Bwambale Wesely's paintings are inspired by the positive female role models in his life. Photo: Bwambale

By Pauline Odhiambo

If happiness is indeed a choice, then Ugandan artist Bwambale Wesely is happiest when painting strong women in his contemporary art.

Most of his paintings pay homage to his mother and sisters who helped raise him in Kasese district in the western part of Uganda where his journey in the arts began.

"My art tells the story of how far I have come, and the women who have helped me get me to where I am,” Bwambale tells TRT Afrika.

Contemporary art is an umbrella term for the art of today and recent times, rather than a style or genre.

Feminist art on the other hand describes a specific a movement from the 20th century onwards highlighting the societal and political experiences of women, according to the platform Art Forum.

In the 1960s and 70s, through the feminist movement, many women began challenging expectations of womanhood as reflected in various societal spheres including the male-dominated arts.

The goal of the movement was to bring a positive change to the world, leading to equality or liberation of women.

Bwambale's older sisters feature prominently in his paintings: Photo: Bwambale 

Sisters’ bond

African art also has a rich and diverse history dating back to prehistoric times, with a variety of artistic expressions, including sculpture, textiles, masks and paintings.

But as feminism continued to evolve, the art world broadened to include more voices and perspectives, including those of male African artists like Bwambale whose paintings showcase female muse.

“Painting stories that I have been part of is very rewarding,” he says. “I’ve captured many moments on canvas including the girl talk moments where my sisters would often share their secrets.”

Bwambale’s oil-on-canvas paintings are a nostalgic mesh of the two genres – the retro style of the models in his art bring to mind 70’s fashion, an era of liberation for many women in Africa and other parts of the world.

His three older sister, who often pose for him, feature prominently in his art. Their perceptible camaraderie invites the viewer to interact with them and be part of their bond.

“I have seen my sisters suffering but I have also seen them happy. Their stories have inspired me to paint stories of many other women facing life’s challenges in their own unique ways,” says the Kampala-based artist.

'Girl Talk' is a painting showcasing his sisters' strong bond. Photo: Bwambale

Female muse

Though his artistic inspiration draws from the many pleasant memories of his childhood, his family was initially skeptical of his decision to pursue a career in the arts.

“In many parts of Uganda, art is still seen as just a talent, and not something to make a living out of,” the 30-year old explains. “I initially contemplated studying engineering but decided to follow my childhood passion instead.”

Bwambale studied at the Michelangelo College in Uganda where he graduated with a diploma in industrial art and design. He later obtained an art degree from Kyambogo University.

“I come from a family of business-minded people so after graduating, I started a men’s clothing business but wasn’t happy at all, so I went back to art and have been doing it ever since,” he states.

He began experimenting with portraiture before eventually settling on African contemporary art, making use of the female muse to inspire his art.

Bwambale experimented in portraiture before settling on contemporary art. Photo: Bwambale

Instagram gallery

He churned out several pieces but many of the local galleries he approached were hesitant to display art by a ‘newbie’ artist. Bwambale then turned to the social platform Instagram to display his art.

“Instagram helped me connect with reputable galleries in America and the UK,” he tells TRT Afrika. “I was able to have my work showcases by the Daapah Gallery in London and the Thierry Goldberg gallery in America.”

His work has also been showcased in California by the Band of Vices Gallery.

According to a report by Art Basel, more than 2700 works by Contemporary African artists were auctioned in 2023 – almost twice the art sold in 2020.

In 2022 alone, works by contemporary artists born in Africa generated $63 million at auction compared to a previous record of $47 million in 2021. Many of Bwambale’s pieces, priced between $2000 – 6000, have been sold successfully in the international market, boosting his morale to churn out more art, and encouraging other artist to promote their art.

“My advice to budding artists is to believe in themselves and to use social media to advance their art. Following different artists and learning from them can sharpen their skills.”

Paintings by Bwambale have showcased in galleries in the UK and United States. Photo: Bwambale 

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TRT Afrika