A sense of belonging: Arts dressed in right costumes 

Models display Nelson Byanyima, aka Nelly Salvatore’s consumes and props. PHOTO | PIUS KIBAZZI

What you need to know:

  • Nelly Salvatore takes great delight in props like swords, spears, helmets, guns, axes, and masks that have attracted most clients.

If the costumes and props in the Rock Boom TV commercial or Teacher—that banger that sees Ykee Benda collaborate with Fik Fameica—made an impression on you, Nelson Byanyima is the person you should direct your plaudits to.
The leading costume and props designer in the country, Nelly Salvatore—as Byanyima is fondly known in the industry—told Saturday Monitor that the internet is a great repository for the shape and form of his end product.
“There are some things that I see in movies and on the internet and … I … recreate or create them using costume design skills,” the self-taught photographer said, adding, “With this form of art, our movie industry has a chance to finally make high-end movie concepts that can compete on the international market.” 

Nelly Salvatore particularly takes great delight in “props like swords, spears, helmets, guns, axes, and masks [that] have attracted most clients.” He handcrafts most of this handiwork from material and metallic paints for the fantasy/adventure/sci-fi movie industry.
“To get the measurements, I use aluminium foil, which helps me to get the exact shapes of someone’s body since the material I use is not flexible,” he revealed, adding, “By doing this, I create a pattern which I then transfer to the craft foam. I cut out the patterns on the craft foam and then join them together using super glue.”
Nelly Salvatore said “once everything has now taken shape”, he uses a heat gun to seal off the foam. 

“After sealing off the foam, I paint it and finish it off with metallic paint depending on the kind of look I want,” he said, adding that non wearable props don’t follow such procedures. In which case he “just sketch[es] them on art paper and then transfer the sketch to the craft foam and create the patterns.”
He proceeds to note: “Once I have the pattern, I cut it out of the craft foam and put it together using super glue. Once I am done, I seal off the foam using super glue and then finish it off by painting it with metallic paint or non-metallic paint depending on the look that I want.” 
Some of the photo shoots for his products take Nelly Salvatore out of Kampala since “good outdoor scenery” isn’t ubiquitous in the capital. Whereas he sources most of the materials locally, at times he “buy some materials off Amazon and Etsy and [has] them shipped in.”

Nelly Salvatore exhibited most of his latest costume works, which included props and wearable costumes, at the 2022 DigiArt Fest organised by Tribe Uganda from December 16 to 17, 2022, at the Acacia Mall in Kampala. 
“I had my models who wore my superhero costumes. Everything was eye-catching because my work is still new to the public,” he recalls, adding, “The attendance was quite fine and I was able to meet many other creatives and potential clients.”
Derrick Nasasira, a Kampala-based film costume designer, says: “Nelly Salvatore is a talented artist, but cosplay (or costume play) is primarily about fashion. So you do need to be in fashion school to understand a few technicalities, but he is a quick learner, has a strong desire, and is competent.”

Nelly Salvatore, however, says there are many hurdles to be jumped, not least “[high] taxes when importing materials.” 
It’s also not lost on him that “people offer little money for the work yet the cost of production is quite high and time consuming.” 
Add to that the fact that “there is lack of visibility, market, and a low-budget film industry” and you have a recipe for heartbreak. Yet hope springs eternal. With African productions like the epic, action-packed fantasy series Blood Psalms featuring cosplay costumes, Nelly Salvatore sees light at the end of the tunnel.

Wakanda impact
“I think Wakanda has greatly influenced the costume designing industry in Africa in a positive way, where African designers have seen the possibilities and the impact costume designing can have on the entertainment industry and on people in general. I personally have had very many people requesting costumes that look like those worn by Dola Milaje as seen in the Black Panther movie,” Nelly Salvatore notes.
He adds: “Whenever my models walk on the streets wearing my costumes people start screaming: ‘Wakanda...Wakanda forever.’ I believe that’s a good thing. These costumes I make are relatable and finally Africans and the black community feel so good about their culture and are confident that the film industry can produce many other superheroes that are inspired by afro-futuristic costumes designed and made by Africans.” 

According to the Nigerian filmmaker and MultiChoice Talent Factory Director for West Africa, Femi Odugbemi, the success of the Wakanda Disney franchises and also the investment of streamers like Netflix, Disney and Amazon in the stories of Africa is inspiring many initiatives and collaborations towards more futuristic African narratives that showcases its past and heritage as well.  “Costuming is a big part of that as you saw in the Wakanda film released at the end of last year. How all of that investment and awareness shapes a cosplay costume industry is to be seen but I am excited and positive about the evolution of it in the next decade in the continent.”
Nasasira agrees. He says: “The film Wakanda has influenced African art. Before it was released, cosplayers turned to Superman, Wonder Woman, and other films for inspiration. But Wakanda has shown that we can be completely black in our art by doing something that relates to our culture.”

Work to be done
Nelly Salvatore says he ventured into the fashion industry as a result of the competitive photography business. “In 2019, photography business in Uganda had started to become very competitive; and yet almost every photographer was doing the same photography style that wasn’t creative enough. Because of that, I felt bored and I started researching how I could easily stand out from the rest of the photographers. My research landed me in costume designing and making. It took me two weeks to make my first costume. And that was at the beginning of 2020.” 

Nasasira, who runs the Derrick Kissinger workshop, says “cosplay is not widely practiced in Uganda … but it’s been positively embraced by the industry for which it was created.” 
According to Odugbemi, as awareness grows, the possibilities of cosplay’s potential to expand and grow both the costuming and make-up industry into new streams in the entertainment economy paradigm is immense. 

“Nollywood,” he says of Nigeria’s answer to Hollywood, “is already creating popular franchise films and characters in both its contemporary and indigenous language films. It is the popularity of these films and characters that inspire cosplay events and conventions.” Odugbemi is not oblivious to the challenges. He said: “Whilst the potential of cosplay is known given Africa’s natural elegant and dramatic costuming heritage, turning cosplay into a vibrant industry will take some time and intentional investment.”
Nasasira is optimistic about the growth of the sub-sector because it is hard to develop fantasy and adventure films without cosplay, art, and fashion.