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Out of Africa 

Local connection brings hopefu Ugandan art debut to Smokebrush

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Peggy Colgate, a veterinarian from Cañon City, claims to only have a "hobby interest" in art. Yet her Sunday afternoon pursuit has grown quickly into an international chain effort leading up to one of the three new shows opening at the Smokebrush Gallery this month.

Ugandan Spirit in Art: Mixed-Media Artwork by Judah Tadias Ssenkungu displays 10 pencil, pastel and water-based paintings by the Kampala, Uganda-based artist.

Though Ssenkungu and Colgate have never met in person, they have corresponded via e-mail, telephone and snail mail. A friend of Colgate's met Ssenkungu on a church trip two years ago and referred him to her as a resource.

"[She] asked me if I would look at some of his artwork ... and lo and behold, all these wonderful paintings show up in the mail from Uganda," says Colgate.

Ssenkungu, now in his late 20s, has a degree in industrial art and design, and while painting and drawing are clearly his passions, they also comprise a ticket to a better life. Ssenkungu's mother died from AIDS, and his father and brother are also deceased. However, he still has his younger sister.

"His hope is that [by] sending some of his stuff to the United States he could raise some money ... to help his sister finish school, because she had to drop out to work," explains Colgate, who spent her own money to frame the art. She plans to send Ssenkungu all of the money for each work, ranging from $250 to $450.

All in all, not much is known about Ssenkungu. A recent lack of e-mail messages from him has left Colgate concerned.

For more than 20 years, Uganda has suffered at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a self-proclaimed religious guerilla army that has murdered and displaced millions. Journalists have documented its practice of kidnapping children and making them soldiers or sex slaves.

But according to recent news reports, peace talks are currently underway between the government and the LRA.

Sarah Ray, co-founder of Yobel Market, a Woodland Park-based fair-trade crafts organization that works with women from several Third World countries (but is not affiliated with Ugandan Spirit), has been to Uganda several times on humanitarian missions.

"There is a definite feel that things are getting better," she says, recalling her trip last August. But despite the fact that morale is improving, says Ray, "Africa is unstable. I never felt in danger ... but I also know that anything can change."

Ugandan Spirit voices much of Uganda's plight, from the destitute to the hopeful. Many of Ssenkungu's paintings depict children and mothers in washes of cool color, their figures consisting of gentle arcs. The artist's sensitive vision provides an authentic and original glimpse into the world around him.


Ugandan Spirit in Art: Mixed-Media Artwork by Judah Tadias Ssenkungu
Smokebrush Gallery,
218 W. Colorado Ave.
Opening reception, Friday, July 11, 5-8 p.m.; show runs through July 23
For more, call 444-1012 or visit smokebrush.org.

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