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Unveiling Grief: Artists Reflect on Loss in the 2024 Njabala Exhibition

The Annual Njabala Exhibition (ANE), titled “Njabala: An Elegy,” is currently being showcased at the Makerere Art Gallery in Kampala, starting from March 5 and set to conclude next Saturday. This third edition, held in 2024, delves into the intricate theme of grief, as interpreted through the artistic lenses of Liz Kobusinge (Uganda), Lerato Shadi (South Africa/Germany), Helena Uambembe (South Africa), Letaru Dralega (Uganda), Charity Atukunda (Uganda), and Wambui Kamiru Collymore (Kenya).

The exhibition presents a diverse tapestry of perspectives on grief, with some artists channeling personal experiences while others explore communal or societal dimensions. Atukunda’s collection of four artworks stands out for its poignant portrayal of grief. “Joy and Sorrow,” composed of charcoal, soil, mica, glue, and glaze, depicts two sorrowful women adorned with brown embroideries on their dresses, symbolizing the coexistence of joy and sorrow in life. Atukunda employs materials like charcoal and mica, traditionally associated with women, to convey the intricate emotional nuances inherent in grief across all her artworks.

Beyond personal narratives, Atukunda’s works delve into broader societal themes, such as cultural heritage and traditional customs. Her piece “Untitled,” featuring a pre-made wooden mingling stick embellished with ink and acrylic paint, reflects on the erosion of cultural identity due to colonization and Christianization. Inspired by her late father’s research on the Christianization of the Bakiga community, Atukunda seamlessly integrates traditional burial rituals into her art, offering a poignant commentary on the repercussions of cultural displacement on individual identity.

“Dreamscape: A Meeting Point” and “Rituals of Purification” further probe themes of loss and restoration, with the former reflecting on the artist’s personal odyssey through grief following her father’s passing, and the latter examining the significance of death rituals within the Bakiga community.

In addition to Atukunda’s evocative creations, Wambui Kamiru Collymore presents an installation titled “All My Venus Days Series 1 (Kampala, 2024),” offering a contemplative exploration of grief and resilience in the face of global adversities.

The Njabala Exhibition also showcases works by Kobusinge, Uambembe, Shadi, and Dralega, each providing unique insights into grief and healing through their artistry.

Parallel to the exhibition, the Njabala Foundation and Archives of Women Artists, Research, and Exhibition (AWARE) organized a symposium at Makerere University, spotlighting the overlooked contributions of women artists from the 1960s across the African continent. This symposium aims to illuminate the narratives and identities of these artists and their influence on early postcolonial discourses.

In essence, the Njabala Exhibition serves as a forum for collective introspection on loss, recovery, and fortitude, offering a compassionate exploration of grief’s transformative potency and its capacity to forge bonds within the global community.


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