Our Co-Founder and Head of Adventure, Bee, has been a long time admirer of the beautiful artwork of Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja. Sanna is a mixed-media artist and jewellery designer who is famous for his signature incorporation of recycled man-made waste materials in his art, particularly his unique way of making beads from discarded paper, which earned him the nickname ‘The Bead King’ in Uganda. Sanaa studied interior design in Italy and jewellery design at Goldsmiths in London. He has exhibited extensively across Africa as well as internationally. He is also the founder of Kweta Africa Art and Development Centre based in Lubowa, just outside of Kampala. We were recently lucky enough to have a chat with him to find out all about his inspirations and how it all started...
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an artist?
Looking back from when I was very young I remember particular incidences and activities clearly as the building blocks to my becoming an artist. I come from the Southern Part of Uganda Kisoro that was Rwanda before colonial demarcations bellow Muhabura, the tallest of the Volcanic mountain range which stretch from Uganda, Rwanda and Eastern Congo. It is an area where traditional Metal working was very common due to rich deposits of Iron Ore. It is one of the major Artisanal activities around our village that I was introduced to, including Pottery, Wood carving, Mats Weaving to mention a few. As I go through Secondary School I meet European Art where we use pencils, Paints and brushes with emphasis on realism which I found very competitive. I wanted to be an Artist but I knew I had to forge my own direction. I became a Jeweller to ease my way into a carrier as an Artist and it worked.
What is the creative process like for you - how does your work come to life?
The creative process in whatever medium you choose is an adventure that consumes your mind while thinking of the best way to perfect and control the outcome as you work. The combination of technical knowhow and imagination either sketched or spontaneous action will bring the intended artwork to life.
Is there a particular message that you hope to convey through your artwork?
There is always a message one wants to convey through art for I beleave the lines or circles of any mark one makes, builds up the finished work that is symbolic of intent and has a message whether in three or two dimensional work. A creation without a message is dull and immature.
A lot of your work focuses on repurposing waste materials, is there a reason for this?
It is still the childhood need to check and discover materials around me that result in choices of material discarded but once useful. I realised very early on that conventional Art materials were expensive and while I believed that an Artist is an Inventor and a visionary I embarked of a social environmental responsibility of bringing back to life what we discard as waste with problems of disposal. I recognise an intrinsic value in everything suggestive of beauty first and then a message or purpose. It is my responsibility as an Artist to reveal secrets of creation.
What has been the proudest moment for you throughout your art career?
That I can turn traditional Crafts skills into Contemporary Art with help of a trained team of Assistants all earning enough. It makes me proud especially when the work sells.
Do you enjoy experimenting with new work?
I am always experimenting with new materials, new design methods of work and
always enjoying the sense of adventure and discovery. It keeps me fresh and
attentive to my work in general.
How has the pandemic affected the work you are making?
The Pandemic is a challenge for everyone. It has affected sales of art greatly but has transformed attitudes to working. I look at new expressions, new uses materials and use the time positively while under Lockdown for there is hope for tomorrow.
What is your hope for the future of your career?
My career grows all the time as I introduce and train new workers in skills and as I venture in new directions to make my situation and all involved better.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
The new project in mind starting next month is to take my way of working a step
further. For examples paper has many qualities I have not exploited fully and I want to make it a point that I adventure into experiments to discover what more I can do with this material.
Do you have any advice for young creatives?
Any creative person especially the young should take on challenges to discover new expressions with materials and what can be done to project these materials to global audiance with success in mind. It is hard work but very rewarding in many ways
Are people able to purchase your artwork?
My work is available for sale from Art Galleries in Kampala and London and Paris or directly from me.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Artists working from the African Continent have very good environment and access to diverse materials that can be used to make art.