Dennis Mubiru is as a visual artist of raw, naive expressionist style that uses poetry, drawing, painting, text and image, abstraction figuration and raw colours.
He carefully uses social commentary in his paintings as a springboard to deeper truths about an individual.
He often doodles. Some of his pieces are coloured pencil on paper and raw colour on canvas or cloth with a loose, spontaneous, and dirty style. They may come off like a child’s paintings. But that is before you study them for deeper ideas and ultimate interpretation.
His works are socially and religiously charged. They are also themed around relationships between or across different tribes and religious affiliations and race, love, sexual affiliations, affection, life in general and day-to-day political or social issues.
His art is provocative and stimulates debate on issues that many artists are not interested in or are simply timid to tackle.
“I try to forge an understanding of who we are in terms of brotherhood, forgetting the differences in race, religion and colour that is distinct among humans,” Mubiru explains. One of his recent art pieces is of a female figure trying to cuddle the male counterpart, telling him all is going to change if he gives her a second chance.
He is fed-up and opts to give up, throwing in the towel on the subject of love. Another piece titled ‘No virgins here’ tackles issues of intimacy and eroticism. Mubiru explains, “Men talk about this issue over and over again in bars, saying they want a virgin yet when you meet one you would like to settle with, she is having extra-marital affairs.”
As part of his research, he keeps his ears to the ground, eavesdropping on day-to-day social gossip and petty talks, in Kampala’s uptown offices and downtown bars, bufundas (temporary bars and eateries), nightclubs and fan party socialite hangouts. He will also go to churches- for gossip and ideas. However, For the usual art lover or fan, deciphering Mubiru’s art is not easy.
They will need to be keen to understand it. Sometimes, it will necessitate them talking to the artist to understand it more clearly, see and appreciate the playful childlike spirit in him.
He says the price of the artwork is determined by prices of materials, which are increasing each day. That aside, Mubiru cites government’s lack of interest and support as one of his challenges.
Growing his talent
The artist was inspired by his mother Resty Musoke’s constant advice no wonder she and his sister Stella Namutebi, are his biggest fans and supporters. Mubiru started his career in his father’s study where he discovered the former’s sketch books of daily issues, political, religious sketches and his conversations. As he grew up, he started emulating his father through drawing sketches. That was around 2013.
Later that year, he got in touch with Rocca Gutteridge and Nicola Elphinstone, the co-founders of 32º East Ugandan Arts Trust’s who got interested his art. From then on, his career as an artist began. Elphinstone, a renowned international curator in London and in the African arts world represents Mubiru and few others artists.
The duo has showcased Mubiru’s works at international galleries and the region. Last year, he was invited for a three months’ artist residence at 32 degrees where he worked on a project titled ‘Kampala Yange’.
The residence lasted from August to October. He has also exhibited at the Circle Art Agency in Kenya and taken part in the Kampala Contemporary Art show. Part of his work from the residence tells of interplay of colour and childlike paintings evoking childlike memories of expression.
Building his brand
While he went about creating, he was thinking of ways to cultivate a following as an artist. He realised he need a lot of research and background information that would give him a base to create well-informed art pieces that would evoke conversations and debate among viewers of his art.
He has been building a following through participating in art competitions and promoting his art through postcards with his art, which he uses as gifts to loved ones.
The artist also places stickers randomly in unconventional places or areas where they can easily get noticed, prompting the public to search for his art on his social media accounts like Facebook. The artist also emails arts directors in other arts organisations like Kuona Arts Trust in Nairobi, Weaverbird Arts Camp in Masaka and a few arts galleries locally, to introduce himself and his art.
He wishes to see more Ugandan art on international shows.
Mubiru is not keeping all his eggs in one basket. He is a professional art teacher at Uganda Martyrs High School Rubaga, formerly Rubaga Boys School. He is also a farmer, rearing exotic cattle.
In his other life, he is a family man though not in the conventional sense. He is taking care of some of his relatives as heir to his father.