At a glance, all one can see are shadowy and ghostly creatures flapping their wings, hovering over an undeclared space – and this adds to the mystery of the painting. At a closer look, the images are indeed marabou storks, ugly looking birds whose presence has increased drastically in Uganda’s urban spaces in the recent past. They breed near human habitation especially around garbage dumps, slaughter houses and land fill sites.
In this painting Theresa Musoke dwells on the generalized form of the marabou storks hinting at no detail, hence shifting our interest from individual features to the entire painting. The cyclic composition constituted by the three active birds spreading their wings and looking down as if to find something to forage keeps the painting in constant motion. The background is tumultuous furthering a sense of anticipation. Her choice of rustic colours which range from browns to greens however betray her intent to conceal what marabous represent to Kampala residents – dirty surroundings.
This painting clearly demonstrates that Musoke benefitted from the tutelage of Cecil Todd, a British professor (1958-1971) whose curriculum at Makerere Art School insisted on pictorial composition, anatomy and perspective while keeping a close watch on content. These were indeed sharpened with Musoke’s training in the UK in the early 70s. The political anarchy and muzzling of free speech during Idi Amin’s regime (1971-1979) made it hard for her to continue with her teaching job at Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art, Makerere University. Like many educated Ugandan’s of the time, she fled to exile. In Nairobi (Kenya) the nostalgia of leaving home was the very reason for her career as an artist. Her interest in subject of wild life started here in the animal rich plains of Kenya.
The marabou storks painting continues this journey in exploring East Africa’s fauna as well as extending the possibilities of Batik art medium – elements of which are evident in the painting.
Dr. George Kyeyune Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration, Makerere University 2018