Jak Katarikawe

Jak Katarikawe was born in 1938 or 1940 in Kigezi, Kabale, Southern Uganda, Jak Katarikawe is East Africa’s most famed resident artist and one of Africa’s finest with a personal life story as fascinating as the mirthful images he’s poured onto canvas for over 50 years.

Self-taught, the Ugandan-born maestro never went to school although in his adulthood a professor at Kampala’s Makerere University invited him to sit in some of his art classes – provoking unsporting protest from some snooty students. Dream catcher personified, Katarikawe hardly ever paints any oeuvre that hadn’t been gestated in one of his lurid, often spiritual, dreams.

Some call Jak Katarikawe Africa’s Chagall for his pastoral storytelling and deceptively whimsy compositions. His cosmos is a magical poetic place where there’s no separation between humans and animals. Mothers with babies strapped on their back float above open fields, homesteads and livestock. Roguish elephants, lions, zebras, birds and, especially his signature long-horned Ankole cows, symbolizing wealth bestowed by the ancestors, fall in love, marry, protect their offspring, cheat on spouses, betray trust and alliances, make war and peace – just like humans. In a tragicomic oeuvre a polygamous bull raped one of his wives and paid a heavy price exacted by the community – castration. “You must never rape, not even your wife,” Katarikawe admonishes. “Before there was no underwear” shows a bosomy Mama squatting under a tree smoking a pipe, thighs opened just-so, lush private parts exposed. Yes, the spirit -medium Katarikawe can be erotic-kinky too. Au fait, his women had been flashing their pudenda long before Hollywood showed a knickersless Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

Jak Katarikawe – Wedding night (1985) © Artnet

Ask Jak Katarikawe the meaning of a painting and he’d ask you to sit down and have a drink. You’d have to listen to the long-winded superstition-replete occurrence that inspired the work. Some titles run over several lines, such as: “This lion when it came in the homestead the husband thought it was going to kill people but he saw that the lion only wanted to have sex with his wife and the husband started laughing at the sight of what the lion was doing to his wife and as the man laughed the lion shut him up by shoving its tail into his mouth.” This masterpiece hangs in the Museum für Volkerkunde, Hamburg, which owns 139 other Katarikawes. The most widely collected painter of his generation Katarikawe is the first known African to have had his work in the corridors of the Kremlin. His catalogue raisonné published in 2005 is a collector’s item and some of his works, such as “Wedding night”, have been used on covers of many publications as well as in a film poster.

Jak Katarikawe – Village Scene with Animals (2018) © Artnet

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