Decolonizing Art Education on the Continent: Brief

Decolonizing Art Education on the Continent
At the launch of Another Roadmap Africa Cluster, at Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design (NIAAD) on 25th July 2015, some of the panelists chose to address the audience in Luganda, a local language in Uganda. The initial impression on the invited guests that included academics, artists, art managers and writers was of confusion and awkwardness.
The Academic Registrar at the Academy, Ms. Nalumansi Agatha, gave a detailed narrative in Luganda of how a group of scholars and artistic practitioners from the continent had worked during the past several months to generate ideas that would pave way for Another Roadmap for Arts Education.

Group photo of Scholars and Art Practitioners from the continent at NIAAD. Image courtesy of Ayo Adewunmi.

However, the major highlight of her speech was her introduction. She knelt down to greet the guests like the norm is in the Buganda culture where she comes from. She then made an oration; reciting her family lineage. The act that was later interpreted as a performance by Daudi Karungi, Director of Kampala Art Biennale, first came off as rather absurd. Was this part of the plan to decolonize our mindsets?
The fact that the Gomesi clad Nalumansi, did not offer to translate her speech in English at the end, set many tongues wagging in the audience. During the 30 minutes break that followed, the guests hastily formed small groups to discuss what the idea of addressing them in a local language was about, and yet they were all English literate.
Henry Mzili Mujunga, conceptual artist said it was simply awkward.
Eria Sane Nsubuga, Lecturer at Mukono Christian University in the Department of Fine Arts, interpreted it as futilism. He explained that Luganda was a tool of colonialism whereby its speakers, the Baganda used it to help the British to take possession of other regions. In this context, identifying Luganda as a medium to decolonize art education was surely futile.

Goerge Shire, delivering a talk at the Launch
George Shire, curator and cultural critic( seated center in white shirt), delivering a talk at the Launch. Photo courtesy of Nantume Violet

Samson Xenson Senkaaba, alluded the situation to a Luganda proverb: Ensanafu eva ku mugendo efuka kaasa. (Read: an ant that leaves a procession becomes an outcast.) The underlying meaning to this proverb is that the idea of having a discourse in a local language with a full house of intellectuals and white faces is pointless.
In the same manner, decolonizing art education may not be possible if its initiators do not necessarily deal with those structural and institutional bottlenecks like, a curriculum that teaches European art masters, arts literature authored by the West, arts and cultural funding programs from the West and the prejudices of learning in a local language.