“So what do you think?” Teresa asked as we stood inside the main room of the restaurant, The Black Lantern, that serves the best pork ribs in Africa – so is the claim. And it was here that our art installation barter would commence. We looked at the walls. Some had spears hanging from them. There were two empty spaces and then another space over the entrance to the porch overlooking the Nile.
“I’m thinking three string art pieces that we could hang on the walls,” GQ envisioned. “Do you have something we could use as a canvas? Wood or something?”
“I’ll have to look,” Teresa replied.
“What about that space in the back?” I asked (which was really the front reception area). A large wall stood bare, yellowish cream painted on it.
“Sometimes we have conferences and we use the wall as a projection screen,” Teresa said.
“What about above the line?” I asked.
“Yes, you could do use that.”
“We’d have to hammer into the wall,” GQ pondered. “Can we do that?”
“Sure,” Teresa nodded.
“We could do a 90 degree angle piece at the end of it,” I started to knock off ideas that were cascading off my rapid-working brain. “And then in the negative space we make three circle mandalas, from small to big, kinda like an evolution thing. No?” I turned to GQ who was nodding along.
I picked up the restaurant’s flyer and stared at the logo of a Grey Crown Crane silhouette (Uganda’s national bird that also appears on its flag) and the writing of The Black Lantern in Kuntsler Script font.
“What if we made the logo?” I suggested. “I mean, just the writing, on the top there? That way, you can still screen on the wall.”
GQ and Teresa looked up, envisioning it.
“We’d have to make stencils,” GQ said.
“Nah, I can copy it, free-hand.” Looking around I saw that it was me who made the claim.
As a kid I used to draw, illustrate, cartoon and sketch a lot. It’s in the family genes. It also annoyed my teachers as I wouldn’t pay attention in class (explains a bit). My rebuttal at bullies and anyone that pissed me off would be a cartoon of them in a compromising position. And I’ve drawn on walls before. My childhood bedroom saw me draw a cartoon of a basketball player squashed on the wall behind the door so every time a friend entered the room I’d say, “Watch it, mate. You’ve just squashed him!”
Eventually my years of teacher annoyance paid off and at my high school I was asked to draw on the wall of my class. Something the teachers have yet to regret 14 years later as my mate, who now teaches at the school, sent me a photo with the caption, ‘Remember this?’
Which I didn’t and was surprised when I saw it, barely recalling that I had drawn the clichéd two swans coming together to create a heart in a sunset (I know, I know but I was 17 at the time and not quite rebellious trying to impress girls. That would come years later. The rebellious part, that is. Still trying to impress girls).
And then there’s the cave paintings I did at Amuka Safari Lodge.
But I ain’t ever done a font before. And never at 50 times the size of the original (a ballpark figure).
“I like it,” Teresa said.
“Yeah, that could work,” GQ concurred.
We got Bingo’s blessing and began to sketch and plan over the next few days while watching a Ross’s Turaco with its striking red wings fly in front of our tent, the song of fish eagles – a pair of which had built a nest in the huge tree in the car park – creating a consistent soundtrack, black and white casqued hornbills buzzing about, the yellow-billed kite raising its young in the nest just off the porch, the red-tailed monkeys and the vervets jumping from branch to branch. The lightening shows in the evening when moon-sized clouds pounded the horizon and the heavy rains that drenched everything.
And then there are the sunsets.
Oi ve, the sunsets.
At one point we had to move to the Nile River Camp for two nights due to the Nile Porch being fully booked. Luckily, Bingo also owns the NRC (as it is locally known) and we were guided to safari tent number two.
Two nights later we were back at the Nile Porch, this time in tent number 4 with the same incredible view.
“I noticed there’s a door painted obscurely in the front there,” GQ said to Teresa the next morning. “Do you think Bingo would let us cut it into three canvases?”
“Ah, that door,” Saleem reflected as we watched the sun set over the Nile River. “There’s a story behind it.
That door was used for the house and one night our trusted askari (watchman) came in and stole the door.”
“Stole the door?” I repeated.
“Yes – ” Saleem attempted to continue.
“Who steals a door?” I pressed.
“Bro,” Saleem laid it down, “it’s Africa. Anyway, I went looking for that door. I was asking around, going into the villages and checking every door on every house. I was on the hunt. This kid came up to me and showed me where the door was. It was painted but I recognised my fucking door and I took it from the building. The guy claimed that he bought it for 50,000 shillings ($20 AUD) from my askari.
So I told him to come and find me at the Porch. Meanwhile I had called the askari and told him to come over. I deducted 50,000 shillings from the askari’s pay and gave it back to the guy in front of him.”
“And now we’re gonna chop it up and stick it on the wall,” GQ erupted into laughter as did we.
Speaking of, “Shall we get to work?” I asked.
I sawed the door into three almost-equal pieces and hammered in nails after GQ drew the circles.
She created the first two pieces and had a momentary lapse of sanity when she decided to let me do the, “Pièce de résistance,” on the last canvas.
While GQ strung up the first two pieces I spent my time free drawing the font onto the wall. It’d been awhile since I’ve used my brain to this artistic and engineering capacity so it was a little overwhelming at first.
The fuck am I doing? I can’t fuckin’ draw this shit. And on a ladder? The fuck was I thinking. Who put me up to this?
Self-doubt is a bitch of a dog that just wants to bite you in the ass as you try to hop over the fence to safety. But I whipped around and bit that bitch right back. Add on some encouraging words from GQ, the staff (“Well done.”) and some guests and three days later the font was on the wall, somehow looking exactly like the font on the flyer.
“Jesus,” I said aloud standing with GQ, Saleem and Teresa, admiring the sketch. “That was fuckin’ exhausting.”
But now came the hard part – hammering in 1700 nails.
Perhaps we were caught in the euphoria of seeing the work actually coming to life, or perhaps it was the amazing food that distracted us, either way, we were all unaware that the reason why the nails were bending was because they were wood nails.
Even though I was attempting to drill in pilot holes the drill bit wore down and the nails still bent. Turns out it helps if you use a drill bit for concrete rather than for steel.
“Let me call Joque and ask him if he has any drill bits,” Saleem whipped out his phone. “Concrete-steel nails?” I heard him repeat Joque’s suggestion. “Yeah, we could try that.”
Wouldn’t be my first ‘D’oh!’ moment.
Once we had the nails it took two days to hammer them into the points GQ marked.
“Yessis, you guys have patience, aye?” Bingo said on his occasional visit to see how much destruction we were doing to his wall.
Teresa had overheard him explaining what we were doing to some of the guys at the NRC.
“So the guy asks him, ‘But how do they have so much patience to hammer in all those nails?’ and Bingo says, ‘Because they are artists, bru’.”
“You spelt Lantern wrong,” said a guest, attempting suicidal humour.
GQ and I began to string up the letters – which also took two days. When we were done, we stood back like proud parents, admiring our creation.
“Looks amazing,” Bingo said.
“It’s fuckin’ amazing,” Saleem concurred.
“It’s very beautiful,” Teresa added.
“Quite chuffed,” I grinned.
“Quite chuffed,” agreed GQ.
*Check out the Timelapse video here