I admire the artist because I am utterly hopeless with a paintbrush. She creates beauty out of nothing, and effortlessly pulls me into her world. She plumbs my emotions without seeking my permission. She tells me a story that changes with every viewing.
I love great art because my eye is partial to beauty and meaning. When the artist is someone I know, I hear and see the thoughts that flowed through the mind as the brush turned blank paper into an image of a world I know.
When the artist is a stranger to me, even one who lived in an era that has receded into a misty imagination, my curiosity to peep into his mind is heightened. When it is an African, I feel a sense of pride and understanding of the painted story.
Do I not have a little uplift whenever I see photographs of Gregory Maloba’s Independence Monument and that priceless bust of Ham Mukasa? ‘I have seen the real thing,’ I mutter to myself. Did I not breathe the very air that energised Mugalula-Mukiibi, Henry Lumu and Nuwa Nyanzi – the trinity of Ugandan giants of the creative arts?
Why should I not do a little name-dropping, having shared space with Dan Sekanwagi, my high school classmate whose outstanding works uplift the spirits of many in America and beyond?
Have I not enjoyed the genius of David Kibuuka, his works still fresh and pleasing after thirty years on our walls? One artist that has enlivened my spirits is an old friend whose talent I only discovered recently.
Pamela Kanyarutoke Loosfelt may not be a household name to the connoisseur, but she is one whose work immediately displays a healthy marriage of great intellect and handiwork. That she is producing her work inside Uganda is a bonus, for East Africa’s art world has an addition to its celebrated community.
Pamela is special, for she is almost self-taught. She was born in Kampala on November 17, 1959 to Norman and Olive Kanyarutoke. Her father was a medical doctor and her mother a registered midwife at Entebbe Grade A and B Hospital.
She is the youngest of four siblings. Pamela attended Lake Victoria Primary School where art was an optional subject. As a child, she loved art passionately, but her mother always reminded her that art was only a hobby. Her father, on the other hand, encouraged her with praises every time she showed him her naïve water colour paintings.
When the military coup d’état occurred in 1971, Pamela’s stable and privileged life changed dramatically. Her family moved from a spacious house in Entebbe to a cramped two bedroom flat in Bugolobi, Kampala. Fortunately, she joined Nakasero Primary School, which was a major influence of art mediums - papier-mâché, pottery, collage, portraits, still life and landscape.
She joined St Joseph’s Nsambya Secondary School in 1972, where she was given the opportunity to paint the walls of the students’ dining hall with images of African dancers.
On one Parents’ Day, her paintings on canvas were auctioned to build a laboratory for the school. She also received a prize, presented by Sarah Kyolaba, one of the wives of president Idi Amin. Pamela passed her final art examination in 1975 with a distinction.
She escaped the tyranny in Uganda in 1977 and began her life as a refugee in Lusaka, Zambia, where her sister lived with her husband, Prince John Barigye of Ankole, and their two daughters. The School syllabus at Roma Girls’ Secondary School in Lusaka required Pamela to repeat her O-Levels. Art was not part of their curriculum.
So, she was obliged to sit for her final art examinations in another school. She did and passed with a distinction.
Pamela studied at the University of Zambia under a United Nations Scholarship from 1981 to1983.
Unfortunately, the university did not have a faculty of art, which put her career dreams on hold. She opted for a teaching degree, which she abandoned after three years.
Following her marriage on December 31, 1999, Pamela migrated to Congo, but had to flee with her daughter when the Congolese government of Laurent Desire Kabila expelled Rwandans and Ugandan citizens. Her big break came when she returned to Congo in 2003.
She held successful exhibitions in Lubumbashi at the Cercle de la Communauté Belge, Hotel Planet Hollybum and the Italian Restaurant with excellent exposure and profit.
Pamela returned to her motherland in 2010 and settled in Kabaare, Kigyezi, where her life is still dedicated to Art.
When my wife and I spent a day with her last year, we were struck by her unfaded sense of humour and her sharp eye and mind through which she observed the world around her. She distils that world into great works of art that she sells online. She can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram, pamelalehai.
No doubt, the greatest artist is our Lord God, whose works on earth and beyond are a source of endless pleasure. I have never seen an ugly thing or place that God has directly created. The flowers and the bees; the mountains and the valleys; misty mornings and smoky evenings; smooth hands of the newly born and wizened faces of the aged. All so marvellous and captivating as though never seen before.
Then the night sky, observed in the dark countryside, captures my mind and soul in a way nothing else can. Visions of worlds in our milky way and in the infinite number of galaxies bring welcome relief from the foolishness that consumes our mortal race.
The coldest winter morning and the hottest day in the desert uplift me equally as I sing of how great He is. The darkest clouds and the finest whites paint the canvass of endless blue with a beauty that human hands cannot approach.
Those thunderstorms with colourful displays of rainbows and lightning bring smiles at no cost to us. To be young again and run in the wilderness in the spectacular hills of my motherland. Even as I write, my mind races back to a childhood spent in Kigyezi, especially in that dry and hot seventh month that my people call Nyairurwe, during which the hillsides displayed blankets of yellow daisy flowers that we called ehongwa.
It is a beautiful world! One which, happily, we have brilliant artists like Pamela Kanyarutoke to bring its beauty into our living rooms.