Using art to show importance of clean water

Thursday February 6 2020

A mural in Kamwokya depicting a girl carrying a

A mural in Kamwokya depicting a girl carrying a jerrican of water. Photos by Andrew Kaggwa 

By Andrew Kaggwa

You have probably seen art murals in different areas around Kampala. There is one at the Uganda Museum, that features 1972 Olympics gold medalist John Akibua. However, what makes it outstanding is the fact that it is presented as an artifact or a relic.

The other painting is at the National Theatre while another stands tall in Kamwokya, Kira Road, at the offices of Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Zentrum Institute. It is probably the mural works in Kamwokya that drive the message of all the other paintings.

The painting features a girl with a jerrican standing next to a Crested Crane with a caption, “Nature said we should share her gifts.” The paintings are reffered to as the Walls of Water that Viva Con Agua is using to draw awareness to the importance of clean water.

For more than five years, Viva Con Agua, a collective of young creatives that include photographers, visual artists, dancers and rappers has been involved in campaigns about the importance of clean water and how to effectively use it.

Such campaigns have been going on mostly in the Karamoja sub-region, the reason every time you visit Moroto District, it is hard to miss some of their murals.

Yet the water activism is more than just the wall paintings. Papa Shaban, a photographer and one of the leaders of the project notes that what they do is equivalent to taking water to those that need it in a fun way.


For instance, at the beginning of every year, Shaban, with a few other creatives from all fields such as writers, dancers, poets and singers usually head to Karamoja to engage in different workshops.

During the workshops, their group of artists will provide artistic skills to the community, while at the same time preaching the gospel of maintaining clean water sources; for instance, they will ask their classes to do works with themes around water usage or washing hands, while later in the day, they will be hands on with cleaning and repairing boreholes.

Water for skills
One of such workshops is an art training they did in one of the Moroto secondary schools, with artistes such as Ro Kerango, Ronnie Tindi and Kintu Paul. The three run Angavu Art Studio in Bukoto, Kampala, though love using their creativity to contribute to the water cause.

In Karamoja, they took on a class of 50 students and taught them how to make prints using wood.
It is a hectic and rigorous routine that demands too much from both the trainers and the students they were working with, yet after five days, some had mastered it. They were to use the skills gained to produce art works that were supposed to be exhibited during a water gala that was to be held at one of the Moroto grounds. However, things became tricky.

Members of Viva Con Agua drawing a mural.
Members of Viva Con Agua drawing a mural.

“It turned out that the art teacher who had authorised our workshop with the students had not talked to the head teacher,” says Kerango. But that was not the biggest problem. The head teacher could not stand the fact that many of the artists had dreadlocks, tinted hair or other funny hairstyles and conducted classes in shorts and denim.

“He told us that they train their students to become lawyers and doctors, thus our lifestyle was going against everything they teach the students.”

Of course, he notes some teachers also thought the workshop was only wasting students’ time.
That exhibition was doomed, that even when they managed to guide students to finish the works, they were all stolen less than two hours after they had been put up for a public display.

But they also had some successful efforts. For instance, at one of the schools they had visited at the beginning of week, they had used a football training to create awareness on washing hands after using a toilet. By the time they visited the school at the end of the week, there was a jerican of water and soap at the school toilet.

On top of the workshops, community primary schools received water purifiers and general cleaning equipment to enable them put in practice the lessons learnt.

Kampala showcases
In Kampala, Viva Con Agua has with ease blended the concept of using art to preach clean water usage through murals and music.

In 2015 for instance, they collaborated with Bebe Cool for their campaigns that culminated into the We Love YoUganda festival at the National Theatre. The festival has gone on to attract names such as Kenyan rapper Octopizzo, Bobi Wine, Maro, Keko and The Mith.

In 2017, the group organised their first art exhibition in Kampala. In collaboration with Millerntor Gallery from German, they put up a pop up Millerntor Gallery at the Design Hub.

Two years later, the exhibitions have showcased more than 60 local and international professional artistes and a bigger number of aspiring artists from schools around Kampala and others from random slums. In 2018, by the first day of the exhibition, according to the curator, Phillip Balimunsi, most of those done by children had been bought.

The proceeds from such activities go towards repairing and building boreholes and installing drinking water points in places people may not be able to access clean water.

East Coast Boxing club in Naguru is one of such beneficiaries. The gym has been part of the community giving skills to children, yet, even when boxing is rigorous, they did not have a point with ready-to-drink water.

They installed a water purifier, which meant the gym only needs to find water and filtering out germs and bad elements will be done by the dispenser.

This year, the exhibitions took place at the Uganda Museum’s car gallery and just like last year, they invited schools to submit art works.

Some of the works were abstract, but majority were realist depicting people carrying water, while others depict women carrying babies or a map of Africa with a water droplet.

Artists such as Hasfa Hassan, Kwizera, Bobbie Serrano, Wisetwo and Dave Davina brought a lot of colour, vibrance and technique with both murals and art pieces.

This years’ activities ended with performances that included rappers St Nellysade, Tushi Polo as well as Tip Swizzy, Lillian Mbabazi and Yallah MC.

Need for clean water
According to the World Health Organisation, when water comes from improved and more accessible sources, people spend less time and effort physically collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways.

This can also result in greater personal safety by reducing the need to make long or risky journeys to collect water. Better water sources also mean less expenditure on health, as people are less likely to fall ill and incur medical costs, and are better able to remain economically productive.