The Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation was set up in 2004 with the intention of fostering cultural exchanges between Ugandan and British artists. In early 2005 three Ugandan trainees, selected for a three-year scholarship, arrived in the UK to be trained in all aspects of the bronze-casting process. They returned to Uganda to set up Rwenzori Founders Sculpture Foundry in 2008, adapting their knowledge to local conditions and the needs of local and visiting artists. That same year, I was asked to design a set of tribal clan totems for the Founders team to cast, exhibit and sell in their on-site gallery.
Initially I spent time at Makerere University in Kampala researching the customs of Uganda’s tribal clans and their totemic animal emblems. Although these customs are still very much adhered to, any visual evidence of what form these totems might have taken no longer exists. To some degree that gave me licence to invent new sculptural forms to represent each clan. As the nature of the totems was intended to be symbolic, my designs had to be stylistic representations rather than naturalistic ones. Having completed my research, I eventually designed and supervised the making of over thirty different animal totems, many of which represented clans from the largest tribe in Uganda, the Buganda, but were also common to several different tribal groups.
In the intervening years the team of founders at Kyemihoko have cast many editions of these small bronze totems which are always on show for visitors to their award-winning art gallery. I have returned on several occasions to add to the collection and also to make larger works to be sited in the developing sculpture park. On my last visit in 2018, I was invited to help enlarge the Ngo, or Leopard totem, to add to the growing collection of outdoor works by both Ugandan and British artists. This large bronze has finally been completed and has been installed in the park by the Rwenzori Founders team this summer.
1st May –8thJune at Pangolin London
13thMay-28th June at Gallery Pangolin, Stroud
“Jon Buck’s work takes inspiration from a wide range of historical and contemporary scientific and anthropological sources. In this important exhibition across both Pangolin Galleries many of his new works explore primary patterns derived from the natural world. They embellish the surfaces of containers, receptacles and arks with the implied need for the preservation of the great diversity that is life.”
Humans have been inspired by and admired the aesthetic forms of the natural world ever since Neolithic artists scraped the first images on rock faces and cave interiors. Their symbolic and metaphoric depictions continue to delight us and be part of our conceptual toolkit even today. However, in a day-to-day sense we have become more reliant on the use of a much more abstract set of symbols, not least with alphabets of written languages, but more recently with the icon vectors found on computer keyboards and mobile phones which have become globally ubiquitous. In my sculpture ‘In Ferment’ above, the two languages are tumbled together on the surface of this vessel. It is as if one is being asked to imagine a metabolic process of fermentation with our new and ancient cultures both effervescing within its interior.
My sculpture In Man’s Nature has found itself a very exotic new setting. The work has been purchased for a new city development in Mauritius, the island about which Mark Twain was once purported to have remarked; “Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius.”
However, this location is no romantic natural idyll but a new Smart City, centred upon a major university campus that will also include a brand new art centre and a sculpture park. Uniciti, as it has been named, has been specifically designed to provide world-class higher education for young Mauritians and students from other African countries.
In Man’s Nature is currently to be seen at their Pierrefonds campus but once the new sculpture park has been completed it will become one of the first sculptures to be sited there.
Amazingly, the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation is now in its tenth year. I have been lucky enough to be involved since its conception and was responsible for its very first sculpture project. My challenge was to design and make a group of small sculptures representing Ugandan tribal clan totems which could subsequently be reproduced in bronze by the newly-trained Rwenzori Founders team.
This project was not as ill considered as it might appear. There are many traditional tribal customs such as music and dance that continue to thrive in Uganda today. The clan’s lineages and affiliations are still respected but for some reason, the visual heritage that might have symbolised these, has for the most part completely disappeared. In consequence it seemed a wholly legitimate concept to imaginatively recreate new totems to represent some of the many tribal clans. In the end I designed over thirty totems, many of them, unsurprisingly, being stylistically simplified images of Uganda’s iconic wildlife.
Bronze edition of the Lugave or Pangolin Totem
Since those early days the Foundation has hosted many visiting artists from both Uganda and the UK and has now begun to establish a sculpture park surrounding the gallery on site, near Kasese in Western Uganda. This developing project has given the Rwenzori Founders team the considerable challenge of casting bronze sculptures on a much larger scale.
Winnie working on the clay enlargement of the Pangolin totem. Thanks to Steve Russell for the above photo.
The Foundation has selected two of my original clan totems to enlarge and cast into bronze, the pangolin or Lugave clan totem and the leopard or Ngo clan totem, to be part of this growing collection of large sculptures in the park. Last month I visited to help put the finishing touches to the three and a half metre leopard enlargement.
Clay enlargement of Leopard Totem nearing completion.
The opportunity to visit Uganda regularly has given me the chance to explore some of the surrounding environment and discover the extraordinary diversity of wildlife that it supports. In consequence, it can be no accident that my contemporary studio work in recent years has been much influenced by these adventures and has begun to directly reflect the huge diversity of form and colour that evolution has produced on our planet over the millennia. It is also apposite to wonder how extraordinary it is that our own aesthetic empathy is reflected in this proliferation of beauty. However, one cannot help also to be painfully aware of the human pressures that are being brought to bear on this precious phenomenon and to ask at what cost is its demise?
Common swordtail (Graphium polycenes)
Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki)
Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)
A recent drawing to be shown in Gallery Pangolin’s Christmas exhibition; 18th November – 15th December 2017
The plumages of birds are always beautiful but why have their patterns and colours evolved in such spectacular ways? Mostly it would seem, it is all about impressing a potential mate. We have some undeniably beautiful birds in this part of the world but in dark interiors of the tropical forests many species seem to have been forced to up the ante to quite some considerable degree in order to make themselves desirable. The bird in this drawing I’m afraid has evolved on the paper from the dark interior of my head but in essence, I would suggest is not far away from closely related species in reality.
This exhibition is showing some new work that I have made experimenting with fired ceramics. It has allowed new possibilities to use different textures and making techniques. These in turn have started to develop new forms and shapes that are mainly suggestive of vessels and containers. The outside patterning of raised glyphs describing either their implied or imagined function.
This is a world-class contemporary sculpture exhibition which opens at Chester Cathedral on 7 July and continues until 15 October 2017. It will be the largest modern sculpture exhibition to be held in the north west of England and will feature ninety works by over fifty internationally renowned sculptors including Damien Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth, Sarah Lucas, David Mach, Kenneth Armitage, Peter Randall-Page and Jon Buck, amongst others.
This exhibition takes place within the magnificent interior of Chester cathedral with the sculptures seen against the backdrop of the magnificent gothic architecture and the beautiful ancient spaces surrounding it. Several sculptures have made especially for this exhibition whilst others have been borrowed for public view from private collections.
The exhibition takes its title ‘ARK’ to be variously defined: not just the archetypal biblical vessel but also as any container or place of refuge that protects valued items. The cathedral itself can also be seen as ark-like in its traditional role as a place of sanctuary and a space for people to gather. Many of the sculptures in this exhibition can be interpreted in this metaphorical context as vessels and animal forms and as such empathise with the myriad of creatures that appear woven into the fabric of the cathedral. The cathedral, symbolised as an ARK, embraces them all.
DistantObject Production’s film ‘Jon Buck, Coded for Colour’ has been selected for screening by the Fine Arts Film Festival in Venice, California which will run from May 11th – 13th 2017.
Its US premier at the Festival,) is on May 13th at Art Share, LA. It is alongside more than 40 unique films from around the world.
The Fine Arts Film Festival (FAFF) is dedicated to showing the finest films in the world about art, photography, collectors and artists of all mediums in and out of their studios, galleries, museums, public art, and alternative art spaces. This includes video art, curated as a film medium.
You can see a couple of photos from the production on the Festival Facebook site and watch the film by clicking on the ‘Film’ section of this website.