Color, Creativity and Fun at LaBa! Street Art Festival
Face painting, contemporary dance performances, craft stalls, art installations and music were some of the activities that defined the annual LaBa! Street Art Festival. The event which brought together an unprecedented number of artists in an open air environ – on the Mackinnion Road – has over the years become a platform for new and old artists to interact and buoy their profession to another level.
By Dominic Muwanguzi
This year, the festival marked its 5th year with the theme: 365 days of Art – each day offers a new challenge to create art. More than 200 artists participated, both visual and performing artists. They spent the whole day selling their works while others made business contacts with the visitors to their respective stalls.
However, like any other arts festival, the major highlight of the day was the participation of the visitors in the creative activities that were on exhibit, hence making it an interactive forum for both artists and visitors.
Last year the theme of the festival was about the World Cup and the participating artists artistically explored it. One of the outstanding displays was Ronex’ installation of a goal post made out of recycled material, and visitors were invited to make their prediction on which team was going to win the coveted trophy. Another exhibit was by Xenson Ssenkaba who made balls out of plastic materials hence promoting the campaign for environmental conservation amidst the World Cup euphoria.
The first Street Art Festival was held in 2007. The theme was Pot in the hole, where artists and visitors to the festival filled the potholes with concrete and molded pots out of them. This creative adventure was a satirical approach to the enormous problem of potholes that riddled the street then and also a deserving noble campaign to get rid of those craters in the middle of the road.
Comment from the organizers
Carolin Bader, the Cultural Coordinator of Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, stated in a press release that this year’s event was much bigger than any other in the past years and the presentation were organized to suit the taste and anticipation of the visitors.
“We had a language bazaar where visitors could acquaint themselves with different languages, thereby adding on their knowledge of some languages and also for effective communication.”
(In this issue of startjournal.org, you can also read a review of this relation between art and language.)
Strengths of the festival
The innovation of the Language Bazaar was in every sense excellent, because it fostered unity among the visitors a factor (unity) that is very crucial when it comes to the promotion of arts and culture between countries. Furthermore, the concept exalted this festival as not only a fun day experience but also as a learning platform for everyone regardless of age, sex and race.
More so, the concept provided an entry point for the sponsors of the event. It was important to have the sponsors be part of the festival not only in terms of empowering it financially, but also by providing language and cultural information about their respective countries.
Although the major purpose for the participating artists was to sell their products, there was conspicuous evidence that this time around the artists made an effort to interpret the theme of the festival in their work.
Sekajugo’s traffic signs
Several artists like Collin Sekajugo and Bruno Ruganzu successfully interpreted this year’s theme in their work. Collin Sekajugo’s installation of Laba! road traffic signs (they were made of plastic pieces from jerry cans) was about reminding people about the dangers of reckless driving on Ugandan roads. This has often led to many fatal accidents.
His other works included posters, which talked about the dangers of plastics, and postcards, that were brought to the fore to debate the preservation of our environment amidst the onslaught of industrialization.
Ruganzu’s Walk to Germany
Bruno Ruganzu’s installation, which he dubbed Walk to Germany, made out of plastic bottles colored in black, yellow and red (these colors are the composition of both the Ugandan and the German national flags), explained and analyzed the irony of migration of Ugandans to Germany. As much as it is a good idea to migrate to developed nations like Germany, this often tends to lead to fragmented family structures in our own society.
The installation also discussed the issue of environmental conservation in Uganda. The artist raised the idea of fast tracking this noble campaign in Uganda just like it is the case in Germany.
@rtPunch’s fashion show
The fashion show by @rtPunch studio was another notable feature that added color and excitement to the festival. The designer, Wasswa Donald, showcased his street couture that stood out in black. I particularly appreciated the details he created on the garments that made them such a great fascination for every one. The crowd gaped as the designer (he was dressed like a priest with a black shirt and white collar!) and his models pranced up and down the street.
According to one excited fashionista, the designs were original and the concept of a fashion show at such festival was befitting. It provided an alternative taste and preference to the visitors who perhaps needed a short break from the other art forms like paintings and crafts.
Shortfalls of the festival
The success of any event depends on the way it is organized, either in terms of format or presentation. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the Street Art Festival has some shortcomings regarding these aspects despite its 5th year in existence.
For starters, one did not feel like one was going to a street art festival until one was there. This could largely be blamed on the little advertisement of the festival by the organizers.
The event lacked some of the energy one would expect of a typical arts festival. According to artist Ronex, who attended a similar street art festival in Zimbabwe last year, he observed that the Ugandan version was rather cold.
“It is not hyper. You can never know you are at a street festival until perhaps late into the evening. In Zimbabwe, you catch the fever of the festival weeks before it even starts. The advertising is intense and the participating artists are also incredibly creative,” he expressed.
Contrary to the above view, the LaBa! festival culminated into a hyper show later in the evening. The attention of the visitors was directed to the Goethe-Zentrum and Alliance Française’s garden, where a multitude of both local and foreign artistes took on the role of entertaining the crowd. This year’s stage performances came from Lillian of Blu*3 and a host of other artists.
Do artists care about the theme
The other pit fall, was that few artists really cared about interpreting the theme. Their major goal otherwise was to sell their art and nothing more. Though this is a general pitfall shared by several other festivals on the globe – many artists at such cultural and arts festivals tend to compromise on interpreting the theme of the festival and solely concentrate on selling their art – the impact this trend has on a festival like this is drastic.
A paramount goal of the LaBa! is to develop and celebrate arts and culture in Uganda. But this aspect seemed to be entirely ignored by the artists that day. You could hear wild murmurs of discomfort among certain artists that the football game at Naboole (Uganda Cranes vs Guinea Bissau) had locked them out of business. Other artists remained stationed in their tents the whole day hoping to sell their art works to the passing visitors.
But this anxiety could have been influenced by the fact that they wanted to make returns on what they had invested in participating in the festival. To participate in the festival, artists are required to pay a minimum fee of 30,000Ugx which figure excludes transporting their works to the venue of the festival. Naturally, this seems to be a financial burden to some of them given their financial status which is relatively not so good during this time of the year.
When I discussed this matter with Ronex, he gave the option of the organizers to look for more sponsors, such that the financial burden is shifted from the artists to the sponsors. This way, the artists will not find it justifiable to be profit centric at the festival.
However, I believe there could be possible danger in the above option. Sponsors tend to act domineeringly and sometimes patronize the whole event compromising on its original ideals like promoting arts in Uganda.
Though the notion of having a number of participants and different art forms is lauded by some people, other artists like Daudi Karungi who initiated the festival has some remarks: “The Street Art Festival currently is mashed up. It has lost its core goal of celebrating artists and those who appreciate their work. There are things which are presented there which shouldn’t be there,” he noted dispassionately.
Conversely, one regular exhibitor, Edison Mugalu viewed it as a perfect opportunity for art lovers to buy all they want in one space without the hustle of going around from one studio or gallery after another.
Despite such sentiments, the LaBa! Street Art Festival still remains one of the biggest events which the artists and art appreciators look forward to every year. For the artists, it is an opportunity to once again sell their work in bulk and make fresh contacts, which is very crucial to their business. To the visitors, it is an opportunity to buy art in one space and at a fair price.
Though this is so, the organizers – the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/Uganda German Cultural Society and the respective sponsors – need to draw a program that would entice more participants to the event. They can also bring on board new elements that would arouse the interests of the artists in this festival, because according to the number of artists in the country, the number of those who participant is still low.
I would particularly suggest awards being given out to exhibiting artists in different categories. They nevertheless do not have to come with a hefty price tag, but a small prize would still make a difference to the artists.
That said, the 5th LaBa! Street Art Festival was a slight improvement from the past four and if the organizers are determined to make improvements again next year, we are destined for another fabulous day of color, creativity and fun.
Dominic Muwanguzi is a freelance art journalist with a strong dedication to uplifting the visual arts in Uganda.
All photos by Startjournal.org’s Thomas Bjørnskau.
Startjournal.org would also like to point out that Daudi Karungi being quoted is the journal’s founder.