Ugandan wildlife art

Elephants, by Ismael Kateregga

From the East African in Kenya:

Uganda: Monet Makes the World Go Round

Frank Whalley

15 February 2010


Wildlife is the latest passion of Kampala artist Ismael Kateregga.

And he brings it to life on the canvas thanks to long hours of meticulous observation in the Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth game parks of his native Uganda.

Zebras at Lake Mburo caught in a startled half-turn … elephants [see also here] confronting the artist at Queen Elizabeth, with trunks curled and ears spread wide in classic threat displays.

These are small pictures, each perhaps 10cm square – painterly jottings on a canvas notebook; swift studies of mass, form, light and shade.

On a far larger scale is caught a herd of buffalo pausing from grazing to look suspiciously at the painter straight in the eye; and ready to turn on a 10 cent piece to ram him deep into the bush.

Kateregga has caught the tension of their bodies and their combined strength with admirable economy.

However for one of the most successful pictures in his current show – on until the end of the month at the capital’s Tulifanya Gallery – Kateregga did not have to go further than one of Kampala’s recreational parks.

It is of a flock of marabou storks huddled together with their shoulders hunched like a bunch of MPs plotting in the corner of a corridor.

What is remarkable about all these wildlife paintings – and there are 18 of them on show – is that they are largely monochrome; either a soft blue or a gentle sepia.

An exception is the painting of marabous where in parts the overall blue is suffused by a glowing pink, like a blush on the throat pouches, backs and bills.

This restrained palette both forces one to focus on the subject rather than admire the skills of an Impressionist better known for his use of colour, and causes the artist to weigh each stroke with care while producing an accurate tonal scale across the canvas.

“Exploring light, shade and form without colour; it’s a new phenomenon for me,” Kateregga said.

He began his wildlife studies last year after seeing for the first time works by his hero, Claude Monet whose pictures he had seen previously only in reproduction.

He told me he was immediately captivated by Monet’s broad studies of water lilies from his garden at Giverny, completed in the last 30 years of his life.

And although Monet died in 1925 those pictures – plus a view of the Seine in Paris – struck Kateregga as looking as fresh as though painted yesterday.

Kateregga told me, “I thought it would be a challenge to concentrate on form through light and shade and for once leaving out colour, which can be a distraction.”

It was the bones of the pictures he admired, more than the colours which had danced before him in the reproductions he had seen.

Until then he had built a reputation based on his shimmering flickers of urban life, classily composed and painted with a sure touch which owe more than a passing debt to the Impressionist master.

These paintings for which he is best known are also at the Tulifanya.

Any casual visitor can spot why they are so popular … colourful, capable, painted in a style that is fully accepted and not too challenging to the eye.

Typical is the largest picture in the exhibition, a view of Kikuubo Lane in downtown Kampala.

Bustling, bursting with life, alive with colour, yet disciplined and coherent. Not surprisingly it has already sold.

There are many more like it on the walls.

Lovely though they are, I think Kateregga’s move into monochrome is an excellent thing.

More disciplined, and underpinned by rigorous draughtsmanship these paintings point a way forward – away perhaps from the superficial sugary delights of Monet but more towards the master’s underlying structural brilliance.

By going back to basics, Kateregga will hopefully move more towards himself.

Frank Whalley runs Lenga Juu, a fine arts and media consultancy based in Nairobi.

Good news for Ugandan wildlife: here.

Africa Climate Exchange: here.

2 thoughts on “Ugandan wildlife art

  1. Uganda: Indigenous Longhorn Ankole Cattle at the Brink of Extinction

    Halima Abdallah

    East African, 22 February 2010

    Nairobi — As the population of the Ankole in Southwestern Uganda continues to surge and land gets increasingly scarce, locals are trading their indigenous cattle for a high yielding crossbreed.

    The National Agricultural Advisory Services is conducting the crossbreeding to help locals fight poverty.

    Jeremia Muziringani, a local farmer, owns 16 cross breeds and four indigenous cattle.

    He prefers the cross breed cattle because they do not require large tracts of grazing land.

    “They can be zero grazed or kept in paddocks. With just five cattle, I am assured of a higher income compared with the native breed. Crossbreeds fetch a higher price besides yielding more milk,” said Mr Muziringani.

    In Ankole, cattle are culturally significant – a man is worth his name by the number of animals he owns – which also explains why they are the currency used to settle bride price.

    The high breeds are a mixture of the distinctive brown long-horned cattle and the hornless black and white patched Friesians.

    A single crossbreed can yield up to 10 litres of milk daily, which fetch about $15, while the indigenous breed will raise slightly higher than a dollar a day.

    Emmanuel Kyeishe, who owns 80 crossbreeds and ten native cattle gets three litres of milk per day from his indigenous breeds.

    “I would rather keep the cross breeds and yield more milk,” said Mr Kyeishe.

    The animals, which were once kept for milk only, are now being sold and fetch about $300 compared with $500 for a crossbreed.

    But the fear of extinction is so real, and the country stands to lose some of the animal’s most desirable genes.

    The Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA) notes in its latest book, The Ankole Longhorn Cattle Sustain our Life and Livelihood: We have to Conserve Them, that up to 60 per cent of the cattle in Ankole are cross breeds, creating the fear of extinction in the next ten years.

    “The extinction will rest more on genetic purity as cross-breeds continue to exist at different percentages – It’s like at one time not being able to find a pure black African,” said Jacob Wanyama the co-ordinator of Penha.

    At a recent meeting of cattle keepers held in Ankole, farmers requested the government to provide them with grazing land so they can help preserve the animals.


  2. The Monitor (Kampala)

    Uganda: Oil Exploration Killing Wildlife – Experts

    Yasiin Mugerwa

    14 April 2010

    Toxic wastes from oil exploration and increased human presence at Murchison Falls National Park are killing animals experts told Parliament yesterday.

    A Senior Uganda Wildlife Authority Planning and Environment Impact Assessment Coordinator, Mr Edgar Buhanga, told MPs yesterday that “If the country has to benefit from both resources (oil and wildlife), the two have to sustainably co-exist. Most of the petroleum prospective areas lie in protected areas which are also a major source of income for the country through tourism.”

    UWA officials led by Director for ConservationSam Mwandha, were before the parliamentary committee on trade and tourism to lobby for political support in defence of the ecosystem in the Oil Albertaine region.

    Although he did not give figures of dead animals, Mr Buhanga said: “Our reports show that several small animals have died and we have lost four big ones due to road kills and there could be more.” The Albertine region has five national parks (Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Semuliki and Rwenzori Mountain) eight wildlife reserves and forest reserves.

    The five parks are home to buffalos, giraffes, hippos, Uganda kobs, elephants, warthogs, waterbucks and hartebeests, among other animal species. Murchison Falls is also a world heritage site for its many species of rare birds, plants and other ecological units.

    UWA also demanded that oil camps for exploration companies be moved out of protected areas and workers only come in during the day. The wildlife experts also accused UPDF soldiers, guarding oil wells, of allegedly scaring away tourists, arguing that the military presence in Murchison Falls National Park portrays a “bad image” to foreign tourists who think the area is insecure.

    Mr Mwandha demanded that urgent measures be taken to stop the military from interfering with the tourism activities. “This oil production will last a limited time, but the biodiversity in the reserve will remain and we should protect it,” he said, adding, “tourism is one of the biggest foreign exchange. earner We get more than $6million (Shs1.2 billion) annually and issues of environment should be taken seriously when analyzing the Oil Bill.”

    Way forward

    But Energy Minister Hillary Onek disputed reports that oil exploration had affected wildlife. “These are wild accusations; the toxic wastes are always treated and buried and they have been managing waste very well,” Mr Onek said. However, the MPs led by Akbar Godi [Arua Municipality] said efforts should be made to protect wildlife.

    UWA officials advised that actual oil drilling be phased (one at a time) instead of drilling all the 32 wells at once–a move which will lead to depletion of the country’s ecosystem.


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