Gregory Robison

'Bukusu Dwelling near Malaba, Uganda'

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Artist's comments ...

[from my journal, the day I did the original pencil sketch]: "On a farm near Kanduye, Kenya 28 April 1999, Wednesday

Somewhere between Iganga and Tororo -- but at a precise point, sharp like entering a new country -- the architecture of the modest houses and other structures visible along the roadway [from Kampala] changed completely. Whereas before they had been brick, of a dull red color, or faced with gray or painted cement, and invariably boxy in shape, often with a portico supported by spindly columns or pipes, now the built space was entirely traditional. Small mud-and-stick cylinders with thatched roofs grouped in a circle around an open space of smooth, beaten earth, sometimes with a sort of corn crib in the center of the circle, and occasionally with one or more somewhat larger mud huts, the eaves supported by thick sticks or poles. The tidiness and symmetry -- and the uniformity -- was impressive and calming. There was nothing glaring or obtrusive, nothing individual or self-important, nothing ostentatious. The poverty must also be extreme, because there was not even any junk lying about: no old steel or plastic containers, no discarded paper packaging or wrappers."

(Later I learned that I had crossed a non-political border between the Bantu and Luo speaking peoples. The Bukusu are a small group of Luo speakers along the Uganda-Kenya line.) That night, from under the eaves of the round hut in which I slept, I sketched the fairly large, squarish hut facing me. Heavy, menacing clouds and a rapidly darkening horizon line of hills enclosed a still-bright evening sky. A greenish light filtering through the banana grove suffused the middle-ground, and the figures, clearly visible earlier, gradually melded with the landscape.

Alas, none of this came through in the print!


I carved five blocks (this is my first-ever woodcut), each of a different tropical hardwood, since I didn't know what might work (and what might be available in the future). The key block was nkalate (paschystela brevipes), a wood that Graham told me upon examining & cutting a sample has characteristics somewhat like Japanese cherry; the others were muvule (Chlorophora excelsa), a teak-substitute from which I've had some great furniture made; mahogany (hard to get a crisp line); cypress (soft and long-grained) and Elgon olive (hard!).

Oil based ink on dry masa paper; blocks locked in a flat-bed chase with spring-activated grippers for register (but you can see I had a problem with one block); one pass through a home-made etching press, then finishing work with a spoon.

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