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24 September 2014

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Lilian Nabulime @ Hatton Gallery
Lilian Nabulime with sculpture
Lilian Nabulime

Ugandan sculptor, Lilian Nabulime creates bold, beautiful and challenging work that explores the politics of gender, race and disease in modern Africa.



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Lilian Nabulime

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by site user Katy Massey

Lilian Nabulime's sculptures deals sensitively and with humour, the painful subject of living with HIV/AIDS.

Visitors to see her work, as part of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne's 2004 Postgraduate Fine Art Degree Exhibition, will be surprised at the beauty on display: a carved wooden statue of a woman with bright red lipstick is clad in shimmering burnt copper tiles.

Lilian Nabulime and Katy Massey
Lilian and Katy consider a soapy game of strategy

Male and female genitalia are fashioned from translucent soap and are displayed facing each other upon a white table, looking for all the world like an erotic chess game about to begin.

But Lilian's work carries a serious message.

"It is a game," she comments, dryly. "If you go into a relationship, you have to make sure you are protected to survive."

Lilian Nabulime's carving of a headwrapped woman
Head-wrapped wooden woman

The pain and tragedy of women living with HIV/AIDS in Lilian's home country of Uganda is never far from the surface.

The beautiful head-wrapped wooden woman may be studded with nails or wrought with chain-saw cuts. And, if you look carefully, some of the soap penises contain deadly, rotten seeds.

Already a well-established artist who has exhibited all over the world, Lilian is a lecturer at Uganda's Makerere University in Sculpture.

Lilian's Nabulime's carving of lady with basket
Lilian's bountiful lady

Lilian has spent three years in Newcastle producing the work on display in the exhibition, which is based on her research talking to Ugandan women affected by the disease.

"I expected to find misery, but though they are struggling they were positive, smiling and determined to go on," she says. However, more money would certainly make their lives easier, as some of Lilian's works make plain.

One installation features nearly 300 tiny test tubes mounted on wooden racks, each filled with a different natural material some at various stages of degradation.

Lilain Nabulime's shield sculpture
A shield of protection

These, and another pieces in unadorned and rough-hewn wood depicting a figure balanced awkwardly on a tripod attached to various drips, refer to the vital drugs and treatments which are so difficult for these women to obtain.

Lilian will be returning soon to Uganda to share her work with the women whose experience she has worked so hard to represent. Then her use of natural and easily obtained materials will come into its own.

Lilian plans to run workshops where she and the women will recreate those pieces she is unable to transport to Africa.

In the meantime, three of her pieces are on permanent display in Newcastle University's new Devonshire Building: twisted, organic figures were made from Sycamore trees which were felled when construction got underway.

Lilian Nabulime's bowls with mirror
Lilian's fragile and reflective bowls & mirrors

I asked her how this commission came about.

"I was just passing and asked if I could have the wood, and they were kind enough to give it to me," she explains, displaying the modesty, warmth and ingenuity typical of her approach to her art.

Lilian Nabulime

The Hatton Gallery and Fine Art Department

Newcastle University

until September 10


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