Sanaa Gateja is a Kampala (Uganda)-based artist, designer, innovator and social entrepreneur. His idea to make and use paper beads came from finding, when at Art School in London, a piece of jewellery dating from the first World War which was adorned with a bead made from paper. He founded Kwetu Africa Art and Development Centre in Kampala twenty years ago, training and organising communities of paper bead makers which have spread throughout East Africa. It has become a signature craft for design and jewellery, providing livelihoods to as many as 50,000 people, found particularly among women and youth.
Gateja has been focusing again on his personal artistic practice in the last six years. His wall-works are composed of hundreds of paper beads that are stitched one by one onto bark cloth. The beads are made and tinted by hand from paper reclaimed from newspapers, magazines, and books. Carrying millions of hidden and scattered words, information and pictures they symbolise the “white noise of the world”. They also carry a political meaning: the significance of the making- process itself, in social and environmental terms.
The artist‘s use of the bark cloth material comes from his interest in appropriating history and traditions of Uganda in his creative process. It is a fabric made from the bark of a ficus tree. Steaming it constantly, the process of pounding using different grooved mallets goes on until the fine fabric is achieved. The convivial process involves drumming rhythms that have deep spiritual meanings.
Gateja’s works are permanently on display in Uganda and at The National Museums in Kenya. They were exhibited among other places in the Cairo International Biennial, Egypt; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Biennale Gwangju, Korea, Mbari Institute Washington, African Centre, London.