Ebishushani 2&3: Exhibition archiving Uganda’s history
By Dominic Muwanguzi
A second photograph exhibition, Ebishushani 2&3 presented by History in Progress, Uganda at Makerere Art gallery imbues elements of documenting Uganda’s social-political landscape during the colonial and post-colonial regime, inviting dialogue on the significance of photography as a non-traditional art genre within the contemporary arts and creating an intelligent visual discourse that facilitates academic research in form of archive.
All the trick and People Poses Places
The printed images in black and white on display by Elly Rwakoma and Musa Katuramu themed All the tricks and People Poses Places respectively, show various events that defined Uganda’s history. The photo of the 1980 Presidential aspirants , Dr. Milton Obote, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Paul Kawanga Ssemwongere on the campaigning trail with the wording UGANDA NEEDS UNITY inscribed on it, a portrait of the jolly President, Idi Amin Dada dressed in the famous Kauda Suit ( Safari Suit) smiling for the cameras, Ugandan returnees from the Burma war gaily playing acoustic instruments and NRA military officers posing for a studio photo with a pimped AK 47 standing docilely in the foreground, relive memories of yesterday.
Creating dialogue between archive, archivist and audience
This exhibit of realistic images resonates with the idea of bridging relationship between artist, artwork and public. The archivist, History in Progress, Uganda, invokes dialogue with the audience by showing characters they are familiar with. The images of former Presidents like Milton Obote or Idi Amin Dada bring back memories of the 1970s and 80s when they were Heads- of- state. For many in the audience, these were bitter- sweet times in Uganda’s political history. On the other hand, the photos of athletes participating in various sports activities like boxing highlight the days when Uganda enjoyed sports glory on the continental scene.
Such visual interpretation is facilitated by not adding titles to the art work. This technique of untitled photographs encourages unlimited dialogue between art work and audience. A similar approach was employed with the first exhibition of Ebifananyi 1; a display of photographs by Deo Kyakulangira who was a civil servant and a photographer in the early 80s and 90s. His images like those mentioned above capture the life and times of both ordinary and dignified Ugandans.
Alongside the images, a brief biography on each of these two photographers is on show together with the tools they used to take the photos. Musa Katuramu, a professional carpenter and Elly Rwakoma who was a Presidential photographer under Idi Amin Dada, Milton Obote and Godfrey Binaisa treated photography as their first love. Interestingly, Rwakoma’s images of key political figures and events are not subjective. In this context, they do not pursue a particular political ideology. Otherwise, they are palpable to a wider audience of young and old, educated and non-educated and, politicians and civilians.
The 8mm Russian film camera in use from 1968 by Elly Rwakoma and the Kodak brownie ii used between 1954-1959, alongside the slide projector displayed highlight the transition in technology from manual to digital camera. Questions abound how these notable individuals acquired these tools in an era where there was very scanty information on photography among black Africans on the continent. It is only possible that both Katuramu and Rwakoma shared an affluent background that enabled them to appreciate this art form and transform it into a useful tool to impact the lives of those in their respective community.
Photographers as Story-tellers
While venerating the photographers for their creative skills to document events and personalities that existed in that era, from a critical perspective one is reminded of the works of Malick Sidibè a renowned photographer from Mali. Sidibè’s black and white photographs captured the life of Black Africans during the colonial and post-colonial era.
His famous studio portraits with the subject posing in Western fashionable attire of flared pants with platform shoes, Afro hair-cuts and chains draped on their bodies emphasized the influence of Western culture on African traditional culture. It was also a statement on how black Africans where curious to learn the art of art and design then taught in European Missionary schools across the continent.
The story telling element that pervades Sidibè work is reflected in Katuramu and Rwakoma’s photographs. Hence, the three photographers here assume another identity of story tellers. This was a central role in African traditional society. This characteristic reverberates the relationship between African traditional and contemporary art.
The archive is never closed
With this exhibit, the archivist is able to open up conversation on the role played by photography in the visual arts and beyond. Like any archive, this (private) collection of photographs can be re-worked into film, sculpture or painting to be exhibited in a Museum. A similar approach was employed with the Ham Mukasa archive, Simuda Nyuma- another project by History in Progress, Uganda
This artistic attempt fosters further dialogue on the art work that invokes academic research, collaborative projects and government interest leading to a vibrant art scene.
History in Progress, Uganda, collects and publishes photographs from (private) collection from Uganda