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Self-Reflection: A Promise that keeps shaping my Artist identity/Journey

It is evidently common in Uganda if you tell people you used to hawk art door to door, they can fail to believe. And not just art but so many other things. For art, the reason could be how art is aesthetically dignified by most people in this country Uganda. Most people love art for its aesthetics. And for many, its the grandiose aesthetic that is only met in galleries, museums and art fairs with a specific target market or demographic.

Interestingly though, I personally used to hawk my artwork back in 2010 & 2012 during my Form 4 and Form 6 vacation (Not many know this story) moving from door to door in the neighbourhood near and far just to share my drawings (sometimes unfinished) and find some money for myself to keep me afloat during those long holidays. I would wake up with a plan of where to walk to and who to meet thanks to my mother who always supported by giving me some transport where need be. Some of these people were close to home so I didn’t have to walk so far. Sometimes I would go by public means because of the transport I had been given only to return walking because the people I met hadn’t bought anything. This is a familiar story for many young artists growing up.

The goal was if I could get just one person to buy my drawings, that would be a justification and validation for what I do (My focus was that). All our family friends and neighbors by that time could attest to my love and passion for art to the core. But most just found it pleasing to look at. At least all the homes saw me around with either a piece of drawing or I often talked about it during play. Sadly, many times I was hit by utter disappointment and sometimes huge guard dogs that would angrily invite me to these homes or chase me away (And sometimes having to run for my life hence damaging the drawings)

The disappointments always came in 3 forms;

  1. Some people liking my art but didn’t have money to spend on art because art wasn’t priority.
  2. Some people not liking my art and asking me to find a real job.
  3. Some people taking my art pieces and not paying up.( Up to now)
  4. Lastly, the Self befitting idea that I wasn’t good enough yet. (Imposter Syndrome)

My journey coming to terms with myself identifying as a full time Artist has evolved overtime and has taken nearly a decade and a half to do so. And I am not saying I have reached my utmost peak. I am still evolving, unlearning, re-learning growing and self reflecting. Every 10 years I have to pivot somehow and that’s just me. I have been at it professionally for close to 8 years meddling with all the ideas in my head and societal misconceptions of what art is and what it isn’t, how being an artist isn’t a real job, the craziness of the industry itself with its pressures to conform to trends and markets, life after University, unlearning and re-learning new ideas, networking, collaborations, explorations and experimentations, engaging with communities and most of all self reflection at every stage. I have also met, worked and networked with a lot of amazing people, artists and communities who have really shaped my understanding of Art. The Kind of Art that transcends seeking validation.

One of the most profound things in my journey as been working with grassroot communities earlier on in my artist journey. These are often forgotten stakeholders by the biggest part of the Art world since most times they aren’t seen as a genuine target market. My work with grassroot communities through murals, workshops, paintings and various social experiences has really shaped my view of intentionality and art that transcends validation. Through self reflection, this has made me understand myself better, my role and place within these communities. Probably the mindset with which I moved during my vacation wasn’t intentional or perhaps I was looking for the wrong kind of support then. Doing gradual self reflections like these at different times of my career has helped me re-focus my artistic journey, draft clearer visions and ground my artistic identity within the communities around me and this has happened through not just immersing myself in the knowledge and wisdom of those who came before me but also understanding the role I play as an artist in a wider community.

Self Reflection is very pivotal for many Careers not just the arts. For, emerging artists if done early, it fosters a deeper understanding of their artistic vision, strengths and areas for growth. This enables them refine their skills to meet the demands of the times, develop unique artistic voice and navigate the challenges of the creative process with more clarity and purpose. I interact with many young artists at my studio on a daily. Many tend to think everything just falls into place as long as they just create. Most remind me of my hawking days where I did a lot of second guessing my creative instincts. They don’t bother with self examination of themselves and their practices because maybe that’s a long path to take. They want the easy way out. They tend to forget how self reflection is as important as many other things on their journey to artistic freedom and excellence. I always tell them to take a break and reflect.

Kabeya Ilunga one of the 2024 Apprentices at Kiggundu Art Studio takes guests through his creative process.

Seeing many young artists at my Art Studio like Kabeya Ilunga (under our Apprenticeship Program at Kiggundu Art Studio) enjoy sharing his creative process, artistic identity, motivations to create and what he is passionate about during the 6th Edition Weekend of Open Studio made me reflect on my hawking story. Kabeya is a Congolese National who moved to Uganda and resided in Nakivale Refugee Settlement before relocating to Kampala for school and finding more opportunities for his art. His tenacity to discover new environments for new knowledge, learning and exploration for his art practice is worth emulating. I could vividly remember the days I found myself standing in front of a group of people or explaining to family friends and neighbours (in their homes) about my drawings and passions, sometimes not quite sure what I was even talking about. The whole essence was to get them to validate me as an artist and maybe give me money. When the imposter syndrome always kicked in, I used to question what I was even doing. Its not until I invested in reading a lot and equipping myself with the right knowledge, skills and developing the right attitudes towards my practice beyond just the aesthetics in order to withstand the disappointments, rejections, self doubt and overall struggles that go into developing a sustainable art practice. And trust me, it is still a work in progress.

Its until young artists understand what goes into building something sustainable that they will achieve artistic excellence. Many of them don’t reflect on their personal artistic journeys. I am personally happy that I am still on that journey. Many start out with love and passion but end up frustrated because passion can only take you so far. Its tenacity, courage, experience, failure, perseverance, growth, learning etc. My view of art was always hell bent on making enough money and that would be it. For many upcoming artists this is a mantra they carry on even further in their careers which is also fine. But the truth is the love for monetary gains can compromise your creativity, kill your artistic integrity, create a sense of unfulfillment and most certainly cause you a burn out. If these little moments and experiences do not break you, you have to strive to pivot them into moments of self reflection for yourself looking at how far your art journey has come. Learning that feedback, writing and building experience are key aspects to one’s artistic journey.

It is also quite important to note that in this day and age, there’s alot of opportunities to experiment, explore, engage, network and get mentored. At Kiggundu Art Studio through our Apprenticeship Program for example, we are working with 8 young artists including Kabeya himself and during our first quarter of 2024, we focused on Artistic Identity a key element in artistic growth and personal artistic development which got many of the apprentices to reflect on their journeys. They dived into what themes motivate them, what ideas they want to share to the world, how do they want to share those ideas, how those ideas reflect on their personal identities, what artforms and materials they explore etc. This exercise reminded me of those days I used to hawk without a sense of direction. All I needed was validation and money. I am glad that am changing the discourse of my artistic practice through paying it forward with what I have learnt over the past few years.

In summary, Self Reflection is often over looked by many creatives. Where you sit down and connect the dots backwards. And see how far you’ve come, what to change, unlearn, relearn, rethink and realign in one’s art practice. Like I said earlier, for myself its been a promise that has shaped my artistic identity and journey. Holding onto the different moments, people and layers of how my art practice has transformed and now manifests itself in various forms. And how I let that take its own direction without me boxing it into one thing. As artists we ought to do a lot of introspection and examination into our art practices, how it makes us feel when we do it is crucial in fostering personal growth and development by gaining insight, learning from experiences, and making positive changes.

As an Artist, always ask yourself these questions,

  1. What is my Artist Vision?
  2. What Stage of my Artistic/Creative journey do I find myself at?
  3. What opportunities and resources at this stage do I really need?

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Written by Kiggundu Rodney (1)

A Visual Artist. I like to Dream, Discover and Connect.

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