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Makerere Art School started informally with a handful of students who turned up one evening at the porch of Mrs Margaret Trowell’s house at Mulago in 1937. These teachers, hospital dressers and Makerere college students returned to Trowell from time to time to learn a new language of painting pictures. Trowell was not the first person to teach painting. Mary Fisher, had two years earlier been posted to Gayaza School as an art teacher, and of course some art classes were being conducted in other missionary Schools. But it was Trowell who raised the profile of art education in the region when she convinced the Principal of Makerere College in 1940, to include art among the College subjects.

Trowell is also credited for steering the Art School through turbulent times when its closure seemed inevitable. When for example in 1949 Makerere College entered a special relationship with London University, Trowell rejected this arrangement because she feared her Art School would lose the African Identity she had scrupulously put together for over a decade. She directly negotiated with the Slade School (also under London University) for a Diploma, which ensured that a foreign qualification did not affect the African features of her curriculum.

Trowell’s retirement in 1958 coincided with the award of the first Diplomas and as a gesture of gratitude for putting together a formidable art institution, Makerere Art School was named after her. Unlike Trowell, her successor, Cecil Todd did not believe that the indigenous culture had an important role to play in the development of a modern African Art School. Todd placed emphasis on a detailed consideration of technique and art history as an academic discipline; he had been appointed to institute a 1940-50s Western Art School structure. He expanded the School- introduced new courses and recruited new staff from the UK. As student numbers increased, drawn from the East African region and beyond, Makerere Art School achieved an international fame and respect.

This period of promise changed for the worse when Idi Amin captured power in 1971. Amin’s regime was characterised by economic mismanagement and violence which forced many people, especially the educated to flee. Todd left the country in 1972. Jonathan Kingdon took over the School’s headship, but left the following year. Ali Darwish from Zanzibar became the new head and in 1975 handed over to George Kakooza (the first Ugandan to head the School). In 1981, F. X. Nnaggenda took over from Kakooza and in1982 he passed on the mantle of leadership to Ignatius Sserulyo. It is important to point out that in spite of the repressive political conditions of the 1970s and 1980s, Makerere Art School survived and students created graphical but veiled images that expressed disgust for their leaders. Amin fell in 1979 and Uganda staggered from one confused regime to another until 1986 when  Yoweri Museveni took over power and restored  political stability.

With Francis Musango as its head (1986-89), the School entered a new phase of hope and renewal. Morbid subjects were replaced by formal content and experimentation. When  Pilkington Ssengendo took over from Musango in 1989, he furthered his (Musango’s) interest in academic art but slightly differed from his mentor when he advocated for a return to local cultures for inspiration. Ssengendo is also acknowledged for steering the School to new administrative heights. In 1994, just before he handed over to Philip Kwesiga, the School was granted a faculty status and its name changed from School of Fine Art to School of Industrial and Fine Arts, with three departments: Painting and Art History, Industrial Arts and Design, and Sculpture and Drawing. In this new format, the School was able to design new courses that responded to the rapidly changing labour market and their appeal naturally attracted more students whose enrolment increased from 60 in 1985, to over 500 at present.

The millennium gave the School a new impetus. In the last six years, we have witnessed major transformations particularly in the academic world. From a single PhD in 1995 the number has grown to five in the last five years and seven candidates are currently enrolled for their PhDs and expected to complete soon. For most of these developments, credit goes to Ms Mukasa. In 2006 she completed her four-year term as Dean and I reckon she looks back on her achievements with pride and satisfaction.


Margaret Trowell
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