The Centenary Monument and Freedom Sculpture, epitomize technical dexterity and studio prowess
Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | For one who has been to the Centenary Park in Kampala, located next to Hotel Africana, they should have caught sight of the strikingly in design artwork in the gardens of the Park. More so, for a discerning observer the same artwork graces the face of the Uganda Shilling 20, 000 bank note. The sculpture built in concrete is the Centenary Monument by Dr. Sylvia Katende Nabiteko formerly of Makerere School of Industrial and Fine art. It was commissioned by Kampala City Council, later Kampala City Council Authority, to commemorate its centenary anniversary. As such, the monumental sculpture symbolizes the identity of the city governing authority and its achievements in the 100 years since its establishment as an institution that runs the country’s capital city and business district. Standing at 6 feet high, the sculpture assumes a convex design and a mechanic gear hangs in its narrow chest to symbolize the concept of economic growth or financial success through investment. At its foot, it sits inside a boxy like shaped flower pot to evoke the theme of growth. The monument like a plant growing from the earth is firmly rooted in the ground and therefore has the ability to wither any storm. This is a characteristic of the strong and vibrant economy the authority as helped to forge through its management of the city.
In this sculpture, the artist seemed to be intent to create a mutual relationship between art and architecture by exploring both elements of the two disciplines. The exploration of depth, proportionality, form and size in a single artwork is representation of how art and architecture can co- exist into one single unit, but also compliment each other. This fusion is critical because it imbues the City’s modernist and post modernist architecture and the aesthetic nature of its natural landscape. From a critical perspective, each aspect of the elements used, was delicately explored to create a complex image that is distinctly beautiful. It is through this exploration that the visitors gaze is captured and entertained to this work of art.
Such technical dexterity can also be observed in an open air sculpture Freedom sitting next to the sculptural studio at the Makerere art school. Unlike, the Centenary Monument which is abstract in nature and speaks to the development of the city, the former is figurative with a bust of a young woman representing the theme of freedom. The woman’s bust built from concrete is presented with a gazelle neck and smooth slender face to illustrate her immense beauty. Yet her striking physical appearance is desecrated by the empty eye sockets she wears and an open mouth that conceals her beautiful full lips. In the same manner, the posture of the model’s face is slightly tilted to the left; a reflection of her discomfort. Such artistic ploy invites suspense and mystery into the sculpture with the curious onlooker asking questions what message could the artist possibly be conveying to the public. The same feeling may grip many a visitor to the Centenary Park when they first encounter the memorial Monument.
The decimated physical features on the woman and a tilted face symbolize social-cultural and economic estrangement women get exposed to in different spaces across the country. Though there has been a persistent awareness on women freedoms like freedom of expression and education by different women activist groups, many women especially in rural settings are still socially and economically held captive. Conversely, even in urban centres and elite spaces like Universities, the female gender silently encounters forms of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that infringe on their natural freedom. Here, the artist assumes the role of a social activist advocating for freedom of women rights through building the sculpture on campus.
Sylvia Katende showcases outstanding technical dexterity and in these two artworks. The artist delves into research and experimental processes to achieve a distinguished identity for her art. In the case of the Centenary Monument, she settles for a subtle fusion of art and architectural elements to create a complex but magnificent sculpture that compliments the city’s bustling landscape. On the other hand, the Freedom figurine at Makerere is built with an aptitude of a refined sculptor who respects essential sculptural elements like depth, form and proportionality. It is this expression of studio prowess that ably elevates her sculptural works to master pieces. Similarly, this expertise qualifies her as one of the best sculptors of her generation.