Sanaa Gateja is a Kampala (Uganda)-based artist, designer, innovator and social entrepreneur.
In his practice, he uses unconventional materials and a sophisticated process that is community- based. He is interested in notions of African nature and culture and how to reconcile them with innovation and creativity.
Trained in jewelry design in Florence and London, Gateja founded Kwetu Africa Art and Development Centre in Kampala twenty years ago with the remit to research and create using easily available materials, and to train rural communities in skills that would enable them to generate income for their families.
His idea to make and use paper beads came from finding, when at Art School in London, a piece of jewelry dating from the first World War which was adorned with a bead made from paper.
Through active social entrepreneurship, Gateja went on training and organizing communities of paper bead makers which have spread throughout East Africa. It has become a signature craft for design and jewelry, 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 barkcloth composing lush tableaux with a textile quality.
The beads are made and tinted by hand from paper reclaimed from newspapers, magazines, and books. For the artist, they symbolise the "white noise of the world": they carry altogether millions of hidden and scattered words, information and pictures. They also carry a political meaning: the significance of the making process itself, which is sustainable in social and environmental terms.
The use of the barkcloth material comes from the artist's interest in appropriating the history and traditions of Uganda, as part of his creative process and has been Sanaa Gateja's ‘canvas’ for his art as long as he can remember. It is a fabric made from the bark of a ficus tree, produced by peeling it off it. Steaming it constantly, the process of pounding using different grooved mallets goes on until the fine fabric is achieved. It is a convivial process that 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. His works were shown in Art fairs such as ARCO (Madrid, Spain) and Cape Town art Fair (South Africa).