A Portrait of Power, Authority and Control
By Dominic Muwanguzi
Science- fiction animations dominate today the creative industry through the production of comic characters in films and literature that showcase the high- end technological innovations in art and science. This innovation provides fascination to many young people because of its ability to demonstrate the unusual and herald the idea of pushing the boundaries of creativity. As such, Andrew Arim, from a generation of youthful artists practising on the Kampala contemporary art scene, taps into this subject of sci-fiction characters to exhibit his passion to experiment with elements of futuristic technology fused with his realistic style of painting while figuratively stimulating discourse on the political, social and religious status quo. Yet this artistic venture is not by coincidence; but partly as a result of his background as an animator and social scientist-he’s a graduate of BA in Social Science from Kyambogo University, Kampala.
The artist employs the technique of deploying a dominant fictitious character in his narrative on canvas. Mister Lion, a male character with a lion’s head- a figurative representation of the archetypical male with a domineering and masculine aura- dressed in sleek suits, posing with a cigar, sitting crossed legged; a symbol of being in control, popping champagne and more often than not sandwiched in a bevy of beautiful women or reveling in their saucy caresses. On other occasions, Mister Lion parrots the role of the clergy (Pope or Bishop) with a rather cheeky twist in his poise and that of his aides (altar boys). The message in these portraitures is clear: the artist is cross-examining the theme of power, authority and control as exercised by the male figure in society today. The sleek suits, cigars, beautiful women and expensive champagne (Bellaire Champagne) connote wealth and power. In the event that a man’s financial position is improved, he will naturally endorse such finest thing in life. Here, the portrait of the central character sitting in a comfy leather chair with legs crossed as he plants a kiss on the cheek of a beauty queen sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out in provocative fashion, does not come as a surprise, nor does the image of the central character, reveling in the smooth touches of two sassy girls on a cozy bed with money spread-out on the bed, puzzle the audience. Otherwise, such scenes inspire conversations on what it really means to be wealthy and inadvertently have control and possess power over those that surround you.
Arim skillfully concentrates on the facial expressions of his subjects in the drawing. In the painting where the babe is kissed on the cheek, her eyes are wide open and cast towards the money (both local and foreign currencies) spread out on the floor. At this point, it obvious that the “sweetheart” is not enjoying the kiss and cannot wait for it to end so that she can get hold of the cash. This scenario reverberates in the nature of relationships today that is largely defined by convenience: one needs to provide something to elicit the affection of their lover. On the political front, it connotes a sign of exploitation, greed and deceit that prevail mostly in a capitalistic system of governance. The political elite that weld power and authority accumulate as much as possible from the poor majority and what they get is never reciprocated. Similarly, the Church is traditionally known as a fountain of power and honour resulting from the wealth it keeps in its treasury. However, such power and authority are abused today with some of the clergy using it for their selfish ends inspiring a myriad of controversy in the cathedrals.
The approach of layering the drawings with two or more colours portrays the artwork in a way that it appears more than real. The characters in the paintings look like they were plucked from a real-life scene. More so, this technique inspires the element of sophistication and affluence of the artwork. Indeed, the characters in the painting look affluent and obviously project an image of someone in control and less bothered by the struggles of the post-modern world. With such composition, the artist is able to eloquently convey his message to the audience because naturally, they can relate to these images: the familiar pictures of international celebrities like Kanye West or Justin Bieber popping expensive champagnes and posing with beautiful women like Kim Kardashian or Rihanna that trend on social media.
In this creative pursuit, it is obvious that the artist is intent to paint a vivid picture of how those with power and authority live their life with sheer opulence. It is a trait that is familiar in all mankind but mostly manifests itself in personalities that are in leadership positions and those that society sometimes defines as successful. As such, this body of work is a query into human behaviour and how absolute human beings can be when exposed to things like power and wealth. In many instances, when someone’s status is improved and they have the power and authority in their respective communities, they want to show it off as much as possible. The result of such exhibitions is social ills like greed, deceit, manipulation and exploitation that are prevalent everywhere in the world today.
Nevertheless, Arim’s figurative portraits stimulate dialogue on how artists today can integrate elements of technology like comics in their art. It is an undertaking that is largely inspired by an insatiable appetite to experiment and push the boundaries of traditional art making. In light of this experimentation, the artist is sufficiently capable of rousing debate on hard topics without necessarily being overtly controversial. This makes his art palpable to larger audiences and his creativity cannot be underscored because it evokes critical questions and answers to life.