Art Talk: Getting into a scrap

17 February 2015 - 02:06 By Andrea Nagel

Benon Lutaaya is a Ugandan-born visual artist based in Johannesburg at the Bag Factory Studios.

He recently had a solo show in Cape Town, which sold out during preview opportunities - two weeks before it was open to the public.

The show was titled "Portrait of Self". His work is collage-based portraiture on canvas and his technique reveals layers of constant manipulation, exploration and approximations in the application of collage. These layers are interspersed with elements of intervention and disturbance, intended to blur fixed ideas and raise important questions about the way identity is constructed. He finds the waste paper used in his collage work particularly suitable for creating his portraits as he perceives an element of humanity in the material.

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I made the decision in my final year of high school and it's been the best decision I've ever made. For me art is a noble thing: it gives me more pleasure and emotional and intellectual engagement than anything else. Art makes me feel hopeful and inspired. It represents the best way through which I understand the world, and through which I inform and inspire others. It gives me a sense of individuality and independence.

Your medium?

I work mainly with recycled, discarded stuff: newspapers, magazines, plastics, telephone cards. I create collage and mixed media artwork. In 2011, while on an international artist residency project with the Bag Factory artists' studios, I experimented with acrylic painting. This year I started experimenting with oil painting.

Your style?

Expressionistic. I try to explore how the painting is created in terms of structure, composition, colour and mark making, rather than focusing solely on the final product and what it represents.

What kinds of questions do you hope your work raises?

My work is a social commentary. I aim to raise fundamental questions about the complexity of human conditions and issues pertaining to influences in our society today. Although almost all my work is referenced from the collage of my autobiographical life experiences and the challenges of living as an immigrant, it is important to note that these experiences are not only about suffering but also about the triumph of the human spirit.

The inspiration behind this exhibition?

"Portrait of Self", my last exhibition in Cape Town, was based on my typical day-to-day experiences as an artist. It's about my identity in the world and how it's been formed, shaped and manipulated, sometimes torn, sometimes glued and chiselled by my creative process.

How was the exhibition received?

Like my previous shows, it sold out, but what was special about this one is that it sold out during preview.

The challenges facing you as an artist?

Plenty. I want to grow, to improve, to get better and better. It's not easy. It takes every bit of time, energy and thought I have. I have many sleepless nights.

Your 'art philosophy'?

Creating art is the meaning of my life. Everything in my life revolves around and feeds off that.

  • Contact Lutaaya at