastel. "My father is a hippy environmentalist and into traditional medicine" she says fondly. They used herbs ground into powders, pills and potions. Growing up, it was understood that knowledge of healing plants was the default for ailments. "My father said one could get healing just from walking on the grass".
The blessings of the natural world can also come with curses, some in the form of disease. Dianah Bwengye, in partnership with the London School of Economics, made an educational comic regarding the water-bourne illness, Bilharzia. They wanted an easily accessible way to bring their findings to healthcare workers in rural areas. The characters fighting this waterborne disease are based on real people at the front lines of this issue. The main character is an investigative journalist whose father has died with liver failure that is suspected to be caused by Bilharzia. The healthcare workers received the finished comic books along with other information about the about the disease.
Now that the deep days of the pandemic are behind us, Bwengye has been more active in the art scene, holding exhibitions and sharing her work in galleries.
Where to see her work:
1. Design Hub (on 5th Street near Spring Road in Kampala) Exhibition days will certainly inspire and delight. Catch her witty banter between sips of Krest with a splash of Waragi. https://designhubkampala.com/
2. AfriArt Gallery (110 112 7th Street near 5th Street in Kampala) Their current exhibition is "Where the Wild Things Are", a collaboration of many artists is soon to close. https://afriartgallery.org/
Shoshana Kirya-Ziraba is a married mom and lifestyle columnist who splits time between Texas, California and Uganda. From cooking to fashion, she covers what she likes to read about! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org