Mapping Kampala with KLA ART 014
By Elizabeth Namakula
KLA ART 014 was a far cry from the sophisticated and outdoor festival of 2012. The two festivals showed a progression from neat and tidy exhibits within shipping containers to multi layered commentary on informal living.
This year’s festival included contemporary artists from Uganda and Uganda’s neighbouring countries, exploring the theme Unmapped, and asking the question, who are the unheard voices of our cities and how can the unseen urban dwellers be represented and celebrated?
In the Gallery
Strips of coloured cloth could be seen hanging loosely above the Railway Station and being blown by the wind, yet somehow they managed to stick. Helen Nabukenya’s two-story tapestry, Golden Hearts, celebrated women. She wanted to illustrate how much is demanded of a woman and that if she is not careful, she might end up at the verge of breakdown and loss of identity — about to be shredded in pieces. The woman, like the cloth, needs to bind herself together and not fall apart.
Inside one of the three gallery spaces was Francis Nagenda’s ode to the woman, Vendor on a Scaffold. It depicted a three faced woman on a crowded street, carrying a basket of bananas on her head while her other hand struggled to keep the baby on her back. The emotion on her three faces suggested that the basket of bananas had to be sold no matter what!
Mulugeta Gebrekidan, from Ethiopia and exhibiting at KLA ART 014 for the first time, captured the division of a community, with the building of a railway, through his piece The Creativity of Survival. This video instillation uses the Ethiopian coffee ceremony to show people coming together and pausing in the busy city to share a moment of community. It grapples with notions of development and division, noting that before, the community was one but the construction of the railway has disrupted their movements to cross to the other side.
Barkcloth is an ancient form of art in the southern communities of Uganda and although still vibrant, it gains little attention, except from people in the villages that can’t afford a coffin for their dead and have to use this special cloth for burial. Paul Katamira’s contribution to the festival was to show three centuries of barkcloth in his family. In different colours of brown, white and black, he hung them neatly suspended from the ceiling and provided a booklet made of barkcloth detailing the history of the cloth from as far back as 1275 during the reign of Kimera, one of the first kings of Buganda, to the reign of Semakokiro who made it famous from 1797-1814. The cloth comes from such trees as omutuba, enseerere, omukookoome, ddundu and kimidu.
Kitamira remarked, “I have been involved in barkcloth making since 1968. It is my desire not to see the tradition die out. So I have recruited 100 students through my association called Bukomansimbi Organic Tree Farmer’s Association. The American Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation currently sponsors us.”
Colour can also be used as a tool of communication because it is easily recognised from a distance and understood by both the privileged and non privileged. This was Tony Cyizanye’s piece titled Colourful Voices of My People. Tony, who comes from Rwanda, used dots of various shades of blue, white, red, yellow and purple across a board of 100cm in Length to 35 cm in width to signify that a particular colour can be used to represent a community’s needs. It is a platform for the less privileged and also that different colours stand to represent different things internationally
On the Streets
The second part was the Boda Boda Project where twenty of Uganda’s contemporary artists worked together to convert boda bodas, Kampala’s iconic motorcycle into innovative, experimental and dynamic artworks, each representing their interpretation of the unmapped. This unique exhibition took place across most of Kampala’s suburbs; including Gaba Beach market, Bombo Road, Queen’s Way, Crested Towers, Ndere Center, Kamwokya, Kalerwe Market, Makerere University, Kafumbe Mukasa, Csentenary Park, Owino Market, Kasubi Tombs, Wandegeya, Lugogo Mall, Kabaka Anjagala Road, Nsambya.
“I have never seen anything like this. What is happening in Kampala these days?” Kasirye Andrew, a shop owner in Kasubi market said.
Eco artist sibling duo of Kalule Kagga Enoch and Hope Suubi used their work to signify the bodaboda man as king of the road with a giant oversized helmet. It was made of hollow metal bars, cardboard, sponge papers and recycled plastic bottles of different colours. The helmet, that encased the entire bike and stood nearly three meres high, acted as a crown over the bodaboda man. Its size and bright colours attracted attention and yet at the same time caused road users to give him the required right of way fit for a king! “We hope to assist the city authorities in their drive to make helmets popular in the world of bodabodas.” the duo said.
The realities of fatal accidents on Uganda’s roads by bodabodas cannot be underrated, hence Petro’s open Obituary. The structure on the bodaboda was a badly damaged rear view of a van with number plates UX2 47312. The entire installation was made of metal, recycled metal, papyrus and plastic. This ugly reality on Kampala’s roads is marked by the fact that Uganda is ranked 19th in the world for the most fatal road accidents. Petro believes that those who die don’t live to tell their story.
Not all the works were introspective or didactic. The Fruit Seller by Gabriel Shaloom depicted a sliced pineapple made out of car fillers and paper. Two other pineapples on either side of the boda boda were cut in half. The structure of the boda boda was modified to form visibility and mobility for Kampala’s fruit sellers.
Into the Studio
The third part of the festival was the artists’ studios. Artists opened up their work spaces to the public bringing audiences directly into the making process. Artists studious were spread out all over Kampala in such areas as Kansanga,Kiwafu, Zana, Kyengera, Nansana Bwaise, Bweyogerere. The idea was to interest the public into what art really is and what goes into the art making process.
“Lots of time you see a work of art and you cannot explain it unless the artist is there to explain everything. So I am very happy that I came along to see how everything comes together. We have been told that it all starts as an idea which is then transformed into art.” Sarah Nduga who visited the artist studios, in Kansanga said.
The Ugandan film maker couldn’t go without being recognized as well. Filmmaking in Uganda does have a few hurdles of its own but thankfully the Maisha film lab is always there to give aspiring filmmakers a chance to explore and nurture their talents. A programme of film screenings and master classes was available at the Goethe Zentrum on the 28th and 29th of October. Short Films from the young and upcoming film maker Rehema Nanfuka were screened.
One followed a self styled ghetto singer named 4G spirit and his aspirations to make it to the top like his idol, Bobi Wine, a popular Afro- Pop act in Uganda. It details his struggles and success and his eventual break through when a popular producer, Tony houls promises to do a song with him at a subsidized prize.
When asked why Nanfuka wanted a story like 4G spirit put across and she said, “I had just finished a very demanding piece of work and I wanted something fun to do. The beauty with 4G spirit is that nothing was planned because as a character, he is so unpredictable. The best way for me to get good shots was to direct my camera man to follow him. Even when 4G amassed crowds, we would just station our camera there and over time people forgot that even the camera was there.”
Next up was Haunted Souls, a film depicting one woman’s struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of war. Nanfuka was the main actress and wrote the screenplay as well. She is been involved in film making since 2011.
“Building on the success of the festival in 2012, we wanted KLA ART 014 to offer a platform to showcase new and emerging ideas by Contemporary Ugandan artists. The festival has been a two-year process of thought, production and experimentation; resulting into a unique festival which directly links artists, artworks and audiences.” Rocca Gutteridge, Project Director, KLA ART 014 said.
Overall, art appreciation still has a long way to go in Uganda. People in a crowded market like Kalerwe will have their interest piqued at a sight of a huge boda boda helmet made of recycled materials. They might even go ahead and inquire about the significance to satisfy their curiosity.
Back to the business of survival. Was KLA ART 014 a success? Definitely, it was. The unmapped eventually found a platform to say “we exist”, quite a long way from the chauffeured and guided tour of the festival in 2012, where seven art installations were scattered in different parts of the city.
The festival is heading towards becoming a fixture on our calendar for its innovativeness, uniqueness and creativity. I definitely can’t wait for KLA ART 016.