Born in 1994 in Fort Portal, Uganda, Atugonza is a portrait sculptor who graduated from Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art in 2019. He previously worked as an apprentice in lost-wax casting and as a technical officer in a furniture workshop which he left in 2020 to join the Silhouette Projects Residency Program and become a full-time artist.
His current body of work encompasses a selection of portraits depicting people in his life whom he sculpts in ubiquitous materials such as sawdust, dried grass, and charcoal – all of them being waste materials found within his environment. He captures proportion, body movement, and posture using the reverse technique. This process with dressing his models with bandages to get the negative, after which he manipulates through clay as an ‘editing’ process to capture the figure’s expression in order to eventually make a cast.
Atugonza sees his practice as an extension of a recycling line. He initially began using plastic litter found on the university premises, not because he was trying to clean the campus but because he needed cheap material to make his work as a student. This further extended to sourcing plastic from his neighbors and purchasing it from the recycling depot. He further experimented with other waste materials such as sawdust, charcoal residue, and dried grass to make his sculptures more durable and to create different visual and haptic experiences.
In this making process, the subject matter and materiality fuse people and environment in forms that appear brittle which, however, become durable through the transformation of the material. In this process, the artist finds new techniques and solutions to handle the material. Within the daily challenges the artist encounters in his life and those of others, there is a resilient character to be found in the new materialism of the black matter. A main component of the process is the interaction between the artist and the model. Atugonza carefully chooses his models and establishes an atmosphere in which he is able to connect with his subjects on a deeper level.
“My art is a mirror to reflect people’s emotions and how they behave in the community.”
– Richard Atugonza
Atugonza has exhibited his work at Walls Speak at Kingdom Kampala (2019), in the group exhibitions Surfaces (2019) and Where the Wild Things are (2022) and in the duo exhibition (Im)perfections (2020) at Afriart Gallery. He has shown at Abu Dhabi Art, FNB Art Joburg, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair London/New York, and African Galleries Now X Artsy. He was commissioned by Abu Dhabi Art Beyond 2021 to create two large-scale sculptures which were exhibited during the fair.