Alex Calder 


The Beat of a Different Drummer: Sekanwagi’s Artistic Legacy


Described by admirers as “simultaneously communicating serenity, and the sheer joy of being alive”, Dan Sekanwagi’s unique work has also been said to exhibit “a remarkably high standard of finish.” Marching to the proverbial ‘different drummer’ has enabled this artist to compose complex and harmonious symphonies of form, color, and style. While his talent, importance, and influence upon other leading East African modernists remain unquestioned, this artist continues to challenge and expand his visual, artistic and personal boundaries.  

A native of Uganda, Sekanwagi considers himself a self-taught artist, who began his career as an illustrator and structural draftsman. Excellence within these graphic disciplines provided an expanded vocabulary for his unique visual language. Combining the immediate impact of modern sculptural elements with sophisticated coloring and shading, Sekanwagi’s early painting articulate historical and personal subject matter with striking emotional potency and breathtaking eloquence.

Demonstrating fluency with mediums and styles in a manner distinctly his own, early painting by this artist are recognized worldwide for their enormous influence upon his contemporaries- primary members of East Africa’s Modern Art Movement. Distinctive recent creations continue to explore the limits of his inspiration and visual power, providing the perfect vehicle for his unique creative voice.


 Impact on East Africa’s Modern art Movement

Sekanwagi is credited with introducing significant advances in both style and technique to Nairobi’s thriving international art scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Frequently described with terms such as ‘East African modernism’, and ‘Afro-cubism’, Sekanwagi’s distinctively contemporary, semi-abstract visions create a category all their own. As in “Playful Work”, executed in 1983, strong flowing lines concentrate and channel contrasting colors and shaded forms. Sekanwagi’s self-originated technique of painting India inks and dyes on canvas enabled the artist to introduce subtle, tonal shading to semi-abstract figures, creating colorful, intricately interwoven, sculptural forms.

Many of these earlier works are also noteworthy for including regions of white unstained canvas as a compositional element within each piece, where contrasts of canvas to dye help shape, interact with and offset the colored regions.


Sekanwagi's Recent Work

While earlier subject-matter included local historical legends and folklore from East Africa, the artist’s more recent preoccupation has evolved towards more universal themes captured with a graphic, ultramodern appearance. These most recent efforts are executed using the livelier tones of acrylics while retaining Sekanwagi’s characteristic use of bold, contrasting colors and sweeping animated forms. Among these explorations “The Awakening” discovers new horizons while seeking distant, imagined destinations. Delighting the senses with characteristic fluidity and color, this vision tantalizes the viewer with its compelling metaphor for shared hopes, struggles, and triumphs.

            Sekanwagi’s expansive stylized dreams are also captured in “Dawn of a New Century.” With penetrating symbolism, this work captures the collective ideals of our interconnected generations simultaneously facing a defining moment. This deft masterpiece captures the emotional convolutions of an uncertain, yet hopeful time. Multiple interpretations offer themselves simultaneously – beauty, challenge, and the ever-unknown: looking out, looking in, and looking ahead. Each answer provides its own wondrous question.

While many have fallen in love with this artist’s unique and powerful vision, admirers continue to discover new rewards upon entering his ever-evolving, ever-reaching visual explorations. History will undoubtedly place Dan Sekanwagi as one of the most imaginative and influential artists from East Africa’s Ugandan School of fine painting.



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Sentinel Poetry (Online) #51   ISSN 1479-425X


Editor-in-Chief: Amatoritsero Ede

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