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Michelle Isinbaeva: an insider’s guide to Kampala

Michelle Isinbaeva: an insider’s guide to Kampala

“There’s a lot going on and so much talent,” says Michelle Isinbaeva of Kampala’s creative scene. And she should know. Raised in the city, she studied architecture in Barcelona before returning home to become a leading light as a photographer, PR consultant and producer. She’s contributed to international titles such as Vogue Business, OkayAfrica, Atmos and Mixte and worked with Uganda’s finest including upcycling pioneers Buzigahill, music imprint Hakuna Kulala and Kampala Fashion Week. So, there’s no better person to give Emolyne the inside track on what’s making Kampala tick right now…

You’re a multi-hyphenate! Please tell us about your creative journey.

The visual arts found me from an early age and before university, I interned in set production, image-making, media and modelling. I always wanted to do it all and so now I proudly wear many hats – photographer, PR, talent manager, art advisor, designer and more. All in all, I’m an artist.

What is your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Community and collaboration is vital, but you also need to know how to stand on your own. Always experiment and take risks. There are rules, especially in design, so manipulate them. What works? What doesn’t? Build on it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

How would you define your photographic practice?
I focus on documentary and fashion. What I love about documentary is that I get to shoot real stories and real people. For example, if I’m going on an assignment for an NGO, I have to understand who’s in front of my lens. And then with fashion editorials, I enjoy working with a team on set to bring my vision my life. My aesthetic leans into the dark in both look and feel. Low exposures and high contrasts result in images that evoke emotion. I want people to look at my images and come away with a feeling.

What’s your beauty game?
I adore getting fully dolled up, which I only do on specific occasions, so when I do I have a ball. For me it’s all about lips and nails. I use Carmex to keep my lips healthy, then apply lip liner in a brown that matches my freckles, filling with a gloss in shimmering red or subtle pink. I want my lips to look glazed and sweet, like candied fruit. Then for nails, I like to have fun with long lengths and cute designs. I wear a lot of black so my nails are part of my expression – a way to inject some colour and sparkle.

Let’s talk Kampala. What’s hot in fashion right now?
There’s a lot of designers focussed on sustainability. The one that stands out for their craftsmanship is IGC Fashion. They push boundaries by creating near-couture pieces using upcycled textiles as well as traditional Ugandan bark cloth, sisal, cowrie shells and raffia.

How about music?
There’s been a steady rise of Alté, which is an off-norm expression, so I’m keen to see where the genre goes and how it lands. MAUIMØON is a remarkable artist, vocalist and producer. He’s doing wonders and numbers – and he’s very big on working with other artists across East Africa. Look out for his upcoming project, ‘For the Love of R&B’ this summer.

And in art?
There are the major spaces such as Afriart Galley, Amasaka Gallery and Xenson Art Space but I recommend people reach out directly to artists to schedule studio visits, which is something they are coming increasingly open to. It’s a more intimate way to experience the artist’s work and get to know them personally. My one to watch is Pamela Enyonu who explores gender, identity and empowerment through her mixed media canvases.

Finally, where would we find you at the weekend?
Urban Chevre is a small rooftop bar and restaurant serving fantastic cocktails and small bites. I’m big on desserts so recommend their chocolate brownies! And for luxurious events, it has to be Malembe Lifestyle, which hosts everything from block parties to major concerts.

Visit Michelle Isinbaeva
All photography courtesy of Michelle Isinbaeva