Eve Bageire: Making art with fire

Eve Bageire with some of her early works. Photo/Andrew Kaggwa

What you need to know:

  • Bageire, a passionate artist determined to introduce and popularise pyrography in Uganda, has done a number of works, most biased towards celebrating powerful women.

Every time someone talks about making art, what comes to mind is canvas, brushes, and a lot of oil paints. Of course, there are many other mediums for making art, such as charcoal on paper, wood curving, pastel, chalk, glass, bronze, and pencil, among others.

However, art evolves, and so do the mediums; every now and then, people create new mediums; some are widely adopted, while others, for different reasons, do not catch on as much.
One of such art forms is pyrograthy, or pyrogravure, the free-handed art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks, resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker.

Pyrography has been practiced for centuries and is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt. It requires precision and skill, as the artist must carefully control the temperature and pressure of the heated object to create intricate designs. Despite its unique and beautiful results, pyrography remains a niche art form, often overshadowed by more popular mediums such as painting or sculpture. However, for those who appreciate the distinct aesthetic of burn marks on wood, pyrography offers a captivating and expressive way to create art.

In Uganda, pyrography is yet to get onto baby steps; saying it is unpopular would be an overstatement; the art discipline does not exist. There are not many documented people who practice or teach pyrography in Uganda.
That is where Eve Bageire comes in, a passionate artist who is determined to introduce and popularise pyrography in Uganda.
Bageire says most artists paint, and she needed to find a voice as an artist, a niche.

“I wanted something that was interactive.”
While searching for that niche, she tried out different techniques, including charcoal on paper and canvas. While trying out charcoal, which is burned firewood, she learnt about burning images on wood – pyrography.
For the past two years, she has been teaching herself and learning about new techniques, but while at it, she has also promoted the art and gotten people to understand it.

“Pyrography is so different that the audience does not believe it is real; I have had to prove to people that I actually did my work. During exhibitions, I have had to do it live for people to know it is real. But when it comes to the artists, most of them find it hectic, thus not embracing it as much as they do with painting,” she says.
Of course, along the way, she has discovered many techniques and tools that bring perfection to pyrography. Some of these are expensive, while others are accessible, but no one tells you how they work.

Pyrography is specific to the type of wood; some of them are poisonous because of the fumes they emit, so one needs to be careful when choosing the type of wood.
“The best wood for pyrography is birch, but it is also expensive, so at the moment I am working with plywood,” she says, adding that she hopes to try out 3D and other types of wood.

Celebrating women
Bageire has done a number of pyrography works, and most of these are biased towards celebrating powerful women. In one of her works, she celebrates the first woman, Eve, and the garden of Eden.
“She has been viewed as a weak woman, yet she was banished and still managed to thrive and start a family. Eve is the first woman; she was the root of all the strong women after that. We do not see Eve’s strong points; we see her weakness,” she says.

At the moment, her body of work is celebrating powerful women; she says the project has been delayed because most of them have not been accessible.
“The plan was to make an exhibition, but most of these people were not accessible. Most of the images are of high-profile and public women. She wanted to talk to them and take new images, but the schedules were complicated, and she ended up using public images.

These are women such as the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, former Uganda Communication Commission Executive Director Irene Ssewankambo, and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, among others. Since she uses public images, she says she is more willing to give these works to them for free.
Bageire is now working towards popularising pyrography; she has done a few workshops at Kyambogo University and is also seeking to work with girls and children.
“It is more about getting people to know about the art. At the moment, people are comfortable with just one thing: the good old painting,” she says.