George Kyeyune: an artist in metamorphosis

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture in progress, 2015

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture in progress, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

George Kyeyune is a painter, sculptor, art historian, educator, and administrator. His role as an educator has been profiled here and here. He performs these multiple roles as a member of the academic staff at the Makerere Art School where he is director of the Makerere Art Gallery / Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration. In his new body of work for this exhibition created over the last six months, we see Kyeyune in a moment of transformation. Employing a multitude of materials, he narrates the notion of mobility through geographical space, social status, and his own artistic practice. In his Power of the Eye article of Friday 8th February 2013, Dominic Muwanguzi suggested that Kyeyune’s exhibition at Afriart Gallery was “studying the social scene of Kampala.” Kyeyune was then depicting boda boda drivers and mweso playing youth in Kampala. This time he presents a more personal narrative. Kyeyune was recently privileged to host an introduction ceremony, kwanjula, of one of his young relatives. He presided as a respected elder, a role that gave him a vantage point of power to observe and guide the ceremony. It was a springboard for this new work. There was a reawakening in him of the social expectations and actions played by various members in a community. He narrates a tradition that has remained alive despite the changing times where communications in a globalized world render the distant within reach, and the foreign accessible. At a touch of a button, after purchasing an Internet Bundle in Uganda’s bundled communications infrastructure, the world is in ones hands for as long as the bundle lasts.

George Kyeyune, at the kwanjula ceremony, 2015

George Kyeyune, at the kwanjula ceremony, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

The kwanjula ceremony performed among the Baganda is where a young woman introduces her intended marriage partner to her family. There is a roundness to the people Kyeyune depicts, a sign of health; affectionate gestures of friendship in arms wrapped around each other in an embrace. Gentle smiles. Richly hued and riotously textured in oils, touches of bright red provide a luminous centre for most of the paintings. This lends them an energy that is always palpable at the kwanjula ceremonies.

George Kyeyune, the beer, 2015

                                              George Kyeyune, the beer, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

The joy and vibrancy of the occasion masks a necessary interrogation of the role of women in Uganda’s society today. This is a debate about equality of men and women, women’s careers, their rights and responsibilities that Amanda Tumusiime discusses in her 2012 doctoral research. It is worth examining the reasoning behind the continuation of male members of the family presiding over the kwanjula proceedings. Men carrying traditional beer to the young woman’s father – a significant part of the discussions where the young woman is asked, omwenge tunywe? should we drink the alcohol? If she agrees, and the father in turn approves of the brew’s potency, there is agreement for the marriage to proceed. The mother is never consulted. She is not even present to observe. Rather, if anything should go wrong, she carries the blame: mwaana mubi, avumya nyina, a poorly behaved child, brings scorn on the mother.” Perhaps this state of affairs might metamorphose if room for debate is allowed to expand.

George Kyeyune, a continuation of the boda boda theme, 2015

                                     George Kyeyune, a continuation of the boda boda theme, 2015.  Photo: Margaret Nagawa

The elements of gesture, pose, colour relationships, and facial expression are a grammar that owes a debt to a Makerere art education. Kyeyune not only employs this grammar but also passes it on to his students. He teaches and creates with, and among, his students whom one observes working on sculptures in the outdoor studio at the Sculpture Department of the art school. This studio is under a tree shade provided by a muwafu tree among others. Kyeyune is experimenting with its sap for use as wax in lost wax sculptures. The brass is recycled salvaged padlocks, window handles, and other such brass objects. He melts and uses them for the sculptures in this exhibition. The few slabs that form the crucified Jesus Christ, and the heavily textured female and male mortals are a testament to his innovative approach to art making.

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture in progress, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture in progress, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

The interesting parallels between geographical mobility, social mobility, and material experimentation in Kyeyune’s older boda boda images and the new kwanjula body of work, show us an artist transforming into nuanced visual narratives. It is our responsibility as viewers to take that innovative step with him into further discussion of the art’s deeper significance.

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture ready for cleaning, 2015

George Kyeyune, lost wax sculpture ready for cleaning, 2015. Photo: Margaret Nagawa

This text was first published in August 2015 by Makerere Art Gallery / Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, in the exhibition catalogue Quiet Dignity, a solo exhibition by George Kyeyune.

Now you see me, now you don’t: All the World’s Futures – the 56th Venice Biennale

All the World's Futures exhibition catalogue

All the World’s Futures exhibition catalogue and press material

Venice Biennale is back. Big. Bursting at the seams with art. From ‘traditional’ art forms like drawing and painting to conceptual pools of water. The biennale endures in its incredibly expansive character. Its political focus is not surprising seeing as curator Okwui Enwezor’s initial training is political science. In his catalogue essay, The State of Things, Enwezor says:

All The World’s Futures, (is) a project devoted to an appraisal of the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things.”[1]

He refers to political turmoil since World War 1:

“… we live in the terrible wakefulness of new crises, uncertainty, and a deepening insecurity across all regions of the world.”[2]

This paints such a bleak picture of our times. I am intrigued, but also filled with trepidation. I am not sure if I want to be immersed in an art of activism, an art of preaching, an art that might disconcert me. I have lived through the Amin war and the Museveni war in Uganda. Do I want to confront other people’s reflections on such a ‘state of things’?

I recall the 2002 Documenta X1 in Kassel, Germany, for which Enwezor was Artistic Director. Turmoil was at the forefront even then. In the preface, Enwezor stated:

“… Documenta finds itself confronted once again with the spectres of yet another turbulent time of unceasing cultural, social, and political frictions, transitions, transformations, fissures, and global institutional consolidations.”[3]

It appears that Enwezor has continually attempted to articulate and make sense of this turmoil. I wonder how much longer we can afford to do this. Can artistic gestures chart a way forward?


In 1895 the first Venice Biennale was launched to celebrate the silver jubilee of King Umberto 1 and Princess Margherita of Savoia. It took two years to plan an exhibition of outstanding Italian art by Venice city council officials. King Umberto 1 was a decisive leader who attempted to reconcile various political and regional elements in Italy. He also personally directed and funded relief efforts when Venice and Verona suffered massive floods in 1882. Venice municipality never forgot. Over time the biennale grew bigger to include German and Austrian artists, then other Europeans. Later foreign countries had a stake in the Giardini, the main exhibition space, with Belgium building the first national pavilion in 1907. Today there are 29 pavilions in the Giardini and other national exhibitions without pavilions are installed in various buildings across the city, as well as additional exhibitions and events. The aspiration for an international art exhibition presenting a broad range of art continues today.

Entrance to the Giardini

Entrance to the Giardini

Presence. Absence.

King Umberto 1 had expansionist ideals for his foreign policy. Italy attempted colonial expansion in the Horn of Africa, making progress in Eritrea, capturing Massawa in 1885, before being defeated in 1896 in the Battle of Adwa, northern Ethiopia. However, there are no visible traces of this relationship at the biennale. The gains in that battle are still celebrated in Ethiopia today. It is in the pantheon of current ‘state of things’ in this part of the world. Addis Ababa is present as a stop on the Invisible Borders: The Trans-African Project with a sampling of photographs of the landscapes they traversed by Emeka Okereke, Beautiful Obstacle, en route Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2011), Portrait of a Group in Ethiopia, Goha Bridge, Ethiopia (2012), and Ala Keir’s Equilibrium, Addis Ababa – Ethiopia, IB 2011, a photograph of an Anbessa bus headed downhill on Churchill road, set against skyscrapers full of bright new businesses. Keir’s photograph makes visible the city’s social and economic realities and challenges: an overcrowded public transport system against nascent Addis Ababa with an opulent hedonist ethic.


Invisible Borders: The Trans-African Project, Installation view, Venice Biennale, 2015

Invisible Borders: The Trans-African Project, Installation view, Venice Biennale, 2015

Uganda is also invisible at the biennale yet she has a significant connection with Italy. Italian missionaries were at the helm of education and health provision in northern Uganda since the 1950s. I went to a nursery school in Gulu town run by Italian nuns in the mid 1970s. On a trip to Gulu five years ago, I was delighted to find it still running, by Ugandan nuns this time. Well, consider that an aside.

But Aboke Girls. That is crucial. In 1996, under cover of darkness and ironically on Uganda’s Independence Day 9th October, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army abducted 139 secondary school girls from St. Mary’s College, Aboke, Apac District. The deputy headmistress Italian nun Sister Rachele Fassera and a male teacher bravely pursued and rescued 109 of them. The effects of this war and others like it run deep in the world consciousness.

Another event of national significance is the successful climbing to the summit of Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi, nephew of the Umberto family, and his party in 1906. He named the highest peak at 16,810 feet after his aunt Margherita. The geopolitical ‘state of things’ has shrouded the Rwenzoris in a contrasting veil of nature’s bountiful beauty and guerrilla activities. A similar cloud hangs over Kampala’s art production and reception where elites and expats form the core audience. The KLA ART festival has attempted to break this state of affairs by taking art out of galleries and directly to the people in unexpected sites across Kampala, for instance, on boda boda motorcycle taxis, and in the Railways Building. Artists are gradually engaging a strategic mobility arising out of a need to broaden their audiences by using the Internet and taking advantage of international residencies and exhibitions. Some, for instance, Samson Ssenkaaba Xenson and Helen Nabukenya are adaptable and attempt to navigate a world whose fluidity in expression, presentation, and political and temporal concerns can be difficult to decipher.

Much of the art exhibited in Venice Biennale is under the umbrella of national pavilions. It takes a certain level of political acumen and economic heft to position a country at this level of cultural diplomacy and visibility. Even if many artists criticize catastrophic systems of governance, participation in the biennale is a clear indication of the current state of economic things, the disparity between governments’ engagement with the arts.



“Can a work of art bear witness to its time…?”[4]

Enwezor asks in All the World’s Futures his catalogue essay. I ask then, does the art discomfit the viewer enough to urge them to look beneath the surface of things? How about the art that is not seen, because it cannot, yet, afford to be seen? This level of invisibility brings to mind Italian writer Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities a series of imagined conversations between emperor Kublai Khan and traveller Venetian Marco Polo. These city descriptions exist as Polo’s memory of Venice, presented as recollections in pantomime before he learns Kublai Khan’s language, and then as contemplative, inventive descriptions when he can speak the Tartar language. There is a complexity of communication and a high level of imagination that conjures these cities into being for both the emperor and Polo. Calvino provides us an example of the possibilities latent in imagination, in memory, in places, in people, to communicate across barriers. Leafing through his atlas, over cities embroiled ‘in nightmares and maledictions’, Kublai Khan was disheartened that all effort of empire building led to naught if the final resting place was an ‘infernal city.’

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together.”[5]

Polo suggested two ways of getting out of this inferno: first, to accept it and be such a part of it that it is inseparable from you. The second one requires constancy in seeking enduring alternatives that then need room to have an impact.

When world problems are identified, how are we to understand them in order to formulate alternatives? Are these problems that nations can address as separate entities, or do we need to try and expand collective action beyond activist groups to include whole nation states? How do we achieve equity and justice? How do we eliminate extremes in wealth and poverty? Are any works of art outstanding in proposing potential paths out of this predicament? Is it the function of art to serve these purposes? Is there an imagination, like that of Calvino’s Kublai Khan that we can wield?

The Icelandic Pavilion presented Christoph Buechel’s La Moschea installation in Santa Maria della Misericordia, a former Catholic church now privately owned. Venice authorities fearful of extremist reactions and citing regulation disobedience closed it after two weeks. Buechel claimed to be promoting religious tolerance in this historic city where trade with Islamic countries has a long history, but no house of worship for Muslims exists. The process of getting the church to function as a mosque involved consultation with local Moslem communities whose spiritual vitality was evidenced in the numbers that turned up to worship. The crucial process of dialoguing that Buechel undertook might form a basis for transparency and perhaps tolerance. But where are the limits of art?

Emeka Ogboh, The Song of the Germans (Deutschlandlied), 2015, installation view, Venice Biennale 2015

Emeka Ogboh, The Song of the Germans (Deutschlandlied), 2015, installation view, Venice Biennale 2015

A solemn sound installation The Song of the Germans (Deutschlandlied), 2015, by Emeka Ogboh struck a cord for me. It is a thoughtful and meticulously researched work. The German national anthem is sung by a choir made up of immigrants from Africa, and presented as a ten-channel installation in a dark room at the far end of the Arsenal. In their varied languages, the reverent rendering of the anthem touches on issues regarding identity formation; creating community; the richness endowed through diversity; and proffers a sense of belonging to a common destiny in a place where fate often deals migrants a different hand from their gilded expectations. It was poignant, so much so that I was glad that its display site opens to the outdoors. Water. A garden. A place to absorb the full resonance of this work. Ogboh has been travelling to Addis Ababa conducting research for his African Union, Peace and Security building sound installation commission. Again he uses an anthem, the African Union anthem, as a centrifugal force from which all other elements emanate. To forge a future out of All the World’s Futures ‘state of things’ might lines from the German national anthem be torchbearers? “Unity and justice and freedom … let us all strive for this purpose …”


[1] Okwui Enwezor, “The State of Things,” in la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures, Biennale Arte 2015, Exhibition catalogue, 019.

[2] Ibid., 018.

[3] Okwui Enwezor, in preface to Documenta 11_Platform 5: Ausstellung / Exhibition, Kurzfuhrer / Short Guide, 2002, 6.

[4] Okwui Enwezor, “The State of Things,” in la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures, Biennale Arte 2015, Exhibition catalogue, 019.

[5] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage, 1997), 165.

of Women by Women

I am co-curating the Ethiopian Women’s Art Contest with the ongoing art exhibition at the Alle School of Art and Design, Addis Ababa University. The art on display explores the theme of women by women artists. The United States Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Patricia Haslach, called on all Ethiopian women artists living in Ethiopia, to celebrate their creativity and be recognised for it. Her call got a reverberating response. This exhibition presents prize-winning art alongside submissions from each contestant, totaling one hundred and twenty eight artworks. They reveal a broad range of approaches among a multi-generation group of Ethiopian artists.

These paintings, drawings, photographs, installations, and sculptures utilize social construction of femininity, cultural narratives, spirituality, and aesthetics, taking critical positions through a self-conscious gaze at identity. Sometimes the subjects are dark other times humorous, telling stories of fear, survival, and joy; the results are poetic and insightful, gorgeous and prophetic. Betelhem Jekale’s Rape broaches a subject rarely discussed openly. Her unflinching emphasis on materials employs incriminating items such as a little girl’s stained underwear, focusing our attention on the surface of the artwork, while taking on metaphorical significance. Nebiat Abebe’s Rising is a non-representational celebration of women’s resilience. She explores the physical properties of acrylic paints while giving the viewer philosophical space to ponder.

This contest is a vital addition to the spaces through which women’s voices can be heard. The exhibition presents a cross-section of women’s positions in society, suggesting a time in the future where access to opportunities might be more equitable.

AtWork_Kampala 2015: an alternative learning environment

On Buziga hill, Kampala, Uganda, I walked through a small metal gate into a beautiful, large garden, with towering trees. A refreshing breeze blew up the hill, calming relief after the heat in Kampala traffic. I took my shoes off, raised my hands to receive the breeze, and run down the steep, grassy hill. Artist George Kyeyune was my guide to this hidden gem, Maisha Film Gardens, a project by film maker Mira Nair and Professor Mahmood Mamdani. Half way down the hill, we joined a small group in a tree shade. AtWork_Kampala Workshop for young artists and curators was in progress.

Mira Nair and others at workshop in Maisha Film Gardens

Mira Nair and others at workshop in Maisha Film Gardens

The group of about twenty-four was seated in a circle on low round enga stools. Curator Simon Njami, in his trademark dark glasses, was speaking. He smiled. Welcomed us. This informal learning environment is the brainchild of Njami. Lettera27, an Italian foundation supporting the right to literacy, education, and access to knowledge and information, supports these workshops, in collaboration with Moleskine®, an Italian company that produces notebooks, and related paper products. This iteration in Kampala was hosted by Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere Art Gallery / Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration, and Maisha Foundation. Curator Katrin Peters-Klaphake’s superior organizational skills ensured the smooth running of this weeklong workshop. I knew many of the participants either as former students at Makerere University Art School, artists, or curators with whom I have collaborated on various projects. Sculptor Lilian Nabulime was part of the circle. Nabulime and Kyeyune were the facilitators of this small alternative learning environment.
Simon Njami speaking to workshop participants at Makerere

Simon Njami speaking to workshop participants at Makerere

Katrin Peters-Klaphake speaking at Makerere Art Gallery

Katrin Peters-Klaphake speaking at Makerere Art Gallery

The AtWork workshop model uses the context of the place where it will happen, taking issues relevant locally as a starting point for thoughts, discussions, and idea sharing. In Kampala, the theme, ‘Should I take my shoes off?’ was arrived at when two schoolgirls visited the Makerere Art Gallery, and upon seeing a clean, quiet space, asked if they needed to remove their shoes before entry. As a symbol of respect and immaculate cleanliness, sacred places like houses of worship are entered barefoot, shedding distractions and dirt at the threshold. This was an apt starting point, for this kind of schoolgirl uncertainty is often encountered in young people embarking on a career in any field. Paradoxically, there exists a boldness, certainty, and willingness to tackle challenging situations, perhaps born of youthful confidence.

Some Participants

Joseph Adriko at work

Joseph Adriko at work

Joseph Adriko attended the AtWork Kampala workshop. He was one of my most illustrious students at the Makerere Art School in 2009. When his studies were interrupted by reasons beyond his control, Adriko set up a studio-cum-gallery, Adriko Arts, in his hometown Arua in Northern Uganda. Occasionally he travels to Kampala to feel the pulse of the varied art genres abundant in the city. He was delighted, expanded, and yet perplexed as a participant of the workshop. He chose to explore the confluence of art, architecture, and theatre.

Violet Nantume presenting her work

Violet Nantume presenting her work

Violet Nantume, another participant, was also my student at Makerere Art School. She juggles art making with curating. Nantume was one of four curators for KLA ART 014 – Kampala Contemporary Art Festival. Over time, her administrative and curatorial duties overshadowed her art making. She decided to register as an artist for the AtWork workshop in order to have an unencumbered opportunity to make art again. Nantume is a confident go-getter, and articulate speaker who has been accepted on the Masters in Curatorial Studies program at Bard College, New York. Her idea for the workshop was to challenge accepted social norms, suggesting possibilities of departure.
Leilah Babirye (left) in discussion with Robinah Nansubuga (right)

Leilah Babirye (left) in discussion with Robinah Nansubuga (right)

Another participant, Robinah Nansubuga, on the other hand, is not a Makerere graduate, but has worked with many private galleries, as well as 32° East and has curated exhibitions in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, including as curatorial team member of KLA ART 014. Her locally acclaimed monthly discussion event Ekyoto is sought-after. She decided to revisit a failed application to the Young Curators’ Workshop at the Berlin Biennale, trying to understand why it was rejected, and what it takes to be a good writer. Nansubuga is an eager learner, and full of vitality. She joined the workshop as a curator.

Adriko, Nantume, and Nansubuga are resourceful and passionate young individuals who are shining stars in the arts. They are ready to be challenged, and willing to emerge as different or perhaps better artists and curators.

Innovative Pedagogical Conditions

Event–based learning
This workshop is remembered as a special occasion, because as a learning environment, it spanned only a few days. It enabled face-to-face encounters between renowned experts, nationally acclaimed facilitators, and young participants. As a small group, it provided access to experienced persons in a way that would not be possible through symposia or lectures. Participants got to know each other intimately, and were therefore able to share resources and opportunities. The event nature of the workshop, and the specific Moleskine® notebooks as material, gave participants a concrete goal to work towards, in a specific timeframe. This focused their attention in critical discussions, working, and progressive reflection. The process was steeped in intense, and metamorphosing emotions, for feedback was instantaneous, and response just as quick. Although it was a small group process, personal responsibility for learning was emphasized. As Nansubuga posted on her Facebook page on February 24 at 10:24pm, “How far we can go is our own making”.

AtWork Kampala is one of the recent events in Uganda, but there exist precedents in the workshop-based learning environment. Rose Namubiru Kirumira’s (2008) doctoral research focusing on workshops as formative spaces for artists, presents Triangle Artists’ Workshops as a case study. An article based on the same research co-authored with Sidney Littlefield Kasfir is published in African Art and Agency in the Workshop (2013). The Triangle Artists’ Workshops initiated by British collector Robert Loder and American sculptor Anthony Caro in 1982 have spread across continents. Uganda hosted one in Namasagali College, later growing into Ngoma workshops. The Triangle workshops typically last two weeks, take place in rural settings, and offer an experimental space for artists to work without academic or economic pressure. Other workshops have been run in Uganda for practical skills exchange by organizations and individuals like Uganda Visual Artists’ and Designers’ Association, 32° East, Weaverbird studios and Sanaa Gateja. They are based on a similar idea of a short time span, and finding community with others, while removed from quotidian distractions. Other workshops abound on the continent. Nantume participated in Asiko 2013 in Accra, Ghana, where she reported, “During the curatorial session, I noted that curatorship was beyond organizing a successful exhibition but critical analysis and writing that Bisi believed underpinned an argument that one puts across.” Also in 2013, Nansubuga attended the Curatorial Intensive developed by Independent Curators International (ICI) and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in Johannesburg, South Africa.

AtWork workshop is unique in that it alters the materials at hand, with a strong focus on the critical thought processes leading up to making an object, planning an exhibition, or writing a text.

Circular Sitting
Sitting in a circle signified a level playing field for all participants. With a cursory glance, one could not tell between facilitator and participant. This contrasts with formal education structures where hierarchy is unmistakeable. A teacher stands at the front of a classroom, authoritatively addressing students who are seated, quietly listening. In my observation, circular seating appears to have set the scene for an egalitarian community in the workshop where the facilitators and Njami were physically, and perhaps psychologically, seen as less superior, leading to ease in communication. It took great courage for Nabulime and Kyeyune to modify their accustomed superior role as lecturers, to become helpers and learners. To be vulnerable. To let budding artists and curators take centre stage. To set them free, to think, to question, to work through their visions. To communicate these visions.

This can be a mammoth step for learners too, as I experienced upon joining the Masters in Curating at Goldsmiths, University of London. Classes were held in a large well-lit room with no desks, rather chairs in a circle, with our tutors. On the first day, I could not tell who was who. Having received all my previous education in Uganda, I was accustomed to a top-down singular form of authority. Speaking when called upon. Not contradicting.

Modes of Address
Goldsmiths’ MA Curating course tutors Anna Harding and Tim Brennan, encouraged us to address them by first names. This was hard to abide by, for after years of conditioning that respect demanded a prefix and a surname, I could not easily bring myself to say, ‘Excuse me please, Anna. I have an alternative idea’. During the AtWork_Kampala workshop, I observed participants struggle with Mr. Simon, and Dr. Kyeyune, and Dr. Lilian. At the end they managed to drop the Mr. for Simon, but could not shake the long accustomed Dr. for the facilitators, who were also their lectures. Modes of address in a particular setting may encourage or deter open and inclusive discussions. They need attention in planning. Keen awareness as they evolve.

Lilian Nabulime starting her performance at the workshop presentations in Makerere Art Gallery

Lilian Nabulime starting her performance at the workshop presentations in Makerere Art Gallery

George Kyeyune reviewing past AtWork publication

George Kyeyune reviewing past AtWork publication

Instructional Methods and Materials

participants continue discussions over tea break

participants continue discussions over tea break

The methodological orientation of this workshop was to foreground the participants who presented their ideas, got feedback, engaged in critical thinking and discussions, worked and reworked them, interspersed with talks and examples of other concerns in the arts. The participants’ artistic and curatorial stances drew on varied genres such as poetry, theatre, literature, visual arts, reportage, and film. Perhaps as a stance of ethnic belonging, or an emerging confrontation with post-coloniality, participants started off with long held generalizations about identity of the ‘we’, ‘our culture forbids’, ‘my people believe’ variety. Njami listened to the participants’ ideas, and then critiqued their confident pronouncements on ‘we’ and ‘them’ binaries. On identity. With a stringent stance, which was often uncomfortable for the recipients, he encouraged taking stock of skills, a breadth of reading, self-reflection, and confronting one’s long held prejudices. With Njami’s counter positions, they were confronted with the modernist concept of an artist as an individual critical thinker and creator.

Participants responded with a mix of emotions from fear and disillusionment, to tentative appreciation and determination. They worked in smaller groups, and received one-on-one guidance. It was a consultative process where notions of becoming artists and curators, power relations, cultural production and mediation, were discussed alongside practical issues surrounding art making. The proximity of curators and artists in the same learning environment appears to have demystified each other’s practice. The process of open-space working rather than solo studio practice, and the public presentation of ideas and works in progress enabled critical reviews, and learning.

Each participant received two small notebooks: one for sketching, the other for final work. Text, sketches, material samples started to take shape. Quiet conversations, and solo introspection were prevalent at this stage. For some, a radical form of (re) shaping their identity commenced. Participants were considering their own experiential authority, the authority of the facilitators, and the authority of their chosen discipline. AtWork workshop offered a spread out, shared, form of authority, being not only from the facilitator figures, but also how their use of authority, connected with, and sometimes alienated participants. The facilitators and participants attempted to negotiate the impact on each other of their intersecting positions in the workshop. The initial anxiety and perplexity seems to have led to soul-searching and meaningful learning.

Dialectical dilemma
Although Simon Njami discourses from his own literary values, the participants attempted to weave his ideas with their own agency through references to indigenous cultures. The process of self-identification that compelled these young participants to refer to the cultural values of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ is a valid one too, since the collective consciousness is still strong in their milieu. I wonder, is a locally situated, globally aware, mode of cultural production based on ‘ffe’ rather that ‘nze’ not possible anymore? Where does one situate Dr. Angelo Kakande’s email signature, one rooted in the okulanya tradition of the Baganda? Could it be a consciousness that situates him in a familial continuum? Some of the participants used Njami’s challenging stance as a springboard to reassess the convergences and deviations between the knowledge they hold unquestioningly, and the one he was proposing. A continuation of this conversation promises to be an exciting encounter of multiplicities. A frisson in the community. A volcano brewing.

Musajja wa Kabaka; musajja muganda.
Muzzukulu wa Gabulyeri Ttakalirya.
Muzzukulu wa Njala Egobye.
Ava mu lunyiriri lwa Nakatalanga Nkoola.
Asibuka mu mutuba gwa Kalungi e Busere.
Ava mu ssiga lya Kasule e Buwembo.
Yeddira ngeye; akabbiro kkunguvvu.
Kasujja e Busujja ye mukulu w’ekika kye.

Tatuula asuulumba busuulumbi
Ttutu lifumita likyali tto bwe likula lifuuka lusenke.

How did the AtWork_Kampala workshop relate to Uganda’s economic conditions where one participant demanded a sitting allowance, just like politicians? How will artists express themselves in a society where their role is relegated to entertainment? Where will curators carve a space when curating as a practice is little understood? What is the significance of this workshop on art production, mediation, and consumption when the market, as a major driving force for informing stylistic decisions in Uganda, is not directly discussed? Will participants be agents of pedagogical reform? Will this result in radical change? Change? No change?

Nabulime feels that this kind of intensive, thought-provoking engagement is imperative for lecturers. Nantume’s art project challenged social constructions of gender-circumscribed behaviour, revealing biases in society’s expectations; perhaps hers is a much-needed cultural protest in Uganda. Nantume is raising funds to take her Masters at Bard College, while assisting on the Queen of Katwe film by Mira Nair. Adriko incorporates his mother’s theatrical performances, the circular design of traditional meeting places, with the architecture of theatre to alter its orientation. Adriko’s art must needs step away from the ubiquitous woman with a baby strapped on her back, as he foregrounds ideas, history and possibilities for his practice. Nansubuga has engaged a writing coach, is continuing her writing project, and curating an exhibition for May 2015.

Through the intergenerational and duo-location dialogue, participants appear to have opened themselves to new ways of thinking, working, and being. An elastic conversation begun through discussion, reading, writing and making, just like the elastic that holds together a Moleskine® notebook. It is imperative that we reflect on how the discursive space, and materiality of different art forms might enable experimentation. Might give room to disparate ways of knowing. To consider what can be learned though creative processes, we might consider letting go of the perpetual focus on finished text or object. Having said that, do not miss the exhibition of the participants’ projects at Makerere Art Gallery from 19th March 2015 to 11th April 2015.

Makerere Art Gallery / MIHCR

Makerere Art Gallery / MIHCR

I wait. Hunched.
Time passes.
Go. Witness. Keep your shoes on. Return.
Tell us about it. Guard the secrets. Conversations endure.

Workneh Bezu: The Big Picture Between You and Me

Solo exhibition at Alliance Ethio-Francaise January 20-30, 2015

Workneh Bezu installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

Workneh Bezu
installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

The first impression I had of Workneh Bezu’s exhibition was a feeling of being enveloped by colour. According to the wall text, this solo exhibition of mixed media paintings portrayed the meeting and co-existence of Islam and Christianity in Ethiopia. The predominant motifs were angels, children, Arabic Abjad script, and the fidel, Ethiopian script and alphabet. However, the Capital newspaper of Sunday January 25th, 2015 suggests that it is more about children and happiness. Just as Workneh presents the two faiths side by side, I think these varied spiritual and secular readings can blissfully co-exist.

Workneh Bezu installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

Workneh Bezu
installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

The Alliance Ethio-Francaise gallery in Piassa is a beautiful space whose high ceilings always enhance the art viewing experience. A visit to the exhibition with someone proficient at reading Amharic and Arabic would have made the exhibition even more meaningful. All the art is un-titled; therefore, the script must be the path to deeper engagement.

Workneh Bezu installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

Workneh Bezu
installation shot, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, 2015

Religious imagery has historically appeared in manuscript illustrations, in murals on Orthodox Church walls, and on wood panels. These church paintings are a medium through which believers seek intercession to God. Workneh draws on this tradition. He simultaneously employs text from the Koran to create heavily textured paintings rich in image and language. In the 7th century, Prophet Mohammed’s early followers fled persecution in Mecca and sought refuge in the Aksumite Empire, present-day northern Ethiopia. The migrants were given refuge by King Armah. Since then, Islam has spread across many regions of Ethiopia. Workneh’s marriage of differing artistic histories is a deliberate juxtaposition to illustrate the co-existence of Islam and Christianity in Ethiopia. His parents are from both religions. For him, this subject holds personal resonance, in a global context it serves as a beacon of hope amidst an environment fraught with religious prejudice. He urges us to pay close attention to a possibility of peaceful co-existence: “A finger that points to the sun is not a sun itself; yet, it deserves respect for the mere fact that it points.”

Workneh Bezu is one of the Habesha Art Studio collective of artists. Their studio is located just off Arat Kilo, on the slip road across the road from Asni Gallery and St. Mathew’s church. He is happy to continue conversations in person or via his website.

Addis Foto Fest

Addis Foto Fest opened at noon on December the 1st, in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. The opening exhibition Visions Of Africa featuring photographers from across the continent, was installed outdoors, by the Sheraton Addis Hotel fountain, allowing for a smooth flow of viewers among and between the display panels.

Addis Foto Fest 2014, Visions Of Africa exhibition

Addis Foto Fest 2014, Visions Of Africa exhibition

On Tuesday December 2, 2014, The Americas: United States & Latin America was opened at the National Museum on a cold, cold evening. Where was my gabi when I needed it? The speeches where delivered in a really crowded entryway, as we all tried to listen and get warm.

Johnette Iris Stubbs at the opening of The Americas: United States & Latin America

Photographer Johnette Iris Stubbs at the opening of The Americas: United States & Latin America


Hoods Jjuuko, Kampala Taxi Park, 2012

Hoods Jjuuko, Kampala Taxi Park, 2012

Coming soon in our beautiful city, Kampala! Are you ready?