Images, Reflections, Objects

By Eria Nsubuga


I first heard of the EKifananyi idea from 320 East ( Ugandan Arts Trust), a center for contemporary African art in Kampala. Here, one gets information on art projects, programs and grants which we direly need on the local art scene. Immediately contacted Andrea Stultiens, the brainchild of the Ekifananyi project and told her I liked this project as it was directly in line with my own interests in re-interpreting the history that is presented by photographic and painted images. As a means of directly my own discourse photographs and artwork  directly appropriated from the visual study help to question or challenge the validity of the presented image as ‘true’ reflections of the past. What is the past?  And what is the present? Are we always living in the present or the past? What is the difference? After all, we are always looking at things or objects of the past.

Hamu Mukasa, being a colossal figure in the past and present of Uganda Christian University offered my students an opportunity to participate in bringing to light their own visual ( painting) interpretations of what Hamu Mukasa experienced as his book ‘Simuda Nyuma’ narrated, and Andrea’s Ekifananyi was a challenge not only to students but to professional Ugandan artists that participated in the project.

The outcome of this collaborative artistic engagement resulted into various works in form of photography, film and painting. The art work was selected and an exhibition was put together,. The exhibition curated by Andrea was named GO FORWARD which is a direct translation o the Luganda word, ‘Simuda nyuma’ ( which is also the the title of Hamu Mukasa’s book).

A symposium was also put together which focused on the use of photography or lens based images as means for ‘Bridging Distances’ as its title suggested.

Featured artists included: Uganda Christian University students, Minerva Academy students, professional Ugandan artists Sanaa Gateja, Rosa Achola Odido, Emmanuel Lwanga, Papa Shabani, Ian Mwesiga, Violet Nantume, Nathan Omiel,  Robinah Nansubuga and Eria ‘SANE’ Nsubuga.

Last November between 9th and 22nd, me and Sarah Ijangolet, a student of Uganda Christian University paid a visit to the Netherlands and were guests at the Hanzehogeschool (Hanze University of Applied Science Groningen). Some people have asked me why we are working with a University of Applied Sciences and my quick defensive and maybe not completely well thought out answer is that Art is Science too. How do we separate Design, Photography, Painting, etc from the scientific process or method and yet historically Art has been in tandem with scientific and technological developments?

There are other reasons too, now that I think about it. Interdisciplinary research and interaction is good both for Science and Art particularly in Uganda’s case where furious and blind attempts are being made to separate the teaching of Arts and Sciences. Technically all Art is Science  because it is a major carrier of Sciencia or Knowledge. How does one deliver a message without using the carrier or language? Art therefore is the language of Science.

Besides this, it feels good to enjoy some time at the table of ‘things’.

Andrea Stultiens, Dorothea Van der Meulen, Dean of Academie Minerva, Sarah AKol and Eria Nsubuga, Author
Andrea Stultiens, Dorothea Van der Meulen, Dean of Academie Minerva, Sarah AKol and Eria Nsubuga, Author

The Dutch Artist Andrea Stultiens and Photographer, researching Traveller or travelling researcher is an enigma. I understand her now even less than when I first heard of her on Facebook. The collaboration is equally mysterious in that its objectives are not clearly spelt out and its outcomes are still as fluid as ever. It is clearly an example of how research and particularly collaborative research is driving the limits of how and what research should be. I asked her why she chose me for this collaboration and she said I seemed ready for it. I did not ask here though what seeming ready meant. This is an interaction that I have enjoyed immensely and which I think should be a model for Afro-European Intellectual and Artistic collaboration.

Visiting Groningen and this Ekifananyi project has provoked a determined desire to talk and be heard without fear of criticism. I was drawn in particular by the story of the Zwarte Piet. Being some kind of derivative of the European Zwarte Piet saga filled me with rage at the time of seeing this whole ‘Children’s’ story playing out.

I was impressed, both in the affirmative and negative senses by the calculated way that racist philosophy is engrained in European culture.
Images of 2 dimensional photography, paint, paper, cloth; objects in 3 dimension, and audio-visual media have been used to project a consistent image of us. We put our work up in the subliminal awareness of the fact that our work, by virtual of being Ugandan or African and is telling a Ugandan story to an audience that has long held views of what Africa is or should be. My mission became not only to tell a Ugandan story but also to try and challenge the way that African stories are portrayed. Consistently I have desired to discuss ‘Race’, ‘colour’, ‘object’, ‘ekifananyi’, ‘image’ not in the mirrored way of showing ‘contemporary African art’ but also to show our art images and objects as needing liberation just as much as we do.

I often look at the pictures that History in Progress and Andrea and Canon  Rumanzi show as a serious innovative way to look critically at black history. We are also being invited to tell our side of the story. Andrea realizes that a story with one perspective is a story only half told. This brings me to the ‘Bridging Distances and Differences’ project that Andrea and Anke Coumans, a professor at the Hanzehogeschool , are running using internet, video and audio projection media.
Art is being used in this case as an initiator, process and the outcome (product) of processes. Human interaction is being fostered through photography based imagery and stories. This method is still relatively unheard of here in Uganda. Although we now have access to the internet, smart phones, etc, we have not begun looking at the new media as serious tool for expressing our ideas and ideals. It is different in the Netherlands, from what I observed.

The author is lecturer at Uganda Christian University Mukono in the Faculty of Fine Arts