Wamala Joseph Kyeyune and the Indigenous.
Subject matter in art forms is greatly influenced by what is deemed profound or important which leads to my next statement that the artwork maybe a confrontation or a witnessing. Through either these states the artwork may achieve profundity, through confrontation if it channels the trauma and agency of a people and through witnessing if it captures the sublimity of a people. Wamala’s practice has arrived at a profundity through the latter, he has through his work centered the indigenous as the subject and not as a tool of critique, his work is not prescriptivist nor does it use its subjects as tools to abstract ideology in its approach and this what I mean, when an artist chooses a subject matter they make a series of choices on aesthetics, profundity and significance.
In figuration many artists have depicted the indigenous subject, but none has succeeded like Wamala in making the subject sublime, Wamala merges religious motifs and skillful technique to render portraits that venerate the subjects in them, but how it works is that through juxtaposition he achieves sublimity by joining religious piety with the candidness of the everyday life of his subjects. The personhood of the black body in art requires a nuanced perspective that most artists locally have only been able to have through the self-portrait.
What then makes Wamala’s work profound is not that it leans on the crutches of the religious but that it mirrors the chosen identity of it’s subjects, there is an authenticity that has risen out of the assimilation of the religious ideal and Wamala expresses it with utmost clarity and that then gives the portrait nuance, that is what gives his painting life, his ability to capture and represent the belief of his subjects, there is no naturalist or artificial utopia, there is only the present.
The present through which the subjects in his paintings grapple with through the tools they have and the major tool for the communities Wamala represents is religion, there is however no intent to direct or influence the work does not have a didacticism that usually is present in work with themes of religion, what the work possess though is an authenticity and sublimity of the believer, they are not pawns or products of systems of influence but complex and intricate beings that choose to express themselves in the ways that Wamala depicts them.