The Art industry in Uganda has grown so much that everyday you are surprised to learn of how many women and men are earning a living from it. For many years, I have been invited to join facebook groups. These were either about journalism or cooking as these two are my passions, until last year when I received an invite from Jema Byamugisha, to join a group called “All Things Art.”
I was surprised, considering I am not an artist. I could barely draw a pen or flower if my life depended on it. Yet I gladly accepted the invite. I have learnt to appreciate art and artist as it tells many stories and maybe not so many people understand or appreciate this. So, I was curious and wanted to know why this group was started, who are the people in it and how have they benefitted from coming together.
I met Jema for a conversation about this initiative. She attended Vienna College and Greenhill Academy for high school; then to Makerere University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Art (BIFA).
“I love all forms of art and expression, and always push myself to try out as many as possible. I especially love drawing, designing and crafting” Jema says.
1. At what age did you start doing art?
I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. According to my parents, I could draw earlier than I could write or speak properly.
2. What or who inspired you to start?
Since I’ve been drawing my whole life, I find inspiration literally from anything. I can be watching tv, reading a book or even staring at ants, and suddenly an idea will pop into my mind.
3. What type of Art do you do? Painter, Sculptor or illustrator?
When it comes to art for me if I see something I like, I must learn it and do it. I can therefore draw, paint, sculpt and even craft. I’ve also done t-shirt printing, fashion and graphic design plus interior and exterior home design.
4. Are you doing art fulltime or is it just a hobby?
For now, art is just a hobby. I do get paid for commissions, however I’m not yet at the stage where I can become a fulltime artist financially.
5. What was/has been your turning point in art?
I guess my turning point could be the audience response. I always did my art just for me and honestly, I never thought anyone would be interested. Being in lockdown last year made me start drawing again and this time posting it on Facebook. The response I got was so overwhelmingly positive that it boosted my confidence as an artist and encouraged me to engage with others.
6. Do you sell your art?
Most of the art I post on Facebook is for fun. I push myself to make my art different in the form of different mashup challenges, and people seem to really love them as they get to participate.
I do take commissions, and I intend to start selling my independent pieces as digital art.
7. Is your art in any gallery?
No, currently my art is not in any gallery. To save on costs of materials, I started coloring my art digitally. This means I draw, scan the drawing and color it on my computer using Photoshop. This is very time and cost effective, and it also adds so much variety to what I can do with the drawing.
With the growing popularity of my art, I am planning on making pieces towards an exhibition show to be held hopefully sometime this year.
8. When did you start the Facebook group and why?
I started the Facebook group “All Things Art” on September 18th 2020.
I created the group because I posted an artwork that people really loved, so I asked them if any would like to participate by sharing their photos for me to mashup as different characters. The responses were very positive. I realized then that if I posted their artworks in my newsfeed they would get lost among the sea of other uploads, so the group was a space that I could post their mashups and they could easily be found in one place.
9. So far, has it served the purpose you started it for?
Yes absolutely! The group is a great place to store and share my art, but most importantly it has encouraged other artists to join and share their work as well. As it continues to grow, we the artists get a place to share our art; giving us the exposure and confidence, as well as many potential clients.
10. You have people like me who can’t even draw a tree in the group, why isn’t it only left for artists?
The group is open for all because it is important for the public to see the amazing art; especially the local art. I have got a lot of comments from people saying they never knew this kind of art could be done in Uganda, or people saying they were looking for a specific kind of art that they never thought they could ever find in Uganda. This group helps promote the local artist and also broadens the minds of the audience.
Besides, if it was for artists only, we’d be like 10 people in the group!
11. Do you think artists need support from society? If so, what kind of support?
Absolutely. It’s very unfortunate that art is still not taken as seriously as it should be. People do not consider it a real career and think that just because it is fun, there is no real struggle. People want art for very cheap prices, or are always offering exposure for free art.
When a song is made, the whole team behind it gets paid; writers, producers, singers and editors. An artist is all these things in one.
An artist takes in information, interprets it, creates the artwork, and edits it. Society should respect artists just as much as every other profession. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.
There should be more exhibitions and events to promote art both locally and internationally, and parents who have artistic children should encourage and support them.
12. Have you been to any exhibitions? What was your experience?
I have been to a few exhibitions. Personally, I found the art very unique and lovely, and the artists exhibiting were very friendly and helpful.
13. Do you see young people taking on art or because government is pushing sciences, the art industry is losing out on young talent?
There is this stigma against being an artist, as it’s considered more of a hobby than a real career. This might be because the government is focusing more on sciences, or because of the lack of general support both from the families and society.
There is also a lack of successful artist role models who the youth can inspire to be like and follow.
As long as these factors remain constant then young people will always opt to have more acceptable careers than being artists.
14. What support does the Art industry need from government and is it receiving any so far?
First of all, the Arts program at college would need to have higher cut off points for potentials to join. A lot of people use the Fine Arts as a fall back for when their potential courses have fallen through; if Arts is not taken seriously at the entry level, then it cannot be taken seriously as a career.
Secondly, the government could fund art galleries so that they can afford to have free exhibitions for artists from all walks of life. This will help especially the talented disadvantaged artists get the opportunity to showcase their artwork.
Thirdly, the government could enhance the courses taught in the Art department, to a more international standard. The art world abroad is way vaster and offers way more opportunities, and yet most of the new techniques and skills are not taught here. How then can our artists compete on the international stage?
Also, helping the Art school to have collaborations with various industries in Uganda that are interested in the arts such as the Entertainment and Tourism industry, would not only create healthy competition amongst students but also create career opportunities after graduation.
15. Are you a part of any art associations? How do they benefit you as an individual?
No, I am not a part of any art associations because I am still finding my way as an artist. Also, I have not had an opportunity to join any associations, but that would be something I’d be interested in.
16. What has been the best advice you have received from someone in the industry?
Honestly, the best things said to me were “You won’t know until you try,” and “You only fail when you stop trying.” These words are simple but really powerful to me. When it comes to art, I will research, learn and practice over and over again until I create the art piece that I like.
17. What would you say to a young budding talented artist who may not see the industry as beneficial financially?
The truth is, making it as an artist is very difficult. Unlike other careers, this one might not pay immediately or even pay very little. People will love your work but not be willing to pay for it, so if you’re going into the industry strictly for monetary purposes, you will get very disappointed.
Art is about the passion. You need to take your time, perfect your craft and build your audience. Be patient, keep practicing and don’t lose your motivation.
Take every opportunity that you get as they might lead to even bigger opportunities, but know your worth and don’t let anyone take advantage of your skills.