Gen Elly Tumwine`s Contribution Towards Uganda`s Art Industry

today02/04/2020 28 1

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Uganda`s former Security Minister General Elly Tumwine passed away Thursday morning in Nairobi at the Aga Khan Hospital where he had been airlifted recently after suffering complications related to a cancerous condition.

Tumwine, one of the heroes of the 1986 Luweero bush war that brought the current NRM government to power and died at the age of 68.

His death has left many people lamenting including the Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who regarded him as a liberation hero.

Tumwine was born on April 12, 1954, in Burunga, Mbarara District and attended Burunga Primary School, Mbarara High School and St. Henry’s College Kitovu, before joining Makerere University, where he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art in 1977.

A young Elly Tumwine during his Makerere University days

But since we are an entertainment blog, lets rather focus on his other side towards the Art industry!….and linchpin on Uganda`s national art gallery (Nommo Gallery)

The Nommo Gallery was founded and established in 1964 by the 1959 Act of Parliamen and is Uganda’s National Art Gallery and a component of the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC). The Nommo Gallery features exhibitions of works of art by both Ugandan and foreign artists.

It sits in a secure location in the heart of Kampala City just next to State Lodge at Nakasero (Plot 4, Victoria Avenue) and boasts of an impressive assortment of art masterpieces from paintings, batiks (tie-and-dye), ceramics, art prints, photographs and sculptors, among others.

How Gen Tumwiine comes in this amalgam plus his bequest on the operations of the Nommo gallery.

The greed and focus on money to steal rather than the purpose or long-term goals of institutions had destroyed many Ugandan parastatals, including National Theatre. Talk and action, addition of value and source of income, versus lack of improvement, maintenance and income generation, characterise the background of this matter. Corruption survives on darkness or ignorance as well as misinformation.

The Art industry needed innovative and creative minds, not corroded and stained anti-people bureaucrats who want to reap where they have not sown and only abuse the authority lent to them by the people.

The Nommo Gallery was first  presided over by the First Lady then, Miria Obote. It was originally an annex to the Nakasero State House. It was handed to the artists who had formed The Uganda Artists Association (UAA) to unite all the visual artists. Artists like the late Prof. Francis Musango Gwantamu, the late Buluma, the late Kyeyune, Prof. Nagenda, and others participated.

During Idi Amin’s regime, when most artists ran into exile and the main patrons the rich Indians left, the gallery was almost deserted and the few artists who stayed quarrelled among themselves. The Ministry of Culture then appointed an Overseer to run the gallery but only paid a miserable salary to him, such that he was only able to survive from his art but there was no money enough to even maintain the compound.

In 1986, when NRM took power, Elly Tumwiine encouraged artists to come together. He invited many back from exile, and worked with the School of Fine Art at Makerere, to be involved in designing and painting to depict the new situation. In 1988, he was made the patron of the UAA. They organised many Art exhibitions, but they were always embarrassed by the unattended compound and the whole environment, with helpless complaints from the overseer, then Mr Buluma, who was soon to retire.

In 1992, he was appointed the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Uganda National Cultural Centre ( UNCC), to take care of the National Theatre, the Nommo Gallery, and another community house in Mengo ( which was later returned with the Lubiri). The (UNCC) Act only talks of the National Theatre. The ministry told their board that they had to raise their own funds to run these places. “There was a small wage subvention to cover the salaries of a few members of staff. The National Theatre was leaking, and the chairs in the auditorium smelling and the bush was around all the premises”, Elly Tumwiine told media in 2013.

“The Nommo Gallery was the worst with many ant-hills on the compound. One day, a company came marketing Hydra-form technology, of making bricks from ant-hill soil without using cement. It was exciting, and I told them that we had plenty of ant-hills even next to State House, and they could demonstrate there”, he said.

“From our ant-hills exhibition in the bushy compound, we got 5,000 bricks. As an artist and responsible person, I made use of the bricks after paying for the labour, by putting up an artistic temporary two-room structure using metallic supports, and the wall of the neighbouring building. At that time I had no official office elsewhere, and wanted to do whatever it took to improve the Art promotion centres, as many people were not bothered. After contraction, we invited the President to see the Hydra-form demonstration and many other dignitaries from the ministries, which led to the purchase of the machines”. He continued.

Tumwiine said that at that time, very few people visited the gallery. “We then started a campaign to promote the gallery to become a tourist centre and a lively place for art lovers and the public, so that they can patronise the artists’ work on sell”.

The board appointed a substantive director of the Nommo Gallery, the Late Fabian Mpagi, a well known artist. Tumwiine worked with many artists to organise exhibitions at the gallery and even abroad. Then he realised that there was a gap on attracting people to the gallery, there was no eating place and no African food being served around the area. He then took months convincing restaurant owners to come to Nommo Gallery, until he convinced the ladies running Pearl Restaurant, who were at Pioneer Mall then.

“To convince them, I offered them one of the rooms on my structure free of charge for six months, so that they test the market. When it picked up, we then, started discussing the idea of B.O.T.(Build Operate and Transfer). I was working with the director and briefing the board of trustees all the time”, Tumwiine noted.

Finally, they raised the funds to build the restaurant as a temporary structure, and they entered into a legal agreement with Nommo Gallery in 1997 to build and operate the restaurant for 10 years, after which, they would start paying rent. This included maintaining the premises in a good and attractive condition.

When they left his room, in 1997, they turned it into a classroom for different lectures on art environment, grey-haired and bould-headed, nutrition, visiting students from all over the country, and an additional exhibition space for art. Tumwiine worked jointly with the director, to offer internship art training to various students, with some coming from abroad. He made and commissioned many art pieces to display in the compound to give the gallery a deserving image of a National Gallery.

Nommo Gallery was not originally under the UNCC Act of 1959, which was specifically for the National Theatre. There had been attempts to amend the Act to include other cultural centres, but it never went beyond Cabinet. Since the only parastatal for Artists was UNCC, Nommo Gallerly was administratively brought under the UNCC. The land titles of UNCC were only for the National Theatre. Nommo Gallery remained under Uganda Land Commission, and later National Housing acquired its title, who started demanding for rent from the gallery.

In 2001, as artists, Elly Tumwiine and colleagues were concerned about developing the premises, and there was danger that National Housing Corporation could sell the artists home. The director of Nommo Gallery worked hard, and they gathered all the facts and affidavits from those who were present in the 60s when it was officially given for artists, including Mr Odida, Hon Kyemba, the late Hon Tiberondwa, the late Prof. Musango , the late artist Elly Kyeyune , and others.

The title was secured in 2004, put in the names of UNCC as trustees for artists. “These are the facts that all need to know and understand, our tested and proven commitment, to protect artists interests, as well as national interests, and not for personal gain. I am proud to say that my vision that I expressed at the opening of my art exhibition in 1993 at Nommo Gallery, when I assured those present that we shall turn Nommo Gallery into one of the best sitting places in Kampala, has been fulfilled as we speak”, the Gen said.

Tumwiine wasn’t occupying the gallery as a commercial tenant or an employee for pay. “I was there as a patron of the Uganda Artists Association and a representative of the owners, not to work like “a paid labourer” which some people are. I have taught worked, helped and promoted young artists and many other people as a responsible patriot”.

May his soul rest in eternal peace!


Written by: admin

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