23-year-old Justin Cuma paints his way to the bank

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it is a beehive of activity at a workshop along Hanlon road in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb.

At the workshop are about six people, each stroking a paint brush on an art piece they are creating, but one person stands out among all of them and by the look of things he is the group leader.

This is 23-year-old Justin Cuma, a Congolese national who came into Uganda in 2018 and ended up doing art.

“In school while still in Congo, I used to do art and we could paint a number of items. When I came to Uganda, since I had no job, I decided to paint pictures so as to help me earn a living. Since then I never looked back,” Cuma says.

While he started out alone at the workshop, he was soon joined by many other fellow Congolese youths who came looking for jobs.

“Many come and say they are good at painting pictures and I give them trials. Whoever is good enough is retained and we start working together. That’s how you see we are about six people here at the workshop.”

Cuma says that at their workshop, they paint everything right from what they imagine in their heads to pictures presented to them.

“Most of our paintings are sold to the African Art village along Buganda road. They make orders with us and after painting, they pick the art pieces. We also sell to other clients who pass by and buy from us whereas other make orders on phone and only come to pick their pieces,” the 23-year-old says.

“The price for each painting depends on the size of the piece.  It ranges between Shs 50,000 and Shs 2 million. It largely depends on the size of the art piece that the customer wants but there is no fixed price.”

He says that he has never regretted venturing into painting since it has enabled him earn a living for the past three years, including the two years of the Coronavirus pandemic that battered the economy hard.

Cuma says whereas business was not good during the lockdown, they managed to stay afloat, getting what to eat and manage to pay rent for the room that acts as their workshop.

“We could get one or two customers and this way we were able to get what to eat but above all get money for rent. We thank God for this.”

With the full reopening of the economy, Cuma and his colleagues are optimistic business will also properly resume.

“We ask government to recognize and support artists for the role they play in the development of the country. We wish to get a helping hand in form of loans from government so as to inject in the business which has been hit by the pandemic.  This way, we will be resuscitated,” he says.

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