Video made by: Andrew Irving (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
"In Uganda we did not have fine arts in the past"
Lilian Nabulime works with soap, metal and wood
"My PhD research was a great experience throughout, studying the role of sculptural forms as a communication tool in relation to the lives and experiences of women with AIDS in Uganda. I gained a lot of experience making sculptures as powerful weapons that can address political, social, cultural and health-related issues." Her PhD research sculptures aim to raise awareness among African women and promote discussions about sexual practices and safety, overcoming taboos. Through her artwork Lilian Nabulime is involved in a courageous fight against HIV/AIDS, one of the greatest plagues which is torturing many countries in Africa today and has done so over many decades.
Soap Sculptures: Making people in Uganda sexually more aware
Previously, Lilian Nabulime concentrated on creating sculptures of soap, which is an easily recognisable, well-used domestic material.
Working with soap - The symbol of cleansing and treatment of infections
Soap art (photo above) occupies a special place in her work. In her struggle against AIDS Lilian Nabulime developed art forms using objects which are familiar to the Ugandan context, such as shields (symbolising protection), bowls (referring to the female anatomy), as well as knots and nails, representing the suffering of those infected by HIV/AIDS. Since 'ordinary' sculptures were not used by AIDS-related organisations in Uganda to educate people, Lilian Nabulime continued her research on artists who had successfully worked with problems such as AIDS, in particular the Cuban artist Felix Gonzales. Lilian then decided to follow another strategy. She stopped making artwork in the shape of bowls, which worked well on a symbolic level, but were too time-consuming to replicate. Instead, she concentrated on making sculptures from soap, which is a cheap material, easy to produce, and a symbol of cleansing and treatment of infections. Sexual symbols and forms were also a crucial part in her soap sculptures. Male and female genitalia were fashioned by Lilian from translucent soap and were displayed upon a white table, facing each other, looking like an erotic chess game about to begin. Lilian: "The great significance of the transparent male and female sculptures is that it focuses on male and female genitalia as the most important sources of HIV infections. It encourages both men and women to discuss an issue that is a taboo. Men have to be encouraged to get involved in strategies that fight HIV/AIDS."
"Discovering tree roots was a great experience"
During her Master's study (1989-1992) Lilian became intrigued by the structure and material of tree roots and she started making root sculptures. "The experience with root sculptures enabled me to work on different shapes of wood and to use the various materials I came across. Discovering tree roots was a great experience. As I worked on them, I discovered that they had unique forms which had to be studied in order to derive artistic inspiration. Each root is unique, because it grows underground where it finds obstacles to fight and struggle against, ending up in different forms. Roots are very expressive gnarled forms which infused me with strong emotions."
Carving tree stumps has become Lilian Nabulime's trademark. Taking inspiration from the original form of the tree, she uses power saws, mallets, gouges and chisels to create her highly original, elegant sulptures, which often represent elongated women's heads. Lilian likes to incorporate metal on wood and also works in other materials like clay, plaster of Paris and metal castings and finds inspiration for her sculptures in nature and the people she meets. Through her art Lillian wants to educate people with strong messages to liberate both women and men.
Photo left: Tree stump with roots getting finished, turning it into a utility sculpture (a table for 6 people - January 2014). It was burnt to eliminate the weak areas and colours and remove insects attacking it. When carving trees, Lilian Nabulime selects a trunk, searching for a motif in the stump. She carries out her sculpting by carving wood from the tree with a power saw, gouges and chisels, achieving elongated or monumental sculptures. Her sculptures feature a dynamic and organic rhythm that follows the grain and growth pattern of the tree and often produces a feeling of spiritual movement. While carving, Lilian always respects the integrity of the natural form of the tree.
Her roots are in Africa and she received her training as a sculptor at the Margret Trowel School of Fine Art, Makerere University in Uganda, where she gained her BA and Masters degree. The training followed the British system as the founder in ther 1930s was British. Her PhD was awarded at the University of Newcastle, UK, and she has matured through exposure to the work of artists in international workshops and exhibitions not only in Africa, but also in Europe and America. Her national and tribal culture has no significant sculptural background. The PhD in the UK was practice-based and greatly strengthened her sculptural forms, thoughts and ideas. Other sculptors who have inspired her are mainly Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Henry Moore. Her sculptures, especially the figures, may look African, but their production is universal or cosmopolitan.