Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Mutebi, Fred Kato - VM - Marianne Wilts

Fred Kato Mutebi

Called to be an Artist and a Social Activist

by Marianne Wilts

Fred Mutebi (1967) is a Ugandan artist, who makes art to communicate about complex social and environmental issues. With his organization Let Art Talk he strives to achieve positive change in Uganda. About the society and the contributions of politicians, scientists and religious leaders he says:

We have arrived at a moment in which we have to use our talents, wisdom, knowledge and experience in order to preserve ourselves and the planet we live on. It is time to respect each other and listen to each other regardless race, gender, profession or age. Our ancestors were raised with wise proverbs and sayings. Where are the wise people of the present modern society? Jesus spoke in proverbs and parables, scientists contribute to the solution of human problems, visual artists inform people in metaphorical ways. Art can help achieve peace and harmony among people.

Fred Kato Mutebi is not only a master in the technique of the woodcut, he also connects with the viewer through the narratives in his work. To focus our attention on the stories about the struggles in his country and the world, Fred Mutebi chooses his characters and details with care. By way of these images and symbols we can identify with the reality and currents events in his country. Presently there are many orphans in his country due to the destruction of families and the HIV-Aids epidemic. Uganda is also afflicted by regional conflicts and the worldwide battle for natural resources.

Ensobi Yaani (Who is to Blame?)

The multi-colour woodcut-print Ensobi Yaani (Luganda for Who is to Blame?) deals with Fred Mutebi’s inner struggle in relation to his country and our world. He made it when the FIFA Worldcup was going on in South Africa. The players are entangled in battle and their arms, legs and torsos are chaotically entwined. This symbolizes the problems that pile themselves up in Africa. “How can we prevent Africa from being placed in the shadow of the monumental world problems?”, Mutebi wonders – problems connected to poverty, hunger, war, sickness and illiteracy, infant mortality and the ill health of mothers, but also to environmental destruction and sustainability.

On the ball a map of the African continent is depicted. The keeper, who just misses catching the ball, appears to be split in two as if he plays for both teams. The lively colours and patterns of the uniforms make clear that is it is not only about the people of Africa, but also about the environment, by referring to the wildlife of Uganda. 

Series Women Activists, Then and Now I

In the series Women Activists Now and Then Fred Mutebi focuses on the many roles women play in Ugandan society, from the anonymous sellers of goods of the past to the activists of the present. He portrays their struggle to survive, but also their importance. Characteristic is the double use of the eyes, which he employs to show the mutual connectedness that is so typical for African women. Their facial expressions are content.

Series Women Activists, Then and Now II

In the second series of woodcuts the age and individuality of the women is lost. The changing intensity of the colours refers to the passage of time. The sealed lips, the broken necklaces and the small masks (below to the right) point to the oppression of women.

Task Force Marabou

“When these birds gather, it seems like they are busy with a meeting about real problems: where do we go to get our next meal. Comparable to the endless meetings of people rendering no results.”

In Mutebi’s work the marabou is a symbol for the politicians in Uganda. He calls them ‘the devourers who only think of themselves.” Mutebi uses the animals that are native to Uganda as symbols. Zebras with their powerful hearing and eyesight for instance are a metaphor for alertness. Butterflies symbolize renewal.

In Task Force Mutebi humanizes the garbage hunting marabou. This bird has an almost bold, dirty-pink head with a hanging crop. In the work we see the large bill and the gular sac, which functions as storage for food. Marabous like to live close to people and in the company of their kind. They eat animals alive and dead, for instance fish, grasshoppers, frogs and mice, but also crocodile eggs and bird chicks. Their bodies and heads are here so close to each other that they merge into an ominous mass. The marabous seem to be talking with each other, but they are really looking for the satisfaction of their own needs and not for a real meeting with each other. In this way Mutebi refers to the problems of his country.

Crest Crane in Flight

Crest Crane in Flight reveals Mutebi’s warm heart for his country. This bird is the icon of Uganda and is depicted in the Ugandan flag. The artist stylizes the original form of the birds, so that they express what he wants them to tell. As an artist and teacher Mutebi deems it of great importance that art is used to inform people, especially the younger generation, about the problems in his country. This group of birds is united in flight: with their wings spread out and their heads down they are all heading in the same direction. The setting sun in the background emphasizes that they are headed for a peaceful future. Even though the problems in Uganda are complex and the hardships many, Fred Mutebi does not leave the viewer behind without hope.


- Ensobi Yaani (Luganda for Who is to Blame?)
- Series Women Activists, Then and Now I
- Series Women Activists, Then and Now II
- Task Force Marabou
- Crest Crane in Flight

Fred Kato Mutebi (1967) is a native of Uganda who is active in print making. His work has traditionally celebrated Uganda’s natural beauty and also focuses on the need to preserve that beauty. Mutebi creates works that carry social and political messages as well as rely on anecdotes and stories to capture those messages. His primary mediums are printing and painting. He has found a method that combines the two to his satisfaction, namely relief painting. Since his graduation from Makerere School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Mutebi has pursued a freelance career as an illustrator, graphic and textile designer. His favorite medium is multi-colour woodcut-print on paper. Using his particular method, known as the 'progressive reduction method', he is unable to produce more than ten prints of the same composition. He developed an unmistakable technique with a wide pallet of blues, reds, browns, greens, and grays. Through the exaggeration of natural forms in his prints he is able to reveal their drama and beauty. Some of his subjects can be very disturbing – such as his rendition of figures revealing humanity's fragility in the face of catastrophes, in particular those faced by Africans in recent years. However, the tenderness by which these topics are treated always leave room for hope. Mutebi exploits the narrative qualities of the graphic medium, telling stories about important social events that happen in Uganda as well as recording characteristic images of his environment, creating a sort of visual history of his surroundings. (taken over from

Using art as a tool to empower people to explore and talk about the challenges facing their communities, Fred set up Let Art Talk, an organization that helps open up the dialogue on issues such as poverty, child labour and gender by engaging the mainly young people he works with in interpreting the subjects through art. Fred is also aware of the need to involve the elders within the communities, getting them to share their wisdom and experiences, and together work towards affecting positive change. Committed to the success of the organisation fifty percent of the proceeds from a sale of Fred’s artwork goes into the Let Art Talk organisation to help set up a program, buy materials or fund a trip. and

Fred Mutebi is also involved in BOTFA (Bukomansimbi Organic Tree Farmers Association) and MUTI (Management Union of Trees International) to revitalize and promote the use of indigenous bark cloth.

Marianne Wilts is a Dutch visual artist. After finishing art school she studied art history at the Free University in Amsterdam. She works in art education, teaching people aged 3 to 83 and coaching art teachers. She also gives lectures in art history, organizes excursions and works with groups employing the Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS) method. Her art is born out of her fascination for humans and nature and out of daily experiences. She travels regularly to Uganda, where she is inspired by the rich variety of people and nature and she has founded an art project for former infant soldiers and children living in the streets. “Art is a voyage of discovery for the mind; I am on my way and discover more and more.”

ArtWay Visual Meditation September 10, 2017