Arts View

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Dec 2020 – Feb 2021

Eria Nsubuga 'Sane'

Eria Nsubuga 'Sane' – Mixed Media Artist

Eria has recently completed a PhD Practice Based Fine Art degree at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK. He is a mixed media visual artist whose work encompasses painting, printmaking, illustration and sculpture. He grew up in Entebbe town, Uganda and his village is Kiseveni in Nazigo, Bugerere of Kayunga District.

He graduated from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda with a first class Bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art in 2001.

Active in Uganda, he has also exhibited in other African countries and parts of the world e.g. Kenya, Tanzania, Germany, The Netherlands and Japan.

In addition to the solo exhibitions he has undertaken mostly at Tulifanya and Afriart galleries which had/have private proprietors in Uganda, he has also participated in group shows such as at the Centre Pompidou – France, David Krut Projects – USA, Cape Town Art Fair – South Africa, Tate Modern – UK and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House – UK.

AGN: You sign your work with the name SANE, how did you come about that name?

ENS: SANE is a pseudonym that puts together all of my names.

AGN: When did you become interested in Art?

ENS: It all started when I was a young boy. My elder brother was great at drawing. His work inspired me to try and I soon discovered I had a passion for it. My high-school education was attained at Kings College, Budo and I attended art classes while I was there.

AGN: How would you describe your artistic style?

ENS: At my core I am a painter. When I was emerging professionally in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s I adopted a style I would say that falls under the banner of ‘Indigenous Expressionism’. During that period I accepted an invitation to join a collective set up by some fellow Ugandan artists called the ‘Index Mashariki’ (Indigenous Expression Mashariki Africa). The collective’s remit was to provide a platform to create greater exposure and commercial activity for our work around the world. Relationships were developed with international contacts in order to do so. Since that period my style has evolved to what I would describe as somewhere between Afro-surrealism and Afro-futurism.

AGN: What inspires you and what has influenced your artistic style?

ENS: I draw inspiration from the world around me, such as the activities of the common man and my own life experiences. I also draw inspiration from nature. I realized that it was necessary to look at the political as well as the social factors that influence human behaviour.

I would say that aspects of my work were overtly political in relation to Ugandan politics during the early 2000’s to around 2010. Concern about ending up in detention impacted my decision to follow a more nuanced depiction of Ugandan politics.

As a result of several trips to Europe from around 2004 and in particular, my encounter with the ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete) phenomenon, a celebration that struck me as a racist idea made to appear mundane and harmless while inwardly damaging people who are of the black, brown skin colour of the Zwarte Piet character; I became more direct in speaking up about racism through my work. Although I never actually lived in The Netherlands, I visited the country a few times solely in relation to my work as an artist.

My experiences there transformed how I viewed myself from an African man in Uganda to my place in the world as a black man.

Ironically my first trip to Europe took me to Germany in 2004 for an artist residency program to which I had been invited. I recall a friend and I being called apes from the occupant of a passing car. I found this both offensive and strange as it was the first time I was experiencing such behaviour.

Other than that, due to the nature of such events where one remains in a microcosm, being introduced to welcoming people who have an interest in what I do, I would say my time in Germany was fairly pleasant in the main although possibly unrepresentative of what my experience would have been like if I had moved around more freely and lived there for a while.

Trips to The Netherlands allowed for me to interact more widely and truly experience the wide range of attitudes towards black people that exist in Europe. It was a real eye opener.

AGN: Your father was a civil servant, many would consider that to be a fairly conservative occupation. Would you say his outlook on life impacted your desire to be an artist in any way?

ENS: My father didn’t try to pressure me into following any specific path he had predetermined.

I have seven siblings and I fall within the lower half of us. I feel my father possibly became more relaxed about letting his younger children discover their own path after being fairly strict with the older ones. If anything I put pressure on myself to either study law or pursue art. I didn’t attain the grades I needed to read law so I went on to pursue my passion in art.

AGN: What impact did your mother have on your artistic aspirations?

ENS: My mother was also a civil servant. She was always interested in what I did and full of encouragement. In fact I would say she was super encouraging and supportive.

AGN: It is said that your work takes a satirical approach to complex themes, addressing issues such as consumerism, immigration and neo-colonialism. Through your work you explore the invisibility and visibility of African people, including their art and culture. To what extent would you say your work speaks about the sometimes difficult or non-existent relationships between different African ethnic groups, at times in the same country?

ENS: I don’t feel it is something I have addressed to any great extent but it is certainly something to think about.

I recall an event I attended in Southampton, UK where people who have less democracy in their own countries were demanding more rights in UK. It made me pause to reflect. It is of course right that people should seek to better wherever they go but what about those countries from which these people come from?

I feel art has a massive role to play in empowering people and building bridges. Given the impact of external forces on Africa it is understandable there are those of us seeking to address and re-balance negative factors. However, much more can certainly be done to transform the relationships between Africans of different ethnicities and socioeconomic standing on the continent of Africa as well.

AGN: How would you describe the art scene in Uganda?

ENS: The art scene in Uganda heavily revolves around Kampala, and while that is beginning to change, there is much work to do to ensure that people from other parts of the country are allowed/provided the space and platforms to showcase their work.

Currently, as things stand, aside from a handful of exceptions, the work of Baganda artists dominates what is considered to be Ugandan art. I don’t feel the art scene in Uganda is representative enough of the artistic expression of people from different regions across the country.

AGN: What plans do you have for the future?

ENS: I am an exponent of the transformative nature of art in society and nation-building. I believe it can impact in a number of ways e.g. economically, socially, politically etc. I feel that production is what helps to make a country grow.

Artists create and in many cases provide means through the works they produce to generate employment opportunities for others, thus positively affecting the economy of a country on a local and/or national basis.

I would like to set up a cultural centre in my Village of Kiseveni in Nazigo, Bugerere of Kayunga District where different types of artistic expression would be encouraged. I feel it is very important for art to be more accessible at the local level in rural places. I would also like to set up a gallery/library in my locality.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

© 2020 All rights reserved – Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) – Dec 2020