On the Role of Curatorial Assistant, Kampala Art Biennale 2016

Daudi Karungi, Martha Kazunga and Elise Atangana during the first preperatory Kampala Biennale meeting in 2016. Image by Lucie Touya.

by Martha Kazungu

In August 2016, during a meeting where I was invited to be part of the team to share ideas on how to re-establish and run the Start Art journal, artist Margaret Nagawa, who is also the pioneering person in the effort to revamp Start Art Journal, suggested to me to develop a short narrative essay talking about my role as Curatorial Assistant in the 2016 Kampala Art Biennale.

In response to this suggestion I have compiled a short visual essay with some of the pictures that I made on the job, as well as those that were made my others, including my friend, Gosette Lubondo, a young photographer from DRC who lived with me for the time she was in Uganda. Besides simply mentioning events as they happened: this is what people usually write in diaries, I also bring to light personal opinions towards some of the happenings. I try to use some general language for some of the information, which I feel is sensitive.

I was given the role of Curatorial Assistant for the Kampala Art Biennale in September 2015. My key responsibilities included participating in curatorial research, coordinating local partnership building, following artists’ projects, and publishing contributions; however these kept on changing especially towards the exhibition opening.

In March 2016, I met the biennale curator, Elise Atangana with whom we discussed a lot about the artists, venues and what we both had to do between then and the opening of the biennale. We visited some of the artists and service providers. Most of the visits “seemed” successful as most of the people who we approached appeared to like our ideas and expressed interest in partnering with us. I use the word “seemed” because of the divergence in how things seemed in March compared to how they were in August 2016.  Some of the venues that had confirmed availability of their space for the biennale, had exhibitions running after 20th August, and some were in really bad physical condition by this time.

This made me question how emails, which are what we mostly used in communicating to the service providers, are perceived in our local context, and how this affects the reality of what they imply. Are people aware that emails are translations of perhaps what Facebook, WhatsApp or SMS text messages could do? To what extent can we label emails independent in appropriating communication in our local contexts?

It was only in cases where we did some back and forth movements to accompany our emails, that we registered success. This therefore meant that for April, May, June, and July, when both of us were not in Uganda, the dialogue with our service providers came to a long pause, which was only reawakened when we returned to Uganda in August.

Hence, the month of August became action packed, because we had to do a lot of what I may call “catching up” with our service providers. The Biennale director hired some manpower to put some of the venues in order and that meant that the final installation in most of the venues took place at the last minute. Most of the artists were happy to assist in hanging their work with the help of volunteers.

Art historian Fiona Siegenthaler and Biennale Director Daudi Karungi standing in the parking area of the Rift Valley Railway Station in Kampala. This was one of the six venues for the biennale. This photo was made in one of the mornings when the team made occasional visits to selected venues to find out if the place was set and also to think about which kind of art fits best in each of the venues and why. Photo: Martha Kazungu.
Bogosi Sekhukhuni speaking to Martha Kazungu about his work during an interview held at the Kampala Art Biennale offices near Afriart Gallery. Photo: Virginie Yassef.
Gilbert Bogere and Adrian Migadde setting up Gosette Lubondo’s photography work at the Rift Valley Railways. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Canon Griffin Rumanzi and Elise Atangana setting up his artwork at Nommo Gallery. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Ronex Ahimbisibwe discussing his artwork Connectivity, 2016, with Matt Kayem and Ezra Kizza . Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Wolf von Kries setting up his work at Makerere Art Gallery. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Sheila Nakitende installing her artwork at the Uganda National Museum. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Towards the day of the biennale opening, many artists actively participated in the installation of their work. This picture shows Xenson Znja, extreme right, offloading his artwork from a truck with the help of casual laborers. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.
Elise Atangana giving her speech at the opening of the Kampala Art Biennale at the Uganda Museum. Photo: Gosette Lubondo.

Martha Kazungu is a curator and writer of contemporary art in Uganda working with the Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration at Makerere University. She blogs at https://kazungumartha.wordpress.com/ and has attended writers workshops in Kampala, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi with AtWork Kampala Chapter, Asiko Art School, and C&.