Painting as a means of connecting: Ugandan artist Mwanga William’s work on display at Northfield Mount Hermon’s Rhodes Arts Center through Oct. 6

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school.

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school.

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school through Oct 6.

Paintings by Mwanga William on display at Northfield Mount Hermon school through Oct 6. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Mwanga William.

Mwanga William. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 09-22-2023 11:05 AM

Whether they make you feel transported to another world or right at home, Ugandan artist Mwanga William’s paintings reflect a culture worthy of Northfield Mount Hermon school’s embrace, according to Gallery Director Jamie Rourke.

“Paintings by Mwanga William,” an exhibit on display at the school’s Rhodes Arts Center art gallery until Oct. 6, presents both realist and semi-abstract depictions of Ugandan nature, culture and activities that William grew up with, including ceremonial dance, fishing, farming and other tasks undertaken in daily life. William’s exhibit is the first of three to be held at the gallery this fall as part of a series intended to highlight “diverse voices and perspectives that really reflect the student body of the school,” Rourke said.

According to a biography available at the gallery, William began painting when he was a child growing up in Entebbe, Uganda. His affinity for art was nurtured by his neighbor, an artist who specialized in illustrating books and magazines. William went on to study fine arts at the Michelangelo College of Creative Arts in Kisubi, Uganda, graduating in 2004. William now lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“Art makes me relate so much with my culture,” William wrote in an artist statement. “I try to focus on the idea of village life because it connects me back to my roots. At times, painting gives me the chance to relax and escape into the world of my childhood in Uganda.”

Rourke said he learned about William and his work through the Arts Council of Windham County, which self-describes as “a non-profit organization that works to foster an inclusive, connected and dynamic creative community” in municipalities in Windham County, Vermont, such as Brattleboro. He felt William would be perfect to spotlight at NMH as an opportunity to expose students to perspectives they may not be familiar with.

“The best thing that art can do is inspire and motivate people to talk and learn more about each other, their experiences, their differences and whether that crosses physical boundaries or crosses other lines that keep people apart,” Rourke said. “I think the more that you learn about other people that might seem different, the more you realize that we’re all very similar.”

He also hoped William’s work might resonate with students who share more direct similarities with the artist than others. This occurred at the exhibit’s reception on Sept. 15, at which a Ugandan student shared a conversation with William in a shared native tongue.

“She was able to come to the opening and actually see an artist from her home country who lives in this area now and is making artwork here,” Rourke said. “They were actually able to speak their native language to each other in this gallery here in the U.S., which was really far out, because in Uganda, they have (so many) different languages.”

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William said he is “excited” that his work has formal space to be appreciated and that the interest from visitors has been apparent, regardless of how familiar his paintings feel to those they resonate with.

“[The reception] was really great because I had so many children come around during the opening asking about different paintings and it was so fun trying to explain the paintings,” he said. “It’s always cool to have something which has a story behind it.”

Paintings on display, which are all for sale, vary not only in style and subject matter, but in size and price, ranging from the $415, 19-and-5/8-inch-by-11-and-1/16-inch “Ladies in the Village” to the $1,350, 32-and-1/16-inch-by-50-inch “Elephants at Sunset.” Two paintings had been purchased as of Wednesday, according to Rourke.

The gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. Sculptor Bill Brayton will be the next artist to be featured in the series, with his art set to be displayed mid-October through mid-November after William’s exhibit ends on Oct. 6. Then, sculptor Anna Hepler will have her work on display from mid-November through mid to late January.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.