Tag Archives: Uganda

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.

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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?

Then.

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.

 

Possibilities

“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 …”

Notes

[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.


KLA ART 014 Curatorial Committee – a glimpse

 

KLA ART 014 curatorial committee

KLA ART 014 curatorial committee

KLA ART 014 is an bi-annual art festival in Kampala, Uganda. It is a platform for showcasing new and emerging ideas in art with a special focus on Eastern and Central Africa. It is slated for the month of October 2014. Fringe events are already happening in regional towns like Fort Portal, Gulu, Mbale, and Jinja in partnership with Bayimba Festival.

The first iteration of this contemporary art festival was KLA ART 012 with the theme 12 Boxes Moving. It took place in twelve shipping containers transformed by artists at twelve sites across Kampala city. A broad spectrum of Kampala audiences attended the festival whose program included artists’ talks, film screenings, workshops and discussions.

In mid April 2014, Katrin Peters-Klaphake, curator of Makerere Art Gallery / IHCR, and myself, were invited to attend one of the curatorial committee meetings for the KLA ART 014 festival. The curatorial committee is charged with developing the overall concept for KLA ART 014. As experienced curators in the Kampala arts community, we served as sounding boards for the team. Four of the five members were present:

Violet Nantume

Violet Nantume, 32° East

Moses Sserubiri, writer, startjournal

Moses Sserubiri, writer, startjournal

Phillip Balimunsi, artist

Phillip Balimunsi, artist

Robinah Nansubuga, 32° East

Robinah Nansubuga, 32° East

The meeting was held at 32° East / Ugandan Arts Trust, in their Kansanga relaxed outdoor meeting space.

32° East / Ugandan Arts Trust in Kansanga

32° East / Ugandan Arts Trust in Kansanga

The curatorial committee then had a Skype meeting with South African curator Gabi Ngcobo who is serving as the KLA ART 014 Curatorial Advisor. I stayed for this part as an observer. It was a brief conversation due to electricity outage, a constant reality for the Eastern African artists that these dynamic, young curators are planning to work with.

Skype meeting with Gabi Ngcobo, curatorial advisor

Skype meeting with Gabi Ngcobo, curatorial advisor

The varied elements of the festival including artists, ideas, sites of display, issues of translation, and other behind-the-scenes details are coming together. The curatorial team has a positive energy, and seems to be working well together. Of course they have divergent ideas of what form the festival should take. I view this as a healthy part of team curating. If they all agreed as termites, what fun would that be? Where would variety come from? Which fresh perspectives would emerge? Each curator brings a different skill set to the preparations. I am sure the festival will harness the best of their talents.

British Creative Producer, Laura Ratling, is the Project Manager, with British Council support. Rocca Gutteridge is the Project Director, charged with overseeing the running and overall vision of the festival. She is supported by the entire team at 32° East.

A network of Associate Partners is working with 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust to make the festival a reality. These partners are permanent Kampala based arts organizations. They include: Bayimba Festival, Afri Art Gallery, Makerere Art Gallery/IHCR, Goethe‑Zentrum, Alliance Française, Nommo Gallery, AKA Gallery and Uganda Museum. With such a network of committed people and organizations, the festival can only succeed!

I urge you to mark the month of October on your calendar and be sure to spend it with us in vibrant Kampala.

Margaret Nagawa


Mathias Muwonge Kyazze: the master of glass art

Mathias Muwonge Kyazze

Mathias Muwonge Kyazze

How did you go about becoming an artist?

I was always interested in drawing geography maps and science drawings at primary school.  At home, I was involved in mat weaving and basket making. I started formal art classes in Senior One. Senyondwa Deus was then my best friend. He is now a lecturer at Kyambogo University. He inspired and encouraged me because he was a better drawer. I studied art through high school to attaining a Masters degree.  I am still practicing, and becoming more of an artist.

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What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on two major stained-glass design projects. One at St. Charles Lwanga Church in Ntinda near UNEB, and another at St. Joseph’s Church, Nansana.

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Where do you see your art practice in the next five years?

It is difficult to predict because it depends so much on the design commissions I receive. I the meantime, I am thinking of developing more into an art and design consultancy.

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Can you tell me about an artist whose life/work you really like?

Prof. G Kyeyune’s paintings and sculptures inspire me a lot. So do (Mary) Naita’s.

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What would you say in a short text message to an aspiring artist?

Getting to know what other artists have done, and written about in art and related disciplines, is key to shaping one’s art practice.

 

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Mathias Muwonge Kyazze can be reached at +256 777 912 122


Henry Kasujja: Luminary of Art Education

Henry Kasujja, Head of Art Department, St. Henry's College Kitovu

Henry Kasujja, Head of Art Department, St. Henry’s College Kitovu

Mr. Henry Kasujja, is an art teacher and Head of the Art Department at St. Henry’s College, Kitovu, Masaka District, Uganda. He was educated at the Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo, (now Kyambogo University), a well respected institution for art educators. He has drive, passion and commitment to his work, and above all a fondness for his students. When we met in mid-November 2013, his Senior Four students had completed their exams and were leaving campus. Many of these students sought him out to thank him and say their farewells, as we walked in the beautiful school grounds of mature trees, football fields, basketball courts, and above all sculptures. It is an enviable environment for any secondary school student.

Old Boys of Kitovu include art luminaries like Joseph Ntensibe, the late Fabian Kamulu Mpagi, Joseph Kivubiro Tabawebbula, Elly Tumwine, and John Bosco Kanuge. The deceased artist Francis Musangogwantamu taught here in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He built a strong foundation in the art department as evidenced in the many practicing artists he taught, as well as the sculptures on the school campus, in the Kitovu Catholic diocese grounds, Masaka District, and in Villa Maria Parish cathedral grounds in Kalungu District. Kasujja continues this legacy. How appropriate for a Henry to be teaching at St. Henry’s!

One of the art rooms at St. Henry's College Kitovu

One of the art rooms at St. Henry’s College Kitovu

 

Students studying in the Founders' Park, St. Henry's College Kitovu

Students studying in the Founders’ Park, St. Henry’s College Kitovu

 

Alex Drani, 1970. A warm welcome as one enters St. Henry's College Kitovu.

Alex Drani, 1970. A warm welcome as one enters St. Henry’s College Kitovu.

Henry Kasujja, Head of Art Department, St. Henry's College Kitovu

Henry Kasujja, Head of Art Department, St. Henry’s College Kitovu


Associate Professor George Kyeyune: a Luminary of Art Education

George Kyeyune meeting with some of his students in his studio, November 2013

George Kyeyune meeting with some of his students in his studio, November 2013

 

George Kyeyune is one of the leading artists in Uganda today. His sculptures can be found in public places in Kampala, and his paintings can be seen at Afriart Gallery, Kamwokya. Besides his own art practice, Kyeyune has nurtured and educated many artists active in Uganda today. At Makerere Art School, his gentle manner, considered responses to challenging situations, and thoughtful analysis of Uganda’s art history, make him one of the most sought after lecturers.

 

George Kyeyune with his students, November 2013

George Kyeyune with his students, November 2013

 

George Kyeyune, a thoughtful listener

George Kyeyune, a thoughtful listener

 

When all is done, George Kyeyune, reaches out to the outside world.

When all is done, George Kyeyune, reaches out to the outside world.


Luminaries of Art Education: Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira

Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira

Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira

Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira teaches sculpture at Makerere University in the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts (MTSIFA). It is a mouthful of a name, therefore many people just call it Makerere Art School. She is superb! Her students love her. She tells jokes in the midst of a serious class on the technical details of building a sculpture in concrete. Her colleagues, for instance, Dr. Lilian Nabulime are happy to be working with her. She was my lecturer too … but that was too many years ago!

Over the next few days, I will feature a short series on art educators that I am calling Luminaries of Art Education. I hope you enjoy it.

Margaret Nagawa

Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira teaching at MTSIFA

Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira teaching at MTSIFA

Bridget Aleni, the only female student in the class of 11

Bridget Aleni, the only female student in the class of 11

Jason Icoot, making the armature, an early stage of the sculpture process

Jason Icoot, making the armature, an early stage in the sculpture-making process

Some of Dr. Rose Kirumira's students at MTSIFA

Some of Dr. Rose Kirumira’s students at MTSIFA

When class is done, Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira reaches out to the outside world

When class is done, Dr. Rose Namubiru Kirumira reaches out to the outside world