Sane: The steady decline in media coverage of visual arts
In the recent past we have had wonderful, enthusiastic writers/reporters on visual art in the local newspapers and TV, such as David Kaiza, Nathan Kiwere, Stephen Ssenkaaba, John Vianney Nsimbe and Dominic Muwanguzi. However, at present much of what I have been reading and seeing sometimes smirks of a watered down message. I get the feeling that either the reporters’ articles are being distorted by editors, or some of the artists are misquoted.By Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga .
I used to look forward to reading the articles on art in Friday Vision and other newspapers. But alas, I have no more desire to read them. Because not only has the half page of art script and picture given way to meaningless pictures of whoever-he-is dating whoever-she-is. Right now, art only gets a snippet space. It is a clear by the way. What the artist is saying does not seem to matter to society anymore. If ever it did anyway.
The photography of the art is also alarming. Taken at awkward, stupid angles and printed without the title of the artwork or any other proper description. And worst of all, the pictures are placed in childish bordering in form of circles or squares, tilted at silly angles at tangents. The picture then looks trivial and superfluous.
I have had talks with reporters about this worrying trend of steady decline in art presentation in the media. Some of them claim that their articles are reduced arbitrarily by the editors thus distorting the message. The little space allocated cannot be enough to transmit a comprehensive report. Some reporters claim that art is falling off the social agenda in favour of stage singers and performers. These seem to be taking over the title ‘Artists’.
The media in Uganda generally has succeeded in making our art appear meaningless and trivial. In contrast; singers, stand up comedians and stage performers enjoy the lion’s share of the media spotlight. Up to six pages may be given for local and international stars, with new or recycled information, while local visual art gets an eighth or a sixteenth of a page. International visual art gets ZERO space.
Reasons behind lack of space
Just what is really happening is my guess and yours, but one has to wonder about what the real reasons behind art’s lack of space in the media.
One reason has to do with the populist agenda of Uganda’s media. It is about how popular the subject is, because with more people reading the paper, then sales rise. The media is now exclusively geared towards the youth.
Visual art is simply not that spectacular in Uganda. The local eyes are also fixed on conforming to global cultural events. Ugandan artists are nowhere to be seen in that sphere. Classical visual art has a small following in the population. Newspapers have to sell.
To hell with your images on the wall!
Having said all that, reporting on visual art is at the rock bottom of the reporters’ hierarchical scale. The top agenda is politics, bloody boring politics. Writing on art/culture is considered to be low rank writing. Many writers aim to be promoted to top writing on politics. After all, that is were the real money is. So an article on irrelevant paintings on some obscure wall is the necessary ladder to bigger, better things, so it seems.
Artists to blame?
Does this mean that the artists themselves are to blame for their being marginalized?
The art itself does not seem to be giving a strong message. It has become boring and predictable. The art here is exclusively geared towards foreign visitors, diplomats and tourists. Thus, the message is harmless mimicry of art from other countries, unambitious representations of a lovely little paradise with nice animals, and lovely African women with nice hips and a pot on the head.
Let’s face it. Our art is not giving a strong global message. It is just giving the people a mockery of neutral and uninspiring arrangements of colour and composition. Perhaps the artists are seen as giving a true record of their society. The local mass may be discerning that the artistic dialogues are geared not to them but outsiders.
We also seem to be more interested in techniques and styles of putting paint onto a surface, rather than using these techniques to tell the true message of a country struggling to become a nation.
After all, Robert Kabushenga is quoted to have told the artists: “Where is the controversy in art?” This suggests that the artists themselves are part of the art and if they are dull and uninspiring as individuals, then why should the media give them air or press time? Artists seem trivial and lack a message of their own.
However, this may overlook the fact that contemporary art may be completely different from the local cultural trajectory. People struggling to make ends meet will not even look at the art.
Art must be in the faces every day
So what should those of us on the wrong end of the stick do?
Artists must become more visible and more aggressive in their social dealings. Their messages should become more provocative and defiant. The writers should take time to write about their own work and make sure it is published regularly.
Forget about obtuse monthly reports on art. That is not the way forward. Art must be in the faces of the public everyday. Daily advertising, guerrilla publishing and marketing must be employed because the regular print media is simply enough. Billboards, postcards, greeting cards, toilet paper, calendars, book covers, condom wrappers, and other print media must be fully exploited.
I HAVE NOT EVEN STARTED TO TALK ABOUT THE INTERNET!
We now live in a digital age and a virtual world. A WORLD OF MAKE BELIEVE. Art is a virtual, not tactile sensation. It is a product of sentiment, rather than real intrinsic value.
The local art does not enjoy sentimental value in the eyes of ordinary Ugandans. The artists are also not influential members of the public. Those few prominent figures that happen to be artists or previously were art students, do not even associate with art anymore. The local public does not flock to the galleries to see or buy the art.
However, we can appeal to the import oriented mindset, where foreign idea or product is good and local is bad. By the Ugandan artists becoming prominent global figures, the local Ugandan eyes that are firmly fixed on recycled and imported ideas may finally come around.
So, it seems the best way IN may be to get OUT. Participation of artists in African and global art events is limited at present. A few individuals trickle through and represent themselves, but on the whole the Ugandans are isolated and get no real support from their Ministry of Culture. Opportunities in art expos, symposia, biennales and the like are urgently needed. And not for just five artists, but for all the five hundred or thousand active artists.
The artists here then may become more involved in the shifting frontiers of artistic expression. Using technology and science, new ideas in thinking are contributing to driving the global artists to the core of the innovation and culture world.
Then, the newspapers will have something to write home about!
The newspaper editors in particular must be reminded of their responsibility to do proper in-depth records on the arts and give visual proper space for text and image. The media in general should have reporters solely dedicated to reporting on visual art, not only on art shows, but even beyond this, to investigate and critique visual art regularly, say twice a week.
After all less relevant issues are published daily.