What started as a dream, when Kingdon Rungwe bought a piece of land under the shadow of the Rwenzori mountains in 2005, has finally matured into the first bronze-casting foundry in Uganda. The name Kingdon Rungwe may not be familiar to those outside the tourism circles. But to tour operators, Rungwe’s father Jonathon’s book rests on the shelf of every guide’s vehicle.
Jonathon was a lecturer at Makerere University who named his son Rungwe after a volcano in Tanzania. Rungwe spent much of his childhood in East Africa and has love for the countries and particularly Uganda. Rungwe and his wife Claude Koenig set up a bronze-casting foundry and gallery in UK in the early 1980s, and are responsible for some of the world’s greatest works of art – sculptures that tour the most prestigious galleries and fetch dizzying sums in the auction houses of London and New York.
The couple is not artists but art lovers interested in working in the shadows to help artists realize their visions. And they have always had a dream of doing the same in Uganda, which forced them to register Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation as a charity organization in 2004 and acquired land in 2005.
In 2004, they took three Ugandan trainees to their UK Pangolin Editions for three-year training. The Ugandans were trained in all aspects of the casting process, enabling them to return to Kasese to set up the sculpture foundry, adapting their knowledge to local conditions and to those of local and visiting artists.
The foundry – with art centre, gallery and coffee bar – is located in Kyemihoko village, about 11km from Kasese town on Kasese-Fort Portal road, and currently employees 14 people. Seated on 60 acres of land, the complex sits in harmony with its recently-restored natural landscape and makes inventive use of recycled local materials.
It has studios and residential accommodation, and hosts regular exchange visits between African and European artists. Among them has been Ugandan sculptors Isaac Okwir and Peter Oloya, and foreign sculptors Sue Freeborough, Michael Cooper, Martin Jennings and Jon Buck who designed a series of over 30 clan totem animals in bronze, inspired by local traditions.
Capturing the magnificence of iconic species such as elephant, lion, buffalo, colobus monkey and hippo, the series includes more elusive creatures like the pangolin. These are on sale at $1,000 per piece. Chris Freeborough, the Trustee and Director, Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation, who was last week at Emin Pasha hotel in Kampala to introduce the foundry to tour operators noted: “Artists whose paths would not normally cross have been brought together and an exchange of ideas and practices facilitated.”
He revealed that two trustees recently led an expedition to Karamoja to find the last remaining indigenous Tepeth carvers. The workshop that followed brought together tribal elders, a talented young Karimojong recruit and British sculptors Michael Cooper and Martin Jennings to create new animal and figure carvings in marble and stone, which are now on display. Pure white Ugandan marble carvings rub shoulders with soapstone and bronze sculptures by a diversity of talented local artists.
Freeborough further noted that the foundry would extend visitors’ experience to Queen Elizabeth and Rwenzori national parks. At $5 donation to the foundation, tourists will be allowed to tour the workshop to see the entire process of casting bronze. This is before retiring to the coffee bar terrace which offers a comfortable place to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the Mountains of the Moon.
“We are introducing a new form of art in the country which would be as successful as stone-cutting in Zimbabwe,” Freeborough said.
“There is no history of metal casting in East Africa but there is both a need and desire for the building of a new artistic tradition and a great belief in the opportunities that will arise through cultural exchange.”
In addition to bronze-casting, workshop activities include stone and woodcarving, construction and photography. As part of its long-term commitment to the extended community, the foundation hosts a clinic run by the Ruwenzori Health and Education Foundation to provide basic healthcare and education for wider community.
Source: The Observer