tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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Blackware and the art of smoking expression

Smoked pottery has been made for centuries in East Africa, as any visitor to the Uganda Museum or British Museum can confirm.

It is a subtle and unique style of making ceramics that has evolved into what contemporary practitioners have dubbed “blackware” in modern art.

The magnificent finish on ceramics is obtained by first coating the clay body of the created piece in slip and burnishing it with smooth stones.

It is then fired in an oxygen-rich kiln to harden.

In blackware however, there is a unique step that involves a second firing in an oxygen-poor kiln, which produces natural dark smoke patterns, that can be surprisingly expressive.

The exhibition Smoking Expressions at Makerere University Gallery showed new developments in blackware from four young artists.

One of the most intriguing pieces in the exhibition was Tony Bukenya’s Corruption Stitched.

It is attention grabbing not for its aesthetics but because it is a crude little monstrosity, oddly joined with shoelaces.

The piece was crafted by wedging clay, after which it was sliced into two, the insides scooped out and then stitched before burnishing and firing.

Social issues have inspired the form of the piece — ugly art for an ugly subject.

Whatever Bukenya’s intentions, the complicated shape elicited questions about its true meaning.

Another of his pieces titled Ensuwa is a miniature pot with a large foot accompanied by a wooden-handled clay spoon.

It could easily have been popped inside a lady’s hand bag.

Bukenya seems more commercially-minded than his co-exhibitors, as if he believes that his miniature pieces are more convenient to the clientele.

The most mature work in the exhibition was displayed by Ronald Mpindi, who demonstrated his mastery of clay as a medium.

Untitled I is a three dimensional feat of balance and harmony.

It is a cube – rounded off at the edges, and stands at an angle on one of its vertice.

At the top, an opening has been sliced that reveals the dark mysterious interior.

With its smooth edges and shiny body, patches of red squares gradually give away to white quadrilaterals scored into the dark body.

Mpindi’s experimentation also takes him into the realm of science fiction.

A collection of black disc shaped saucers have unnaturally tiny mouths intended to be reminiscent of the flying saucers in iconic movies from the 1950s.

Although traditional African designs are common in his pieces, they also have an aesthetic that is unmistakably Oriental.

Indeed, he recently exhibited at the 2009 Ceramics Biennale in Korea.

However, although his craftsmanship was superior to the rest, the beauty of some pieces was compromised by his insatiable desire to decorate. It would have been better if some pieces had been left plain and simple.

The third member of an old trio of collaborators is Ssekibaala Andrew.

His Fish VII looks like a shard of broken pottery, but a gleaming bead of white pops out at the end of what appears to be fish bones.

Most interesting is his arrangement of the motif in Fish VIII which reveals a circle enclosed by six white eyes with black borders, on a terracotta background, making it more floral than fish.

His technique displayed in two miniature pots and large bowls borrows a lot from ancient pottery, and he sticks to familiar basic shapes.

Perhaps William Mukwaya secretly stole some of the magnetism from the rest of the group.

A newcomer and a protégé of Ssekibaala, his creations depict animal motifs and creations that seem to have been coaxed into life.

The wall montage titled Elephants Ears. It looks like a moth about to take flight, though it seems delicate enough to have been carved out of wood instead of clay.

From a distance, his wall hanging zebra is vibrant with white stripes of engobe clay and black smoked stripes.

Regrettably this is one of the few pieces that expose the clumsiness in a beginner’s first exposure, or the rush in creating pieces to exhibit.

For on close inspection, patches of light brown clay manage to peep out from the spaces between the white and black zebra stripes.

These artists have come up with enterprising ways to deal with a scarcity of resources.

Improvisation in the blending of alcohol and black stain to produce the red body stains is seen in the terrazzo effect perfected in Mpindi’s platters Terrazzo I and Terrazzo II, cutting out the need for expensive imported ores and oxides.

As for the next stage of evolution of blackware ceramics, the centuries-old art form is very much alive and promoted internationally by Prof Magdalene Odundo, whose brilliant displays grace the Metropolitan Museum of Art and private collections around the world.

By SOPHIE ALAL, October 5 2009

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