Spiritual Messenger




Francis Nnaggenda, Uganda


  • Uganda

Object Info

This object may or may not be on view currently.

Denver Art Museum Collection

Gift of Robert and Mary Udall, 2001.644

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.


About the Artist

Francis Nnaggenda was born in 1936 and raised in central Uganda. Exiled from Uganda under the dictator Idi Amin, Nnaggenda received his formal artistic education in Germany and France beginning in the 1960s. He studied, taught, and worked in the US, Europe, and other parts of Africa before returning to Uganda in 1978 at the end of Amin's dictatorship. Nnaggenda has a variety of artistic talents-he is a sculptor, painter, and poet. He combines techniques he's learned around the world with traditions from Africa. "People tell me my work looks like Picasso, but they have it wrong. It is Picasso who looks like me, like Africa," he says. When asked in an interview when he knew he wanted to become an artist, Nnaggenda spoke of his childhood and his family. His mother and grandmother would tell him stories and sing to him, and he would create images after hearing those stories. "All children play with anything available," said Nnaggenda. "From the soft clay pushed up and out of the tops of anthills, I modeled. Flowers when smeared on certain surfaces left colours, but it was in primary school that I first came across pen, pencil, and paper. Drawing was taught and I took to decorating the pages I worked on."

What Inspired It

Nnaggenda often uses recycled materials to create artworks; for this sculpture he used recycled car parts. He looks for materials in the world around him, taking objects he finds and transforming them into something new. His passion for found objects may reflect his interest in exploring “the inner life of things.” In reference to the human form he says, “I find myself closer to the human beings because they influence me more than anything else. I am a human being expressing human experiences. But again my interpretation of human beings is inseparable from their surroundings. My figures and forms are not mere imitations of nature. I am more interested in the inner life of things.” Nnaggenda illustrates this idea in one of his poems:

The dead are not under the earth

They are in the tree that rustles

They are in the woods that groan

They are in the water that runs…

Those who are dead are not gone

They are in the child wailing and in the fire that flames…

When my ancestors talk about the Creator, they say:

He is with us…We sleep with him.

We hunt with him…We dance with him.

Human Figure
Human Figure

Nnaggenda’s sculpture is of an abstract standing human figure with bulging eyes and mouth open in the shape of an “O.” Its right arm folds in front, and its hand stretches towards its face.


Nnaggenda welded recycled chunks of metal and old car parts to create a new form. In his artwork, he incorporates found objects, hints of paint, and jagged textures. Nnaggenda does not always build his sculptures out of metal. He also uses wood, stone, bronze, and other media.

Teaching Resources

Quick Classroom Ideas

  • Have the students imagine what it would be like to look for art supplies in a junkyard. Have the students write a story or poem about this. Encourage them to describe the sights, smells, and objects they might see.
  • Have each student bring unwanted objects from home and work on a class art project using only those items.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.