Nuwa Nnyanzi: Blending art with activism

Nuwa Nnyanzi

In his shop at the National Theatre, Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi seems to disappear behind the clutter around him. Every inch of space on the walls is taken up by framed art pieces of every size. If you dropped a pin on his desk, you would have trouble finding it among the tins, envelopes, papers, and paint brushes. The space surrounding him is taken up by boxes, mats and bags.
There appears to be a beautiful symmetry in the clutter, though. Everything seems to be where it is supposed to be; even the small radio gives the appearance of having occupied the same spot on the large brown desk for eons. Perhaps, most surprising is the tall, white bookshelf – a testimony to Nnyanzi’s research work and documentation of his own work.
“If you had come two months ago, you would have been amazed because I was working on something and my desk was a mess,” says the 64-year-old visual artist and Rotarian.”
My first impression of Nnyanzi is of a quiet man who only talks when necessary. How wrong I am! Every question leads to a conversation. I choose not to follow the flow of the questions I have typed out and this brings on a talk about the stereotypical (he calls it genetic) behaviour of the members of our clan – mbogo (buffalo) clan.
Before I take his picture, he says, “Wait! I have to first wear my makeup.” Alarmed, I wait for what I hope will be a short makeup session, only for him to pull a brown face towel out of his bag. He gently pats his face with it. “That’s it; now take the picture,” he says, adding, “What matters is my art, not my face.”
He shows me his most famous art pieces, asking me to interpret what I see. Only those conversant with his work can understand that this is a tough task. But, I passed it; of course, with him providing cues.

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