Secolliville: An imaginary city in the public space
Secolliville is an imaginary city created by artist Collin Sekajugo and is much inspired by the philosophy of Albert Einstein—“Imagination is better than knowledge”.
Backed with the motto “Where things are as they could be” the artist is the performer in this city—the public space—where he’s conveying a particular message depending on the theme he has chosen for the morning.
His performances are interactive, intelligent and creative.
Written by Dominic Muwanguzi
In one moment he picks up the drum and begins to drum as he sings along. In the next couple of minutes, he hops on to an old bicycle and rides along this section of the highway. Occasionally he will interrupt his ride to give a helping hand to a vendor laden with merchandise on his bicycle by means of a push or ride the bicycle himself. He will then return to canvas and scribble something on canvas with his paint brush.
All this happens in the chill of the morning and takes no more than a couple of hours, as the busy morning traffic snakes through the junction of Kampala International School Uganda, Old Kira Road.
Involvement and participation by the public
This performance in public space by visual artist Collin Sekajugo is an extraordinary presentation, which not only attracts the attention of the public using the road at this time of the morning—many will stop and stare—but also is an opportunity for the artist to interact both aesthetically and intellectually with the random audience.
“I want to bring (my) art to the public and see how they respond to it,” says the vocal artist when pressed with the question why he carries out these performances.
Though these performances touch our senses and attract the public’s attention, it can be argued that the artist probably faces a certain degree of challenge to contextualize them to a particular theme or the general thesis of his art per se.
This aspect is facilitated by partly the random happening of events on the streets, which are normally not planned for; for example, interruption by the morning rains, the notorious traffic jam that may impede a fluid performance, and total ignorance of what he’s doing by a certain section of the public.
Perhaps as a means of salvaging his public performances from such unfortunate experiences, the artist plants a banner/poster in the background like a manifesto used to interpret a particular artwork in an art gallery .
The poster as an independent artwork
The poster has the following wording:
“God created People and People created classes! There are attractive ones and the different; the smart ones and the dumb; the privileged ones and the disadvantaged; the fortunate ones and the unlucky. I am Creative, And you are?”
The wording on the poster, more like curatorial notes, are carefully chosen to involve the public in what he’s doing on the street. It is interesting that each one of us belongs to a particular “class” and here it is upon the public to identify which class or ability they possess and represent.
“These words touch the audience (public). They keep thinking about them the whole day as they go about their duties,” Collin says.
In essence, the poster itself becomes another artwork in public space, because it actively involves the public intellectually in the performances being executed by the artist.
Suspect to egocentrism
Nonetheless, for some people the poster may be just another object promoting a product like many others on street corners and billboards. The possibility of it being ignored and sometimes not understood is quite probable. Suffice to say, some critics may regard it as egocentric and pompous.
And if so, is Secolliville an egoistic project?
The artist dismisses such claims by saying that the project finds its relevance in day-to-day activities:
“I am exploring and working with things people on the street can identify with. I ride the bicycle— a symbol of simplicity and mobility—which everyone can relate to. I paint the word coffee on canvas, and everyone is familiar with coffee—either as something they drink in the morning or as a cash crop for the economy.”
The artist’s other activities in his performances include selling merchandise in the market in Zambia, where he also performs once in a while.
Working like this, helps the artist to touch base with the local community, something he is most known for with his community-based art projects in Rwanda (Ivuka, which means re-birth in Kinyarwanda) and in Masaka (Weaver Bird Community of the Arts).
This aspect of community involvement and participation has the potential to alienate the syndrome of classism in the arts and also give the artist a thrust to conceptual art.
Thinking regular themes
Though still fairly unexplored on the local art scene, conceptual art is the type of art that can help artists reach international standards and markets, like the case is with West African art.
Nevertheless, the task is identifying themes that can directly impact the local community. In the context of Sekajugo’s performances, the artist is smart enough to work with themes that can easily trigger the reaction of the community he is working in:
“I work with themes people can relate with. My last performance was about presentation. We are what we are because of the way we present ourselves to the public. I was riding that old bicycle because I wanted to show people out there that I am an ordinary person, even if I am an artist.”
The notion of identifying regular themes can create a clientele for the artist with the city planning authority. With the fray of gazetting certain spots in Kampala for public space and erecting artworks there, the artist becomes very useful to this end.
More so, the tradition of erecting permanent abstract artworks (like the Independence Monument on Speke Road, The Stride Monument marking the Commonwealth Head of Government Summit in Kampala in 2007, and the 50th Anniversary Monument at the Airstrip in Kololo) which can be susceptible to vandalism, is no longer fashionable with the city that keeps on changing its landscape day in and out.
Here the advent and use of non-permanent artwork, like the case is with Sekajugo’s performance in public space, comes in handy. The latter could safeguard against cases of vandalism and also the caprice nature of the city planning authorities.
Exemplary opportunities for artists
Secolliville is a metaphor to innovation and creativity which artists across the arts spectrum in Uganda can borrow, either to improve their art or to continue to be relevant to the community.
Beneath its creation, the artist wants to extend the arts to the average person living on the streets, hence demystifying the notion that art should live in galleries, theatres and museums, or only to be afforded by the affluent and expatriate community living in Uganda.
His performance taps into local culture, something a vendor from Nakesero or Kiseka Market can easily identify with.
This is a huge departure from conventionally exhibited paintings, which often are abstract and communicate very little to the average person. A result of this gallery-only tradition, is that the tourist and expatriate will buy it and ship it to his home country, leaving us with nothing to document our political and cultural heritage.
The reverse of this trend, can yield a vibrant arts scene and raise the bar of the Ugandan art on the international market. But this can only happen if artists begin to act visionary and stop thinking that good art is only art which brings them thousands of dollars from the expatriates and tourists.
Dominic Muwanguzi is a freelance art journalist with a strong dedication to uplifting the visual arts in Uganda.
All images by courtesy of artist’s Facebook-page.