Expressions of life
Art by Ugandan artist exhibited in Town Hall
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Feb 24, 2013 | 5212 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SYLVIA KATENDE – Local artist and Secaucus resident Sylvia Katende, Ph.D, who is originally from Uganda, has taught sculpture, drawing, and painting to undergraduate and graduate students. She has used art therapy to study the psychosocial needs of orphaned children.
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Artwork by Secaucus resident and visual artist Sylvia Katende is currently on exhibit at the Secaucus Municipal Center. Katende, who holds a Ph.D in Visual Art from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, moved to Secaucus last April. Katende’s art work will serve as the springboard for an upcoming exhibit that will feature the work of several local artists throughout the building.

A visual arts instructor for more than 15 years, Katende has won awards and competitions for her works of art, which have been displayed in prominent places in Uganda. She has received recognition for her sculptures in that country. Her sculpture on the “Social and Economic Development of Kampala City,” is on display in the city’s largest recreational park and also appears on the most recent Uganda $20,000 shillings monetary note.

Interpreting life experiences

Shades of greens, yellows, and browns jump off the canvas in a painting that depicts four tall women from Uganda carrying a bounty of fruit on their heads. In another painting four tall women stand around a harvest of fruits piled just as high as their heads, including a bright green pineapple and yellow bananas. The paintings are part of series called “Thanksgiving” that depict themes of thanksgiving in an African context.

“I am mostly interested in life experiences and how people feel,” said Katende.

Katende and her husband Charles live in the Xchange development. He works for the United Nations Population Fund and has lived in Secaucus for three years.

As a resident of the Xchange, their family was without power for a week after Hurricane Sandy, which was longer than the rest of the town. Katende used the experience as a source for inspiration and created a number of paintings that reflect her interpretation of the moment.
“I am mostly interested in life experiences and how people feel.” – Sylvia Katende
Some of her Sandy paintings are full of color and chaos.

“I put myself in that situation in that feeling that I portray,” said Katende.

Katende also imagined people living under the Red Bridge that links the Xchange development to the rest of the town.

“People are trying to find all sorts of ways of staying alive in all different places,” noted Katende. “I just imagine that there are people who are stuck.”

Exploring expressions of orphaned children

Through her doctoral studies, Katende looked at the psychosocial needs of 100 orphaned children ages 5 to 14 who live in institutions and in households of extended family members. Many of the children had lost their parents to AIDS.

“The children don’t have a voice,” said Katende. “They don’t participate in planning for what they really want.”

While their caregivers felt they were providing all needs, Katende noted that there were unmet needs through the children’s drawings and clay sculpting.

“I looked at aspects that they can’t say to their caregivers, but they can draw and model clay,” said Katende. “They produced amazing work that I interpreted.”

Katende referred to two different drawings she interpreted, one drawn by a young girl in an institution and one drawn by a child staying with extended family.

The child living in a home with extended family drew a grandmother holding a stick, which Katende said could imply beating.

The drawing by the girl in the orphanage showed a progression from people to her home to playing with other kids to a classroom.

“There is hope…there is a sense of belonging,” said Katende about the young girl’s drawing.

Many children staying with extended family members also drew scenes of child labor.

“They were working in the plantations,” noted Katende. “They are not going to school.”

Katende passed on the outcomes of her study as recommendations to hospitals, orphanages, and NGOs that work with orphans.

Pursuing a passion for art

From an early age, Katende explored her own sense of creativity.

“My father saw something in me,” said Katende. “I used to draw on the ground...I used to draw figures of the daily life.”

While Katende chose a path dedicated to the study of visual arts, she faced challenges as a child growing up in the 1960s because of negative stereotypes surrounding artists. Most artists were thought of as less intelligent. Her father’s encouragement, however, kept her on the creative path even though she wanted to shift her focus when she reached college.

Katende continues to paint and has been invited to exhibit her work in New York. She is also furthering her studies in the health care field in order to merge her art interests with serving the elderly and people with disabilities through art therapy-related programs.

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Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at

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