Matt Kayem

Mat Kayem Stuck Traveler (proposed project KAB16) Mat Kayem Sculpture from the exhibition POP RAP HIP at Underground Gallery. Image by Canon Rumanzi

Michael Matthew Kayiwa a.k.a  Matt Kayem was born on 5th June  1991 to a retired teacher and a mid-wife in the small town of Mityana, 60 kilometres from the capital Kampala. His father owned a bookstore right in the heart of the town which meant that the young Michael would be introduced to writing and drawing at an early stage. He attended Budo Junior School for his primary education and continued to Mengo Senior School for his secondary level. At Mengo Senior, he took on art as a subject right from senior one. After his secondary school, he opted to join Michelangelo College Of Creative Arts, Kisubi because his grades would not get him a place at the prestigious Makerere University. After three years at art school, he attained a certificate and diploma in art and design in October 2015.

He recently exhibited at Underground gallery in kampala with his show titled: POP-RAP-HIP. He created clay sculptures and a series of paintings on jeans he has worn and no longer uses. He uses these to express his perception of Ugandan society in general. On one hand, Kayem’s work is based on his own stories about everyday life and on the other, it is a critique of the lifestyle of power, sex, fame and wealth among some Ugandans. These are the common stereotypes the general public usually have of someone who has “made it” in life and to which many aspire. But this is normally a far cry from reality and instead breeds envy and fights among those who are trying hard to be “hip” and make it to the top.

Kayem is never afraid to openly make known his radical views about life and society in general. Paradoxically, this very society tends to hide its radical views on matters like sex, politics, gender, etc, behind closed doors. This is why, for example, many people buy the Red Pepper, an outrageous local tabloid, and read it while hiding it behind a more decent daily like The Monitor. The Red Pepper is notorious for its graphic sexual content.

Kayem is brutally honest about his ambitions, desires, and dreams. He strives to be rich, to be powerful, and to be a famous person in society. But instead of conforming himself to the stereotypes of high society (rich, powerful, famous), the artist questions their “conventions and norms” and innocently rebels against these very norms. He does this by introducing contrary, populist notions to his artworks. This is because Kayem understands and believes that the freedom of expression in society should never be controlled by the expectations and/or conventions of a powerful minority., whether in art, in speech, or in matters of faith.

This rebelliousness against the status quo is what informs his art practice. For example, he paints on worn jeans and not on canvas. Instead of painting academically, he opts for a street, graphite technique. Rather than be decorative, he instead singes his paintings using hot charcoal. By applying these unconventional techniques to his art practice, he creates this raw aesthetic which he terms “rough beauty”. This inevitably questions the conventions of what Ugandan contemporary art is expected to look like and it pushes out its aesthetic boundaries.

In addition, he strategically markets himself in a very different way from his fellow artists so as to try and get more attention. By raising the curiosity of society in the process, he seeks to popularize art and introduce its possibilities to the general public. His ultimate aim is to open up these possibilities not only to those who are privileged of means and status, but to everyone else including underprivileged youths struggling to succeed in their art careers. He does this in the hope that they will perhaps emulate an ambitious dreamer like Matt Kayem himself. (source: Underground, POP-RAP-HIP).

Matt Kayem is a full time visual artist who’s repertoire stretches from portraiture, human figurativism (with concentration in life sketching and likeness) to traditional painting techniques, photography, sculpture, graffiti writing and ceramics. He works and lives in Kampala, Rubaga road.

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