‘Dads’ – Report on Dads photography exhibition at the National Theatre
Report on Dads photography exhibition held from 16 September 2016 to 18 September 2016
By Philip Balimunsi
This article summaries the experience of audiences to the Dads exhibition and their general response collected through comments. Further still the article seeks to analyse the exhibition development process and the reaction of viewers in relation to the topic of positive masculinity. Providing a platform to future festival visual conversations, the photography exhibition idea was developed between Bayimba International Festival of the arts and the Swedish Embassy in Kampala to contribute to the greater festival conversation of 2016.
The exhibition attracted thousands of viewers both local and international for the period of three days. With such great attendance least expected of an exhibition, the excitement by the audience warranted a quick measure to gather feedback. Comments from 270 viewers were publicly submitted through a sticky note process within the last half of the exhibition.
The curator of the exhibition in partnership with Bayimba Foundation, the organisers of Bayimba International Festival of the arts, and the embassy of Sweden in Kampala have produced this report. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the Dads exhibition is guaranteed to the audience.
The Dads exhibition was held at the National Theatre / Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) foyer for three days starting from Friday 16 September to Sunday 18 September 2016. Although most people started viewing the exhibition by mid-day, it was duly ready for viewing by 9:00am.
Dads exhibition was an idea aimed at promoting positive masculinity by merging two different art collections: the Swedish dads and the Ugandan dads into a single conversation. Interrogating the notion of family gender roles, the exhibition attracted a mist of reactions from unimaginable crowds of viewers that graced it.
Invitations were sent to various audiences through a number of media, and all viewers needed to make payment of entry into the festival to gain access to the exhibition.
a. Exhibition Format
The exhibition comprised of 38 framed photographs in total to summarise the gender conversation. Embracing two contexts that emerged out of the photo collection of a Swedish renowned photographer Johan Bavman and a Ugandan Dads photo contest collection, the exhibition was a sensitisation project that greatly considered and mounted captions to each artwork. Captions attached to the Ugandan dads were original expressions of individual photographers.
The conversational flow of the Swedish dads was interjected by the Ugandan dads, to create a sort of punctum to the entire dads conversation, which was meant to give a break to the viewer from the highly professional Swedish photographs to the breath-taking Ugandan dads that viewers could quickly relate with.
b. Exhibition site
Although in the beginning there were two exhibition sites; that is to say the National Theatre foyer and the Uganda Tourism Board room, public access to the exhibition space was greatly considered. Both spaces had spatial advantages and weaknesses which in the end rounded the decision to use the National Theatre foyer.
c. Exhibition organisation
The exhibition was planned to create harmony within the venue and the entire festival. Both Swedish and Ugandan dads provided a visual coherence and unified conversation to the festival. The exhibition layout provided a visual flow of the conversation which the embassy supplemented with financial support, utmost desk assistance, guidance, and providing background information to the audience.
d. Selection of works
All the 38 works exhibited had unique selection processes. The 25 Swedish dads that measured 48.5cm X 63.3cm had been selected by the Swedish Institute and thus regulations set on how the collection was to be treated. On the other hand, the 13 Ugandan dads that measured 33.7cm X 43.3cm had been previously selected by the embassy of Sweden through an online social media competition and thus had no set display regulations.
Although all the Swedish dads were portrait in layout, 7 photographs of the 13 Ugandan dads were landscape and 6 portraits. This not only offered a varied range of layout concepts, but also eroded any form of exhibition regulations to the Ugandan dads collection.
e. Collecting feedback
Although the method of fetching viewers’ comments in writing was employed later in the second half of the festival, it proved viable from the earlier oral communications and thus all viewers who viewed the exhibition volunteered to write their comments on sticky notes and had them publicly displayed.
Advertising and Publicity
The exhibition build up plans came up very quickly and close to the exhibition dates and thus apart from using social media and the Bayimba advertising platforms, little was prepared to promote the photography exhibition in particular.
d. Print media
The online platform was mainly adopted for this exhibition and thus social media platforms were fully optimised; a few prints of posters were printed but only on the final day of the exhibition. Posts of the poster were disseminated to audiences through emails, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
b. Social media & oral invitations
Attending exhibitions and events organised by other curators and institutions is yet another platform which worked for the exhibition. The attendance of the Goethe Zentrum’s feminist symposium, word of mouth from Bayimba staff, and the Swedish Embassy staff, was yet another promotional form, that alongside the authoritative brands power like Bayimba and embassy of Sweden, changed the course of the exhibition.
To raise this exhibition to success were a number of factors among which the embassy of Sweden immensely shares the victory and shortcomings of this exhibition. Being the main sponsor financially and morally in all aspects of operation, the embassy of Sweden stood the taste of hard time to finally have this exhibition mounted. Samuel Sandberg, the coordinator between the embassy and Bayimba, deserves a mention and thus together with the highly committed staff that spent their valuable time to guide viewers also aided this exhibition to success.
Bayimba foundation that was the host, provider of the venue, platform and advertisement attracted a pool of talent to the team that selflessly gave all their talent and energies to see this exhibition a success. The Bayimba team, in particular Rosette Nteyafas and Faisal Kiwewa must have spent sleepless nights to see this exhibition mount to success.
The Dads exhibition team remains highly indebted to the Swedish Institute for granting permission and relevant information resources required to mount the exhibition.
Finally, great thanks to the Philbal arts studio for providing studio electric tools that helped in mounting the exhibition.
Summary of Feedback
On the first day of the festival most spaces were still setting up and thus this offered a great audience to the exhibition during morning hours. Only 270 people managed to comment on the exhibition within the limited timeframe set. Thanks to Nteyafas who thought through the idea of fetching comments that we were able to receive audience’s views by the last half of the exhibition.
a. Frequent comments on the exhibition
Of the 270 viewers, 120 commented on the exhibition display and arrangement
|95||Awesome, nice, great, wonderful, excellent, nice, fabulous, massive|
|9||Well organised, humbled|
b. Comments on exhibition theme dads
85 viewers commented on the theme of dads and the catchphrase “promote positive masculinity”.
|70||Inspirational, nice idea, exemplary, provoking|
|15||Ugandan dads should have paternity leave|
c. Comments on the photographs exhibited
Approximately 20 viewers managed to comment on the quality and strengths of photographs mounted in the Dads exhibition
|20||Powerful, beautiful, lovely|
d. Comments on the entire festival
Approximately 21 people managed to comment on the entire festival program using the exhibition platform
|16||Love the D’js, awesome, great, lovely, thanks|
|5||Not pleased with delay in program|
e. Greetings to dads and moms
Approximately 9 viewers used this opportunity to send their greetings to their parents
f. Advertising artist studios and businesses
About 15 viewers used the exhibition experience to promote their art studios and artistic field of expertise.
Even though the Swedish Embassy and Bayimba management tried their very best to work out every detail, there are a number of factors that hindered the organisation process of the exhibition among which included the following:
Extreme bureaucratic venue procedures: even when every bit of the exhibition was prepared on time, the greatest determinant remained a question of debate till the last preparation day. Whether we would use the Uganda Travel Bureau room or the National Theatre foyer, remained a contentious issue that was to later be solved by time. This not only slowed purchase of exhibition materials but also hindered exhibition planning.
Inadequate human resource to assist in mounting the exhibition: due to limited time planned for the exhibition, a lot of work accumulated around the curator by late night due to inability to use the busy space before midnight. Lacking an assistant to help at such crucial moments, the curator had to spend a sleepless night to have the exhibition mounted by morning the next day.
Limited preparation time: the exhibition seemed like an interventional plan that was initially never part of the festival, thus the idea was introduced to the curator just a few days to the festival. This greatly affected the preparation plans, and thus most concepts and plans seemed interventional to suit the festival needs.
Inadequate security: Even when the festival organisers tried very hard to tighten security, the exhibition registered loss of a “Ugandan dads” photograph by Rosebell Kagumire on the closing date.
i. To Bayimba Foundation
- Bayimba should consolidate the great teamwork and transparency that was tremendously portrayed during this festival.
- Festival organisers should invite exhibitors on time and should allocate them enough preparation time.
Bayimba should plan event schedules in time to avoid inconveniences and in case of any changes the organisation should find a way of clearly communicating changes.
ii. To the Swedish Embassy
- First and foremost, there is need to consolidate the impressive staff involvement into embassy-led exhibitions. However, all staff should be introduced to the team to avoid any form of mistrust or suspicion and also grant a sense of acquaintance.
- The embassy ought to allocate enough preparation time to their exhibition pavilions.
- There is need to consider signing consent forms or agreements by all participating artists to avoid any form of curatorial embarrassment caused by artist intervention in the exhibition display. The embassy should ensure that all artworks attained through contests or competitions have consent forms abridged to them before they can be used for any other sensitisation rather than the original purpose.
- There is need to consider the after-life of artworks.
Despite the regular rains that might have disrupted a few festival activities, Dads exhibition was blessed in disguise to have hosted all viewers disrupted by rains, and thus offered them an indoor viewing experience well curated to spark off a visual conversation and dialogue.
Considering the viewers’ comments and experience, the exhibition was greatly a success even when much needs to be done to make it the best of festival experiences. Even when the exhibition had a quick development process, it successfully responded to the large crowds of viewers with very creative processes of engagement. Further still, the theme of gender was spot on, thanks to the embassy of Sweden for raising such a gender approach at a time when audiences had already been engaged in gender symposia and exhibitions. Such a unique approach of positive masculinity coupled with great commitment, devotion, hard work, and passion for the arts, this exhibition witnessed the best of participants from Bayimba and the embassy of Sweden to entirely register success to the festival.
With great hard work and improvement of this year’s festival and exhibition frailties, success is bound to come with ease in the coming years’ editions.
Philip Balimunsi is an independent curator and artist based at Philbal art studio in Kampala. His previous curatorial projects include Know Go Zone, Dance in the City, KLA ART 014, and Dads exhibitions. He is working on East Africa in Conversations.