Mwanga William is what you might call a multi-hyphenate: A Ugandan native now based in Brattleboro, he is an artist with expertise in several mediums, a drummer, a coach, and an athlete.
An exhibit of William’s dynamic, colorful paintings kicked off the season at The Gallery at the Rhodes Arts Center this fall. In mid-October, he returned to campus to spend two days working with students in music and visual arts classes and with scholar-athletes on NMH’s rowing teams.
Many NMH students became familiar with William’s work through his fall exhibit. The exhibition offered glimpses of the African culture and activities that he grew up with in Uganda. In the paintings, those representations take on bold, graphic, and colorful forms rendered in strong lines and textural brushstrokes.
As an expert in life-drawing from memory, William started his day by advising students on their works-in-progress during an advanced drawing and painting class, taught by Bill Roberts. After a brief introduction, William asked questions, then took some time with each student to discuss their challenges and processes working on figure drawings and still lives.
Later that morning, in an advanced 2D portfolio class taught by Yejin Han, William explained that while he loves to paint, his art practice is equally devoted to sculpture. After a Q&A session with students, he showed the class numerous examples of his work in this medium.
William stressed the value of experimentation with materials and the importance of taking in a lot of visual information to spark new ideas. “I used to move around the country a lot to see people, to see new activities,” he said. “That’s where I get a lot of inspiration.”
After lunch, William joined in with the honors jazz combo course taught by Director of Music Programs Ron Smith. William told students that he grew up listening to music. “We have 54 different tribes in Uganda. Each tribe has different music and different drums.”
William offered some basic instructions to each student about their individual part before starting a central rhythm that the class built upon, layer by layer. The room quickly filled with music and energy.
“I don't call myself a professional musician,” William said, “but I enjoy drumming. Whenever I find drums, I like to join in and play.” The class reciprocated by playing some jazz for Williams later in class.
On the second day of his visit, William participated in one of his passions: rowing. The assistant rowing coach at the Putney School in Vermont and former head coach of the Ugandan National Rowing Team, he said he was excited to take part in training with NMH rowers. After speaking with the students, William joined rowing coach David Reeder on a motorboat to watch practice.
“Mwanga quickly spotted some technique issues that we have been working on. … Somehow his suggestions resonated more quickly with our kids,” said Reeder. “And then we were able to cheer him on that weekend at a big race in New Hampshire, where he was rowing a single and we were racing fours.”
William said he was pleased to be able to participate in a range of activities at NMH. His visit offered students meaningful new perspectives and points for contemplation, including the importance of being true to themselves. “It's always better to try and do things your way,” he told students in the 2D portfolio class. “Don’t try to paint like someone else. Your style will just evolve as your skills mature. Just keep working.”
Jamie Roarke, a visual arts teacher and curator for The Gallery, said that he was excited to facilitate an opportunity for Willam to engage with the students beyond the gallery walls. “Mwanga enjoyed his time with the students, noting their enthusiasm and willingness to ask him questions about his early life in Uganda and his passion for travel, art, music, and rowing,” he said. “For me, it was incredibly rewarding to connect this artist with our community.”