Money Goes

Art portfolio by Farouq Ssebaggala/Introduction by TWR

Farouq Ssebaggala was born in Entebbe in February 2001. His father died nine months later, leaving him and his older siblings under the care of their mother, a poultry farmer who raised them faithfully but with some difficulty. Although they had a home of their own in the lakeside town, the household lacked things from time to time: school fees, sugar, Yaka tokens, small things. Once, they even had to vacate the family home in order to rent it out to foreigners as a source of income. Naturally, as a boy who never knew his father, Ssebaggala ruminated a lot about what his life would have been had his father not died at the time he did. A lack of money to get or do something would invite unwanted thoughts about “how we would have been if our father hadn’t died,” he said.

Questions regarding money – as a tool of life – continue to animate his thoughts as a young visual artist struggling to keep his head above the water in a notoriously exploitative industry. What is the true value of his artwork? And can he make a living from it?

In 2022, not long before he graduated from the art school at Makerere University in Kampala, he embarked on a set of ink-on-paper drawings that underscore his seemingly dark take on money. But it’s also decidedly simple: money goes, just as people go. For him, to accept that principle is to live within one’s means, not beyond, and therefore to accept the mortality of money. Those who spend their money as soon as they have it, whether carelessly or not, can’t be judged. But they don’t necessarily have the right to wonder afterwards, “Where did my money go? Someone is bewitching me.” Many times, after a hard day’s work, he has sat down to figure out how he spent each and every coin after realizing there’s almost nothing left in the wallet. Thus, deliberately, he’s able to calculate his expenditure with sobering clarity. The next day he will set out again to “chase the bag,” as he put it, hoping at least to come back home alive, if not happy.

The pieces in “Money Goes” have raw power and some might even be disturbing. But this is precisely why Ssebaggala stands out from the hoard of recent art-school graduates. His arrestingly bold work doesn’t tell lies, and as a hustler in a tough city he knows that he can only depend on himself.   

“They say money does not buy happiness, but how I wish I could be so sad to the level of Kirumira, Ham, Wavamunno, Sudhir, Bezos and all those sad icons we know,” Ssebaggala said ironically. “I don’t want to be happy like the street kids. How can you honestly be happy when you didn’t earn anything throughout the day? I think the person who made that phrase needs to be interrogated.”