WAZO 9: Arts Education — Lovely or Essential?
Faisal Kiwewa, the Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation, spoke on “Arts and Arts Education: Lovely or Essential?” on 12th March 2012 at The Hub in Kamwokya. It hinged on principles gleaned from Eliot W. Eisner’s The Arts and the Creation of Mind and the verve of Bayimba’s work with local artists.
Written by Sophie Alal
Doreen Baingana, Chairperson at Femrite and moderator for the evening, hailed arts institutions as the mortar of arts in Uganda. WAZO, as an interactive platform, has become critically relevant, as last month’s discussion on censorship examined The River and the Mountain. Written by British playwright Beau Hopkins, it garnered state attention with controversial results. Shortly after, Angela Emurwon, the Ugandan Director of the same play and a regular at WAZO, won the BBC International Playwriting Competition for her play Sunflowers Behind a Dirty Fence.
Mr Kiwewa refrained from discussing the litanies of suffering causing artists to feel cynical, angry and frustrated. It was more useful to have a philosophical approach like Prof. Abdoulaye Ndoye, professor of art at the National School of Fine Arts Dakar. Prof. Abdoulaye argues that arts education is difficult because “the arts are thought of as just a hobby, an idea to replace a failed thought or pursuit of a career”.
The trade-off between universal education and quality education is difficult to place. But a first step would be to create parameters that make sense on a case by case basis. Arts are considered to fall within elite education, so it may be risky to assume that everyone wants to be like you.
Imagination, creation and connection
Bayimba Academy’s thematic approach combines “imagination, creation and connection”. It envisions an arts education which enriches learning in local communities that are ultimately connected to a global audience.
“In 2014, we hope that the instructors that we are training can pilot this in ten to twenty schools,” said Mr. Kiwewa.
Programmes like The Practical Musician, Creative Writing Workshop, Photography, Youth and Hip-Hop, Street Theatre, and the Creative Entrepreneurship Programme (being piloted this year), seek to deliver on Bayimba’s commitments to develop the arts in Uganda.
The presentation cited that creativity correlates to gains in maths, reading, cognitive ability, verbal skills and critical thinking, while arts education can improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and team work. Thus creating “better” citizens.
How to share knowledge
However, the interactive spaces in Uganda disguise moral ambiguities. People tend to want good quality, but are fearful of denouncing the mediocrity or tokenism on offer. Coherent ideas which could have served artists and the public, as well as the state and the individual, only get passed on through whispering campaigns.
Rebecca Nshugi was concerned that in our small circles around Kampala, we are mostly elitist and risked alienating the majority of Ugandans. She wanted to know how cultural differences would be appreciated, because we have different languages and traditions, and it affects the ways in which we share knowledge.
Beverley Nambozo, the founder of the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, recommended that we “use tools accessible to people”. And most importantly, she added, “get people to use the radio, get people who represent the region in an affable way”.
Amakula Kampala has shown leadership in using local languages. In their experience, independent films and documentaries from around the world are translated into local languages. Mr Nathan Kiwere, a programme manager at Amakula and an art historian, said that this creates awareness and engages communities to be more apt in gathering information. He further argued that the absence of documentation creates a missing link. He said that Giorgio Vasari, privately dedicated his life to documenting the career of Michelangelo. His writings still inform most of what we know today about the renaissance genius.
There were renewed calls for locals to take stewardship of their histories. “We need our own, not people coming from outside, to document our lives. We can talk and talk, but if there is no tangible outcome, then we will have wasted our time,” Mr. Kiwere concluded.
A complex relationship of caution and nuanced appreciation exists between donors and recipients of aid in the arts industry. The donor-driven discourse often rests on unpleasant stereotypes which the locals find this annoying.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie referred to them as incomplete stereotypes. Indigenous platforms are expected to present a more wholesome reification of local realities. While non-indigenous ones are beginning to be perceived as fronts for multinationals to engage locals through “hearts and minds campaigns” geared towards protecting their own economic interests.
The role of cultural institutions
The independence of emergent cultural institutions across the continent was also examined. Tino Roselyn, who recently resigned as Programmes Assistant at Femrite, wanted to know how intrepid Bayimba was in allowing indigenous, local culture to thrive in spite of the machinations that the western world exerts on indigenous forms.
Mr Kiwewa argued that expertise that comes from outside is mostly to enhance local culture, not to impose. But past interventions have had mixed fortunes. He believes that phenomena like Making a Star killed music in post-conflict Northern Uganda:
“The NGOs needed to make a mark with peace messages, so they made stars based on the peace theme.”
These glamourised stars consequently got estranged from their fan base when the NGOs left: “They are now trying to recreate themselves,” argued Kiwewa.
Peace has returned
One can look at the chorus of Kuc Udugu Tua (Peace has returned to our homeland) by Obol Simpleman:
Kuc udugu tua
uribu wunu ching wu ujoni
dongo lobo Uganda wa
Peace has returned to our homeland
join your hands together people
to develop our Uganda
The dilemma to be local or go universal introduced an interesting segue on the interface between traditional instruments and modern music. Youth hardly appreciate authentic folk music. It seems contemporary sounds from the guitar, piano and synthesizer are more popular.
Joel Sebunjo, who is a kora and kalimba player and winner of the French government’s prestigious Visa Pour la Creation award, found it unfortunate that folk musicians are given little attention in Kampala:
“Samite Mulondo is big abroad. Often when I’m being interviewed in studios abroad, the background music is Samite. But here in Uganda, people hardly know him,” Mr Sebunjo said.
Yet up north, a sampling of music by Obol Simpleman, Bosmic Otim, Lady Fem Cee and Pretty B reveal sounds of nanga, adungu and rigi-rigi, all traditional instruments appropriated into the genre defining Lugo-flow and more contemporary Afropop that is so popular among the youth around Gulu. And this is not to claim that they are not up to scratch with hits from Kampala, Europe and North America. This return to traditions was seen in the brilliant success in 2012 of Lady Sharia featuring 2Pee in Lacoo ma Laging, translated as “A miserly man”.
Archiving African music
Siemens has set aside 4 million Euros to archive African music. It’s estimated that it will take 25 years to complete. Citing copyright issues, Mr Kiwewa said that Siemens’ database shall not be in the public domain; it will only be accessible for paying subscribers. The programme is currently running in Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar and Kenya.
Hyper-commercialisation is affecting bare necessities such as water, food, and knowledge. Currently there is a rush to commodify cultural resources amid unfettered capitalism and runaway inequality.
A challenge to all this digitization and codification is how to interpret the copyright regime in Uganda. The Copyright and Neighbouring Right Act, 2006 Sec. 5 protects literary, scientific and artistic work. The status of protection of audio-visual recordings still remains unclear due to lack of understanding of the trade-related aspects of intellectual property.
Something to think about is if Siemens and Bayimba will inform owners of these musical recordings that their property will be for sale at a profit once it’s out of their hands.
“We don’t even own our bodies”
Genuine fear exists that poor people, and future generations, may be locked out from sources of succour which inform their rhythms of life. For the tragedy of poor people is that they hardly have the luxury of documenting their lives in easily retrievable forms.
Harsh as these positions may sound, they are justified by a lamentable history of social, political and economic violence towards Africa and African culture. Whatever good that comes out is often marred by well-intentioned interventions but flawed results.
Reluctance to return stolen artifacts, continuous use of offensive tropes, like Black face in glossies, and inappropriate use of artifice with deep African connections illuminate where these ideas from. Communities in Africa have become weary of negotiating for the dignity of their own people.
Doreen gave her Global Afropolitan nod of approval when she said these intensely disturbing words: “We don’t even own our bodies”.
Two little boys balancing fruit baskets on their heads stepped into the courtyard. No one bought their beautiful yellow bogoya. However, one of them said something to his friend, and they both giggled and disappeared through the corridor.
Daudi Karungi, the proprietor of Afriart Gallery, requested writers to document artists at work. He was pleased when Faisal Kiwewa reminisced about the mural in The Hub’s backyard. “I don’t remember what was going on,” he confessed, “ it was lunchtime and a lot was going on.”
Using the example of Femrite, Ms Faridah Bagalaliwo, a lawyer and a poet replied that:
“Even if you wanted to write about something, the natural place to start is your place. But people are not open for critiquing. They are resistant due to the smallness of the community.”
She added that the role of criticism is to attribute value, but in small communities that want to have their cake and eat it too, it is difficult to appreciate and take genuine delight in the success of artists that people truly care about.
The weekly Readers Writers Club, which has birthed some of Uganda’s better known writers, has gradually degenerated into a mutual appreciation club. The club seems mostly concerned with religious or moral commentary rather than giving critique on the craft.
Ms Bagalaliwo was disturbed the previous day when an aspiring musician, who even attended The Festival of Womanhood in Nairobi, remarked that her poem about rape—Enough—was not real because: “Some women enjoy being raped.”
For his own sake, she ignored his dullness of the mind.
Getting back to civility and success may call for attracting back literary matriarchs to burnish the level of intellectual rigour. And setting parameters for certain belligerent youth. Competition from other spaces like WAZO are also raising the stakes.
Mulling about poorly executed craft will only cause heartache. But an absence of nuanced discourse is more damaging to the quality of art being generated.
However, Culture Unlimited is an ongoing database bringing together arts practitioners from various disciplines. The audience welcomed it as an opportunity to network and support one another. Ms Nambozo said: “All the struggles that Bayimba goes through, other arts organisations also go through. We are happy to be part of Culture Unlimited.”
The ambient plants got a bruising, and the air was suffused by the odour of chives mint and basil, scattered about a little patch in the garden. The evening was a success.
Sophie Alal is a freelance journalist and a baker. Images by courtesy of Talking WAZO Facebook-page.
Next Edition of WAZO features Xenson Ssenkaba, April 2nd at the HUB, Kampala.