ART AFRICA spoke to Ocom Adonias
Ocom Adonias is a Kampala based artist who makes use of photography, sculpture and painting to evoke the personal struggles and challenges of his community entrenched in the political-social context of the present. He has participated in art fairs and biennales and was a top 10 finalist in the Absa L’Atelier Art Competition 2018, Johannesburg.
Ocom Adonias, Street disciples 5 (Kikuubo), 2019. Charcoal and wash on newspapers, 100 x 100cm. Courtesy of the artist & Afriart Gallery.
ART AFRICA: Your work is a combination of photography, sculpture and painting. Can you let us know how each medium informs a part of your working process?
Ocom Adonias: Having studied photography, painting and sculpture while at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, these practices continuously inform my work in clear and subtle ways. When I’m working on my collages I employ both the additive and subtractive techniques just as in modelling a sculpture to create compositions. I block out some detail using washes and charcoal to add detail. I replace some parts in the composition with cut out newspapers and the reverse can also happen depending on how I want to accentuate some key points to tell the story in the work. Photography is a huge pillar in trying to weave my stories.
Sometimes when I am walking on the street with my smartphone, I see compositions which I call live paintings and its only through practicing photography that an eye learns to see the most interesting tiny details in crowds or public spaces.
Later, when I get to my studio, I develop my sketches from the various photos. So, one composition can have as many as ten different photos from different scenes to help create a piece that can allow me to comment on the social aspects of my life.
Photography also helps me in refining picture composition skills which has a huge impact on my paintings. In creating the collages, I mostly use watercolour techniques of laying successive layers of washes to a desired range of tones and preserve the newspaper itself as it’s an integral part in telling the story.
You spent one year and a half with as a photographer with Megapix a local events company. How has that experience shaped your art?
The experience I got from Megapix as an event and studio photographer has been impactful to my work because of how I was taught to control light with the camera to create a mood which is very important in creating stories. The experience opened my eyes to seeing light, variations in movement, shadows, and lines and how they influence a picture’s ability to communicate. The photography studio experience also helped me learn how to pose models and I use this knowledge in creating compositions from different pictures to create a moment or scene in my compositions. This experience laid a foundation upon which I could explore other mediums of storytelling like stop motion or rotoscope animation – I learnt this from Radenko Milak during the 2018 Kampala Art Biennale.
Ocom Adonias, New taxi park saints, 2019. Charcoal and wash on newspapers, 100 x 90cm. Courtesy of the artist & Afriart Gallery.
In several of your paintings, you include figures with halos around their heads. What is the significance of this?
The significance of the halo is to celebrate the people who make our lives easier and possible but aren’t recognized because of how society perceives the notion of sainthood. They aren’t celebrated because they aren’t on the front news page or television and yet they play a very significant role in our lives. They are the unsung heroes, the street sweepers, the taxi drivers, the street vendors etc. The halo is also to question what being a saint means and who qualifies to be a saint. The halos are placed on unsuspected characters to raise a debate about the virtues and the notions that guide our humanity.
How does paper collage serve as a critical metaphor to your own personal background and the notion of recycling?
In the community, where I grew up newspapers are mostly used to light charcoal stoves commonly known as Sigiri and using them feels like giving another life to them, making them get a new face as opposed to rotting away. The newspapers have a lot of stories that reflect what is happening in our societies but after someone has finished reading the newspaper it’s thrown away and to me, that’s very like the acknowledgement most people in the society don’t get. The newspaper is a metaphor for the people that society tends to forget however important the services or small the things they offer. They aren’t celebrated, and they aren’t remembered in history and to me, the newspaper serves as the best metaphor for these unsung saints that are forgotten. Just as the newspaper they are thrown away and forgotten. One interesting aspect to me about newspapers is when reading the newspapers, the headlines, gossip and entertainment attract a lot of attention to newspaper readers and some stories are skipped and forgotten the same is replayed in our society when it comes to the notion of who is important or saintly.