File Note 150: Andrew Omoding - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Marc Steene

 

Quote Animals to Remember Uganda Credits Biography References

‘What does authenticity look like? In an era of high strategy and market-led obsession, Andrew Omoding’s natural talent and creative drive stands out without effort.’ Francesca Gavin

Animals to Remember Uganda

Omoding immigrated to the UK when he was twelve years old as a refugee fleeing the Ugandan civil war. While his difficult experiences of migration have had a lasting impact on him, they have also enabled him to journey emotionally and creatively between his two countries, exploring the physical and emotional distance between them. Through this distance, he is free to touch upon memories from Uganda and recreate them in his art, stories and performances, reimagining his culture, its animals and objects, to inform his art, stories, and performances. Being a migrant and exiled from one’s country of birth has been a recurring experience for many artists. During the Second World War numerous artists fled Nazi occupation, and more recently artists have been leaving Ukraine to seek safety in other countries. Many artists have used this process of evocation and remembering to animate their work—artists such as the exiled Marc Chagall (1887–1985) remembering his Jewish community in Russia, or Holocaust survivor Friedrich Nagler (1920–2009), who recreated the lost communities of Vienna. Lubaina Himid (b. 1954) uses a collective history and memory to comment on the lack of representation of people of colour in traditional art history. Sometimes physical distance is vital in order to connect with yourself and to realise who you are. This awareness allows us to see ourselves as others might, or to recognise what is uniquely our own, whether that is our appearance, style or culture. 

This fusing of memory, culture and place was evident in Omoding’s exhibition Welcome to Me, Scarborough. To See and Hold My Work held at the Woodend Gallery in Scarborough in 2022. Jenni Lomax wrote of the exhibition, ‘He used the archives of Scarborough Museums Trust to draw inspiration from books, photographs, objects and artefacts as sources of inspiration, and visited locations around Scarborough including the many architectural highlights, the harbour and arcades. Andrew also drew inspiration from local histories around rope and net making, the herring girls and skipping day’.1 This ability to bridge culture, memory and place is uniquely his own. 

For his exhibition at Camden Art Centre, Omoding had the opportunity to produce two new sculptures in a London foundry, depicting a fish and a bat. A major inspiration when developing the exhibition was seeing Chucky Yi flying his parrots on Primrose Hill during the COVID lockdown. Known as ‘The Parrot Man of Primrose Hill’, Yi did not want to clip his birds’ wings and trap them in a cage. He instead taught his macaws to fly across the park and return to him. Watching him fly his parrots, with their fantastic colours and plumage, strongly resonated with Omoding. It is possible that the visual impact of seeing these fantastically coloured birds reminded him of Uganda. Also far from home, they could perhaps represent the artist—a notion that is reinforced in the film that forms part of his exhibition at Camden. The use of animals as vehicles of remembrance and as symbols of human emotions has a long tradition, from cave drawings to the Expressionist paintings of Franz Marc (1880–1916) and more recently artists like Cathie Pilkington (b. 1968) and sculptor Laura Ford (b. 1961). Omoding’s works share some connections with Ford’s playful, fantastic beasts and animals. He first met her through his 2017 commission from Outside In and HOUSE Festival to produce work for Common Threads (2017), a two-person exhibition with Outside In artist Anthony Stevens at Phoenix in Brighton. Ford was HOUSE Festival’s lead artist and produced work in relation to the hedonistic lifestyle of George IV, A Kings Appetite (2017), which was exhibited at Brighton Museum. Dr Penelope Curtis said of Ford’s work that ‘Her imagery is all about remembering and giving memory clarity’.2 This could equally apply to Omoding and his visualisation of his memories of life in Uganda through his art. 

One of Omoding’s sculptures, Kawratome (2024), depicts an African antelope, and its accompanying story is written in felt-tip pen on a piece of cotton stitched to fabric—a means he often uses to tell his tales. The story highlights the way in which Omoding’s work combines elements of his Ugandan memories and his life in England. There are references to London Zoo and to animals traded for money in Uganda. The contrast between them highlights Omoding’s compassion and awareness of their plight. Though not explicit, there is a feeling that he is questioning both these situations and underlining the need to release them from their cages: 

Animal called kawratome, its Friendly.
Eating big clay circle here in big container. Eat well and take them out out in the cage incase its bored.
Please stroke it gentle not be angry
Be friendly, be nice. Girls Feeding hands and stroking its
Friendly nice
Say come to me. Lot Animals zoo,
London zoo its different country Uganda as
Uganda have lot animals to buy cow goat
sheep and people buy a lot £2000.00.
pounds lot lot money bring more money
a lot, man asking not enough! Make animals
to bring from home and make animals very happy not angry. 

This compassion and kindness, a feeling of responsibility for the animals he creates and the audiences that engage with them, can be found in Omoding‘s work in general. He tends to his flock as a shepherd tends to sheep, gathering and caring for them. This desire to nurture others is also reflected in his work as a mentor for other artists as both a prior course leader on Camden Art Centre’s pioneering programme for SEN students, and in his current role as a teacher at Tate. 

In making his sculptures, Omoding’s creative practice follows a pattern. He first constructs his animals, then composes stories in relation to them, and ends with grand performances. Whilst Omoding is not a shaman, there is something spiritual and ritualised in these performances. There is a magic in the way he weaves place, sculpture, stories and music. He is a natural storyteller who evokes an experience beyond any singular element, creating something new that transcends each of its component parts, aligning him with other artists who have used ceremony and ritual in their work. 

The objects he makes speak beyond their meaning. A musical instrument created from bound cardboard tubes, for example, alludes to a deeper spiritual truth and brings remembered music to life through material. In a manner similar to Hew Locke (b. 1959), an artist he admires, Omoding uses a wide range of media to create his art. Old electric reels, bike parts, fabrics, cardboard and materials donated to ActionSpace all feature in his work. ActionSpace Associate Artist Lisa Brown has supported Omoding in his work for the last thirteen years. In addition to serving as a mentor, she helps create the environment in which he makes his art, collecting old, recycled and used items that Omoding selects and repurposes. The sculptures he makes from these materials have both beauty and complexity, aesthetically characterised by the string and yarn he uses to bind, weave and tie them together. 

It is enlightening to watch the film by Professor Trevor H.J. Marchand, a social anthropologist, of Omoding at work (produced as part of Craftspace and Outside In). One can clearly see how he stiches and mixes colours, textures and fabrics in a fluid process, to arrive at Steene 6 

a complex finished object. Music also plays an important role in his work, whether in the form of Ugandan folk songs or modern African pop music. He plays these as he works, and their rhythm dictates the pace and movement of the making of his art. His songs ring out with his own stories, which are in turn interwoven with the music. This led to a recent collaboration with audio artist and poet Axel Kacoutié to develop and record his own songs. 

Animals to Remember Uganda follows Omoding’s residency at Camden Art Centre in 2019, and continues his long-standing relationship with the organisation, which has enabled the development of his intuitive and evolving practice—a practice that has been instrumentally supported by ActionSpace, a visual arts organisation that supports learning disabled artists across London and has represented Omoding since 2009. As a multifaceted artist, Omoding embraces cultures, memories and stories with a generosity and openness that is rare in the art world. Seeking to share what he creates through story and performance, Omoding makes his character and identity present in all he creates. His sincerity and candour shine through, instilling pleasure in audiences who are fortunate enough to encounter him and his work. 

Credits

Marc Steene OBE is a writer and the Founder and Director of the charity Outside In. 

Animals to Remember Uganda was made possible through the generous support of The Foundation Foundation and The Elephant Trust. This exhibition is produced in partnership with ActionSpace, a visual arts organisation supporting learning disabled artists across London. 

Biography

Andrew Omoding (b. 1987, Uganda) lives and works in London. His sculptural forms, constructed from found material, fabric and macramé, are often autobiographical in nature. His early childhood in Uganda, migration to the United Kingdom as a young refugee, and subsequent life in London have all informed the intuitive, systematic and dynamic methods he employs in the creation of his works. In his multi-media practice, Omoding’s innate conceptualisation of colour, form, texture and space are on full vibrant display. Recent solo exhibitions include Welcome to Me, Scarborough. To See and Hold My Work, Woodend Gallery, Scarborough (2022); EXPLORERS Conference: Art, Rights and Representation, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes (2019); It’s my work, come see, come see, Camden Art Centre, London (2019); and Art, Materiality and Representation, SOAS University of London, London (2018). Recent group shows include Season One, Cromwell Place, London (2022); Shaking the Everyday, Cockpit Arts, London (2021); Summer Exhibition 2021, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2021); The Future Is Loading, Shape Arts, virtual (2020); Prints!, Project Ability, Glasgow (2019); Outside In: Journeys Through Art, Sotheby’s, London (2018); Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making, Craftspace, Aberystwyth (2017); and The Shop of Curiosity, The Geddes Gallery, London (2016). In 2019, Omoding was the artist in residence at Camden Art Centre, and he has held other residencies at the Barbican 

References

1 Jenni Lomax, Exhibition Guide, Andrew Omoding, Welcome to Me, Scarborough. To See and Hold My Work. 19 March 2021–19 June 2022, Woodend Gallery. 

2 Laura Ford, Biography www.lauraford.net/biography. 

El Anatsui, TimeSpace, October Gallery, London (2023) 

Hew Locke, The Procession, Tate Britain, London (2022) 

Tau Lewis, Yorkshire Sculpture International, The Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield (2019) 

Julien Creuzet, Too blue, too deep, too dark we sank (…), Camden Art Centre, London (2022) 

Magdalene Abakanowicz, Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, Tate Modern, London (2023) 

Barry Flanagan, 4 casb 2 ‘67 (1967), Tate Britain Permanent Collection, London 

When Forms Come Alive (2024), Hayward Gallery, London 

Chucky Yi, The Parrot Man of Primrose Hill (United Kingdom, 2020), film 

Rhys Morgan, Seaweed in the Fruit Locker 

Jose Chameleone, Kipepeo (Leone Island, 2022) 

Irene Ntale, Gyobera, Track 16 on Sembera (SWANGZ AVENUE, 2016) 

Michael Jackson, Thriller (MJJ Productions, 1982) 

Aziz Azion, Nkumira Omukwano, Track 3 on Wampisa (Shotyme Music, 2010) 

Britney Spears, Oops!… I Did It Again (Zomba Recrding LLC, 2000) 

Rihanna, Loud (The Island Def Jam Music Group, 2011) 

Jose Chameleone, Badilisha, Track 1 on Chameleone Greatest Hits Champion (Leone Island, 2018) 

Sauti Sol, Live and Die in Africa (Sauti Sol, 2015)