Human Nature | Richard Atugonza

January 13, 2024 - March 09, 2024

A Solo Exhibition by Richard Atugonza

Exhibition Opening: Saturday, 13th January 2024, 4 - 8 PM

Download the exhibition catalogue HERE

Upon entering Richard Atugonza's (b. 1994, Uganda) debut solo exhibition at Afriart Gallery, you are immersing yourself into a world of symbiosis – of being human, and of being nature. Pondering upon navigating life’s struggles, and attempting to find ways to embrace the highs and lows life is made of, Atugonza made a peculiar observation in the timber furniture workshop where he used to work as a technical officer, and still visits often to collect discarded materials for his work as an artist: In the environment of the workshop, spiders and humans seem to have formed a special kind of symbiosis.

Spiders and their cobwebs clutter the ceilings, walls, pillars and tools. Atugonza has always been fascinated by how cobwebs could hold the sawdust being thrown around in the process of wood milling. Spiders seem to find this manmade habitat even more conducive to their survival than the natural world outside the workshop. Perhaps, finding themselves in a populated area dominated by human beings, they migrate indoors in search of shade, cool air, and a home in which they are tolerated. The workers seem not to be bothered by the thick layers of cobweb, perhaps enjoying the spiders controlling the insect populations, which seem to be an even easier task with the sawdust adding substance to their webs.

In an attempt to grapple with the uncertainties of life, Atugonza turns towards nature, and being human seems to start making just a little more sense. While the natural world stands on a delicate balance of coexistence and symbiotic relationships between its flora and fauna, the elements and the physical laws of our universe, nature never works against itself. In a perpetual flow and perfect equilibrium, every end is a new beginning; where abundance is found, there is void; and where there is darkness, there is light. 

Just as much as we are being capable of feeling immense joy, we find ourselves hitting rock bottom. Being overwhelmed to a point of questioning the purpose of our suffering is as old as humanity itself, and core to many forms of spirituality. After all, nature may teach us to embrace the uncertainties of life through recognizing our own abilities to form new symbioses, adapt in face of adversity, to build resilience and resourcefulness, and to find balance.

Inspired by his predicament with our complex relationship with the natural world around us, the artist also poses questions around environmental protection, policies and their effects on individuals – especially those from his community directly and indirectly involved in the timber industry. For instance, local restrictions on cutting trees to protect the environment have a direct effect on the livelihoods of many. Often implemented with little care, no coping strategies and alternatives are being offered to those affected, and the resourcefulness of the people needing to reinvent themselves is tested once again.  

In this exhibition, Atugonza explores the human experience and our inextricable entanglements with the natural world around us. As a point of departure, he draws upon his own experiences and those of his models, whose stories, struggles and emotions he shares with us in form of sculptures. With every sculpture portraying an individual, yet often relatable experience, he opens a poetic angle for recognizing our shared humanity.

Curated by Lara Buchmann.