Re-reading the Warps and Wefts in Trowell’s Mother and Child Print: Debates and Contests

Fig. 1 Margaret Trowell, Mother and Child (1940s). Lino print, unknown measurements. Reproduced from Kakande Angelo’s PhD 2008

Amanda Tumusiime

Margaret Trowell has been called the ‘mother of contemporary art in Uganda and a feminist’ (Tumusiime 2012). This is because in the mid-1930s she introduced the teaching of contemporary art at Makerere University and wrote widely on issues concerning family, women and children. On the other hand, she also created art though only few of her artworks are in Uganda. However, on my part I am interested in a lino print, entitled Mother and Child (1940s), whose visual archive I have accessed through George Kyeyune (2003) and Angelo Kakande (2008). The print captures a dominant sitting mother-figure wrapped in white cloth and nursing a child. Trowell’s print seems to suggest the earliest expressions of her self-activism to emancipate mothers and children through modern art. I re-read Trowell’s Mother and Child and its multiplicity of meanings. I re-engage it to retrace the threads of the colonial hegemony that wove together Trowell’s instruction of modern art in Uganda. This debate is essential. It sets the gendered pedestal on which contemporary art in Uganda was born and became interlaced with – to use Trowell’s words – ‘warps and wefts’ (Trowell 1957) This paper, therefore, marks our entry into the gendered discourses that have continued to shape Uganda’s modern art to the present.

Fig. 1 Margaret Trowell, Mother and Child (1940s). Lino print, unknown measurements.
Reproduced from Kakande Angelo’s PhD 2008


Trowell’s background and vocation

Margaret Katherine Turner (later Mrs Margaret Trowell) was born in 1904 in London. She received her primary education at St Paul’s Girls School, London. As an artist, Trowell went to Slade School and later joined the Institute of Education in the University of London in 1926 to study art education, which course she completed in 1928. At the institute she met Marion Richardson, a tutor who trained her to appreciate non-Western cultures and reshaped her teaching career.

While at Slade, Margaret Turner met Hugh Trowell, a medical doctor from St Thomas Hospital. We learn from Margaret Trowell that Hugh Trowell had a vocation for Africa. He had decorated his room with a large map of the African continent, for example. After her course at the Slade School of Art, Trowell realized that her ‘vocation was to go to Africa as an artist and a teacher’ (Trowell 1957:28). This shared interest was cemented when the two got married[i] and travelled together to Africa in 1929 (Trowell 1957:29 ) where Hugh Trowell was to join the colonial service, first as a medical officer in Kenya, and later as a medical officer and instructor in Uganda.

It is important to note that the decision by the Trowells to mix marriage and colonial service faced challenges emanating from what Trowell calls the ‘old colonial policies’. For example, it was colonial policy that ‘an officer seldom married until he was getting towards the end of his twenty years’. But there was also the challenge of limited essential services in colonies. Trowell writes that East Africa was inhospitable and thus ‘was considered not to be a country for a white woman and let alone children…’ In short, colonial service was meant for unmarried men who were ready to lead ‘a very artificial life’ and face the challenge of raising a ‘family on a pension after retirement’ (Trowell 1957:34-35).

The couple then faced a hard choice. As Trowell puts it:

…it was our chief problem when we looked to the future as we could not see that such a separation was right, yet we did not believe that we should resign after a few years’ service. (Trowell 1957:37)

Trowell had strong reasons to explain her concern. For instance, settling in East Africa meant that the Trowells had to leave their children back in England. Trowell had reasons against this arrangement. She argues that it led to the ‘banishment of the children…to England at a very early age’. Yet this would be ‘deplorable’, for Trowell saw herself as a ‘mother of a large and demanding family’ (Trowell 1957:34-35). It would be deplorable because it would contradict the role of the woman in a family. She explains that it would have severed the family bond leading

…to constant tension, the mother never knowing where her love and duty lay most strongly, either with her children in England or her husband abroad; the husband and children in turn both feeling thwarted and deprived. (Ibid.)

Trowell’s belief in the centrality of the mother in the family, which we also confront in her print Mother and Child (Fig 1), comes out strongly in the above excerpt. This, however, should not be read as Trowell’s unquestioning acceptance of the prevailing asymmetrical gender economy which identified ‘the home as the separate, proper sphere for women, who were seen as better suited to child nurturing’ (Nead 1988:14). On the contrary, Trowell rejected the colonial notions of domesticity implicit in the policy of relegating women to the fringes of the colonial economy. As she put it:

…no woman can be expected to be at her best if she is tied all day long to her house and children, we all have to get away sometimes. If a woman has been given a professional training and has learnt to love her profession it is asking a very great deal of her to drop it all in order to run the house and potter around doing only apparently trivial domestic jobs unrelieved by any change. (Trowell 1957:36)

This debate is important for two reasons. First, it places the mother and child theme, visualised in Trowell’s print Mother and Child (Fig 1), in a political context. Although its classical origins are religious, Trowell’s use of the theme seems to be a visual manifestation of what she calls the love and duty of a mother, without affirming the gender biases which located women on the margins of the colonial economy and public sphere.

Secondly, this debate separates Trowell’s print from later appropriations of the mother and child symbolism, including those by her students. Whereas Trowell’s representation is part of her quest for affirmative action, she seems to be paving the way for future contemporary artists to engage a similar theme to reverse the entry of women into the mainstream economy and the public sphere (Tumusiime 2012).

Learning the hard way: Trowell settling in Africa

While in Kenya, Trowell and her husband went on a long and difficult safari (a Swahili word which means a journey). It was in the course of this adventure that she delivered her first child, Elizabeth. It was common for Africans to give birth at home or on the roadside. It was, however, unheard-of for a European woman to give birth under similar circumstances. This is because pregnant European women were forbidden to go on safaris.

It was absolutely forbidden by the Regulations for a Government official’s child to be born in an out-station… (Trowell 1957:25)

Trowell’s experience then embarrassed, and angered, the colonial establishment. As a result, she paid a high price. The Provincial Commissioner’s wife reprimanded her. She was forbidden to ever go on any other safari when pregnant. The punishment was harsh – or very restful, as she puts it.

Trowell’s experience, however, introduced her to the harsh realities borne by many African women (Trowell 1957:24-26) and informed her romantic attachment to things African. If Richardson taught Trowell to appreciate other cultures, her exposure to the problems which confront many African women in the countryside wove Trowell deeply into the African tapestry as the Trowells ‘became [Africa’s] willing prisoners’ (ibid.). For instance, concluding that ‘Africa was so rich’ after all, Trowell (1957:16) writes that: ‘…the children missed many things in Europe but gained others’.

Fig 2. Childhood in Africa is so rich, reproduced from Trowell’s book, African Tapestry


Fig 3. Elizabeth and Margaret on the slopes of Mt Kenya are reproduced from Trowell’s book, African Tapestry.

Most African children play naked in water and mud. Sometimes they make costumes out of their environment, for instance with banana leaves. These games seem to be similar to those Trowell’s children are playing in Fig 1 and Fig 2, hence suggesting that the Trowells had become part of Africa.

Against the spirit of this balance sheet Trowell objected to the fact that her children would be identified as the colonial other, or what she calls ‘young colonials’. As if to support her contention, she recounts the day when Elizabeth treated English eggs with contempt. The young girl observed: ‘…not a nice egg, not got a nice taste like eggs in Africa’. Elizabeth had earlier treated English nannies with similar contempt. Introduced to one ‘stiffly starched English nanny’, the three-year-old Elizabeth exclaimed ‘… that is not my nanny’, contending that her nanny had ‘a black face’. Consequently, Trowell employed ‘black nannies’, who were ‘often called ayahs’.

Trowell’s Nellie: The epitome of a universal mother

In her literature, Trowell recounts two nannies: Miriamu and Nellie. Trowell describes Miriamu as very clean and absolutely reliable and as being loved by the Trowells ‘so dearly’. So dear was she that, in addition to taking care of the children, she ‘nursed [her] with great devotion and understanding’ when she fell ill (Trowell 1957:39).

Nellie, however, had a more interesting pedigree. She was an old black Swahili woman from the coast. Freed from slavery when she was a child, Nellie was taken to England to arouse Western interest in the problems of slave trade. We learn from Trowell that as a young girl Nellie worked as an ayah in the family of one of the early missionaries. At one point, when the mission station was attacked by the Arabs, Nellie carried the small English baby in a cloth on her back over many miles of desert, pretending he was her own son. The child eventually grew up to become the Reverend Haudley Hooper, a well-known Kenya missionary and later Africa Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (ibid.). Nellie became the epitome of a universal mother.

Trowell’s revelation is instructive. McClintock suggests that colonialists came with a perception that civilisation can be redeemed through the self-sacrificial graces of white motherhood (McClintock 1995:272-273). Nellie upset this stereotype when she saved Hooper. She exhibited a high sense of self-sacrifice while claiming the position of the universal mother for the ‘other’. Arguably then, the mother-child narrative in Trowell’s print revised colonial stereotypes while recognising Nellie’s position as mother of all races. Secondly, the Bahima (singular Muhima) women, in western Uganda, drape themselves in a manner similar to the one we see in this print. Against this backdrop Kakande speculates that Trowell’s Mother and Child is about a Muhima woman nurturing a healthy baby (Kakande 2007:150). This can be verified while expanding the debate on the way Trowell upset colonial stereotypes.

Reshaping the common: Trowell revises colonial stereotypes on women and children

In her book, Tribal Crafts, Trowell illustrates a woman dressed, just like in her Mother and Child work, in long robes covering her from head to toe. The Bahima are cattle-keepers. Traditionally Bahima women wear long robes while the men wrap themselves toga-wise, tying a knot at the shoulder. Bahima women are known to be rotund because they feed mainly on dairy products. This then puts Trowell’s print (Fig 1) into another political frame: it begins to subvert colonial stereotype. I say this because Hugh Trowell gives us a different story reflecting colonial medical dogma.


Fig 4 Hugh Trowell is the first person standing to the right. The other men in the photo could have been Hugh Trowell’s colleagues at Mulago Hospital. This photograph is in the Albert Cook Library in Mulago; it is found in one of the old albums and has scanty details of the people in the picture. However, their names are simply indicated below the photo as Nowat, Holmes, J.P.M, Trowell, I.P.R.Gabula, E.Kafero-Daki, Kafero-Ndamulira, F,G.Sembeguya, P.M. Breck taken in 1940 by an unknown photographer.

Margaret Trowell wrote that Hugh Trowell claimed that most African children were malnourished. He asserted that:

…very many of the children who were supposed to be dying of malaria, yaws, congenital syphilis, hookworm and many other diseases had much in common; there were the distended pot bellies, the pale skin and straight red-brown hair, the apathy and lack of weight, and many other internal symptoms which together make up the syndrome of the form of protein malnutrition now known as kwashiorkor. (Trowell 1957:33-34)

These diseases were indeed common but not to that extent. Other practitioners, including Dr Katherine Timpson and Dr Albert Cook, made related claims. Timpson and Cook came to Uganda under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in 1897. In the same year they opened the first modern hospital in Uganda. While Hugh Trowell argued that children were dying because of malnutrition, Timpson argued that children were dying at birth because of their incompetent and ignorant mothers. She lamented:

Many of our dear Christian women who are quite intelligent about reading are quite ignorant about caring for their little ones. A great number of the new-born babies die at once, or a few days after, and no wonder when we remember the treatment they receive at birth. The little mite is dashed all over with cold water, not dried, placed on a large banana leaf quite naked, to finish off any life that may remain after the cold water and night air. …It is a case of the survival of the fittest in Uganda. (Quoted in Summers 1991, 2001:799).

Fig 5 Albert Cook stands at the back. In front of him is Katherine Timpson seated with their two children. Unlike the Trowells who preferred for their children to stay in Africa, the Cooks’ children grew up in England. The picture is reproduced from Albert Cook’s book entitled Uganda Memories 1897-1940.

Grounded in the epithet of the survival of the fittest which informed colonial rhetoric and the doctrine of evolution, Timpson’s claim reveals the vulnerability of women and children in a modernising reality which was taking shape in the Uganda of the 1890s.

Timpson also reveals the insufficiency of the early missionary education. Introduced in the m1870s, early missionary education was intended to introduce basic writing, hygiene, arithmetic and Christianity. Through such education Ugandans were ‘converted’ and ‘civilised’. This ‘education’ was initially reserved for the sons of the chiefs. Timpson’s claims, however, would suggest that by the turn of the century women accessed it.

Timpson’s claims would rhyme well with the construction of Ugandan women as being at the bottom of the colonial hierarchy. This construction should not surprise us since it is consistent with the colonial sociopolitical structure in which the privileged elite white male sat at the top while African women were at the bottom. This is the context in which Carol Summers’ observation would make sense. Summers observes that the colonial hegemony perceived Ugandan women as clumsier, stupider and dirtier than African men (Summers 1991:800). Arguably then, Timpson reminds us of the gender discourse in which women in Uganda (as a modern state) have been delinked from what Beasley (1999:6-7) calls the ‘bigger picture’.

Most importantly, it is against this gendered backdrop that medical lenses began to construct Ugandan women as ‘incapable of being mothers due to their deformed pelvises’ (Musisi 2002:95-110). This, it was argued, had negative repercussions for the colonial economy. For example, Albert Cook claimed that it led to a declining population due to loss of fertility (Summers 2001:787-807).  And yet the colonial polity needed a growing population to supply labour (especially as compulsory labour) to sustain the newly introduced cash crop economy and a ready market for the goods imported from the metropolis.

He supported his evidence with claims that he measured the pelvises of women from the Buganda region in central Uganda and that they all had deformed ‘pelvises’. He then wrote back to Europe claiming that women in Uganda had deformed ‘pelvises’. Pointing to the impact of the traditional rural economy on women’s health, he observed that Baganda girls carried heavy loads. He then concluded that they were victims of a socioeconomic burden and were likely to suffer from ‘degenerate’, ‘flattened’, ‘deformed’ and ‘contracted’ pelvises and reproductive organs (Musisi 2002:100). Secondly, Cook also observed the high libido among African men, who to him had an ‘uncontrollable sexual drive’ which spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), worsening the condition of women. He then predicted that soon women in Buganda would go into extinction (Musisi 2002). The colonial authority was drafted into the debate. The then Governor of Uganda, Sir Hesketh Bell, intervened. A group of doctors and scientists were called on to pay more attention to the birth rates and control diseases such as syphilis and yaws, which were thought to cause infertility.

Fig 6 This picture is reproduced from Albert Cook’s album. Though the picture indicates that these are Baganda children, there is no other information accompanying the picture. However, it is known through Cook’s writings that he and his wife Timpson had a similar interest in Baganda children (for more on this debate see Albert Cook ‘s Uganda Memories 1897-1940).


Fig 7 This picture, captioned Irene Drusilla wife of Kabaka Daudi Chwa, is reproduced from Albert Cook’s book entitled Uganda Memories 1897-1940. Irene Drusilla Namaganda studied at Gayaza High School and this is where King Chwa II came to choose her as his wife since it was the custom then. She is behind transforming the traditional Ganda dress into a gomesi. She was Naabagereka (Queen) to Kabaka Daudi Chwa from 1914 until his death in 1939. She took on the position of Namasole (Queen Mother) in 1939 after Chwa’s death and she was the Namasole to her son, Kabaka (King) Mutesa II. She set up a primary school (Nabagereka School) in the palace to teach children. According to Albert Cook, Drusilla was very active in the Mortality and Infant Welfare Campaign (issues dealing with women and children) as well as the Social Purity Campaign. Before her son, Muteesa II, became Kabaka on 19 November 1942, Lady Irene Drusilla Namaganda controversially remarried in Kampala on 1 April 1941, becoming wife to Canon Simon Peter Kigozi. It is argued that this was unheard-of in the established custom of the kingdom. (Kabaka Muteesa II dispensed with custom and gave permission to his mother to remarry, causing an uproar in the kingdom.)
Fig 8 This photograph was re-shot by Annette Sebba from Cook’s album of sleeping sickness patients. I saw the notes inscribed on this picture which reads as follows: ‘Mother and child both suffering from sleeping sickness both dozed off while being photographed. Both have extensive craw-craw’. In a discussion I had with Sebba about this picture she argued that dozing off could have meant that mother and child both died while being photographed. This reading is likely since, according to Cook, many mothers and children died of the disease.

Margaret Trowell did not view life through similar lenses. Although her print (Fig 1) shares almost a similar pose of the mother and child, in her print the mother is well wrapped up in several meters of white cloth while the child is naked but carries a green branch, which seems to indicate life. This representation, especially the emphasis given to the green leaf in the hands of the child, points to what Trowell (1957:157) referred to as plenty of food. It would confirm that for Margaret Trowell malnutrition was not likely. In other words, Trowell subverted the scientific discourses and assumptions about Africans, a theme which knitted together her teaching career in Uganda, her artwork, and the literature she published into books. This line of argument would contradict both Sanyal (2000) and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa (2014) who seem to suggest that Trowell ceased to produce her own art because she did not want to influence her students. It would confirm that indeed Trowell produced art through which she challenged the mainstream discourses that shaped her curriculum and pedagogy (in Fig 10) leaving behind a legacy followed by her students as seen in Fig 11 where her first student Gregory Maloba instructed his students to produce works based on the mother and child theme before he relied on it to produce Uganda’s Independence Monument (1962).

Fig 9 Trowell and her students making African prints which were later reprinted in London. This photograph is reproduced from her book entitled African Tapestry.
Fig 10 Gregory Maloba was Margaret Trowell’s first student in the late 1930s.This photography used to be displayed in the Dean’s Office at the Makerere Art School. The photograph suggests that, like his own instructor, Gregory Maloba instructed his students to engage the theme of Mother and Child. This picture was probably taken in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

But colonial science also had a point. Venereal diseases affected safe motherhood in Uganda and England, and they still do. As a result, colonial science motivated action. The means introduced to help were diverse. For example, Timpson and Cook spearheaded a social purity campaign. They engaged descriptions, parables and analyses underpinning the moral consequences of promiscuity (Summers 2001). Those unwilling to change were named and shamed. Most significantly, the colonial administration medical service and its missionary allies promoted safe motherhood through the Maternity Training School (MTS)[i] in Mengo, Uganda.

Unfortunately, the campaign became unpopular, thus threatening to undermine its good intentions. This was because in some ways the programme was engaged to construct women as prostitutes. Hence Ugandan women were unwilling to visit health centres to receive treatment and education on safe motherhood. By way of redress, in 1918 African women were trained as nurses and midwives and deployed to reach out to fellow Africans.

Consciousness of the midwife in the 1920s

They were portrayed as prototypes for a new African womanhood, one ‘doing yeoman service to their country women and children’, as each maternity centre became ‘a potential centre of light and learning’. These new women saved infants, rather than merely watching them die. Privately, however, within Uganda, this praise was qualified. (Summers 1991, 2001: 804)

We learn from Carol Summers’ excerpt that the midwife (Figs 12, 13 and 14) emerged as a ‘new woman’ in Uganda during the 1920s. She was trained in the Maternity Training School (MTS) to deliver healthy children. An exam was done towards the end of the training; a certificate was awarded during graduation. Also, it is widely known that traditional birth attendants (called abazaalisa in Luganda) helped in deliveries of children in the pre-colonial period. In the colonial period abazaalisa were undermined and relegated to the fringes. Midwives were trained to replace them but also to work with the white gynaecology doctors. Therefore, the midwives joined the male-dominated club of African elites. They worked in different maternity centres all over the country. They had to practice their professional careers; a monthly salary was paid to them. Summers describes midwives as young women who were given an education, selected to play a leadership role, and then sent into communities where they practiced their new education. Arguably then, unlike her domesticated diseased’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘deformed mother’, the midwife learnt to teach and save the mothers and their children. Back in England the midwife was touted ‘as a potential light shining in the wilderness, delivering medical, moral, and religious enlightenment to her flock’ (Summers 1991:803). The MTS published progress reports with touching stories about the happy mothers who survived childbirth and whose babies lived, saved by the midwives’ care. Pictures showed midwives lined up, clean and smiling in their uniforms. Midwives symbolised ‘the best scholars’; they became the ‘potential saviours of their race’.

Fig 11 This photograph is retrieved from Cook’s album in the Albert Cook Library at Mulago. There is no information regarding this picture; the date when the photograph was taken is not indicated on the picture. However, one could speculate that these were nurses and midwives, probably after their graduation since they are displaying pieces of paper (certificates) in their hands and they are dressed in white uniforms. Midwives and nurses in public hospitals still wear white uniforms today.
Fig 12 Albert Cook took this picture and kept it in his album. Most strikingly this photograph seems to suggest that men took up nursing careers. Hence men stand in the background dressed in white and black jackets.
Fig 13 This photograph indicates that the nurses and midwifes attending a public function. It is in Albert Cook’s album.

Against this backdrop, the midwife aggressively fought for her position in the social and medical domains. Given her high status among the African community and her access to medical knowledge, she demanded more rights. Summers (1991:806) writes that midwives started to ask questions and talk back to the Europeans. And yet an African had been trained never to ask questions but rather to do what he or she was told (Sanyal 2000:94). The midwife, for example, questioned church marriages. She also refused to act as an agent of colonial morality. In short, she did not serve the intentions of her sponsors especially Albert Cook and Katherine Timpson who worked hard to better the lives of women in Uganda a country they served and in which their remains were laid to rest (Fig 14).

Fig 14 Representing Sir Albert Cook, this is a portrait (made in terracotta) is kept in the archive section of Albert Cook Library. The artist is unknown. Besides it is a tin which contains Cook’s ashes. I learnt from Joseph Sebulime, one the staff in the Albert Cook Library, that upon his death Sir Albert Cook was cremated and part of his ash shared with Mulago Hospital. I also learnt from him that Katherine Timpson was buried in Uganda at Mengo hospital—a hospital both Cook and Timpson founded and still exists today.

Gone to the city; upsetting the power hierarchy: Uganda’s new woman as a problem in Trowell’s time

Trowell traced the history of the insubordinate nurses (and midwives) of the 1950s. She described them as ‘girls who…trained as nurses in Government or Mission hospitals and have been dismissed on becoming pregnant’ (Trowell 1957: 36). She suggested that such women then joined a large women’s semi-profession – the ayah – to which I have already referred. The ayah of the 1950s was, however, different from Trowell’s own Mariamu and Nellie, to whom I referred earlier. This ayah resulted from the insufficient education and broken families created by colonial modernity.

Trowell observed that colonial (mainly missionary) education introduced young girls to the better amenities offered by modern life with disastrous consequences. This is because it did not prepare such girls to return to their rural traditional life patterns on completion of school or after dropping out of it. Yet it did not equip them to settle in the sophisticated urban environment where modern amenities existed. Faced by this harsh reality, the graduates of missionary/colonial education (and the dropouts) opted to settle in the urban centres.

Secondly, in 1904 a law denouncing polygamous marriages as improper was enacted in Uganda. It was argued that a Christian family should have one man and one wife. However, traditionally most societies in Uganda believed in or practiced polygamous marriages. A hut would be constructed for each wife. For the colonial legislation to take effect, therefore, polygamous families had to be disrupted. A hut tax was imposed on each hut. Unable to pay, men abandoned multiple marriages; while women had to go back to their families. Citing Roscoe, Musisi writes:

…the imposition of hut tax on men complicated the matter for women, as ‘chiefs’ found that they could not afford to pay for the huts of those women of their clans who had been discarded as wives,…the huts were therefore destroyed and the women were turned adrift by their relatives. (Musisi 1999: 177-178)

Unable to resettle in their families, the women migrated into the city in search of a better modern life. Trowell rightly observes: ‘…so the girl goes off to town where she knows she can get these things for what to her is little cost’ (Trowell 1957:37). Located on the fringes of the city, Kampala, the migrant became independent. She took up low-paid jobs. For example, she served as a domestic servant, the ayah, or ‘the woman-who-cooks-for-me girl’ as the colonials used to call her (Trowell 1957:37). Most importantly, the woman on the fringes of the city upset the balance of power. She moved from the private to the public sphere. She gained property. She claimed her ‘freedom of movement with its potential for sexual autonomy’ (Musisi 1999:178).

Reining in the ‘wicked’ woman: the patriarchy responds

Clearly then, by 1930s the new woman had threatened the position of the African man in the social hierarchy. That she claimed rights equal to those of Europeans was unacceptable and unheard-of. Stable African families were ‘strongly against their daughters working as ayahs’. For Europeans, an ayah was perceived as a ‘delinquent’, ‘wretched girl’, thus a health hazard to their families (Trowell 1957:37). Propertied women threatened the patriarchal order: they were uncontrollable. The free mobility of women was considered unacceptable. Women’s sexual autonomy was perceived as a source of sexual immorality, a threat against social order and a potential health hazard with catastrophic demographic and economic consequences. Most importantly, unmarried women were labelled prostitutes, immoral, lazy and weak, with the potential to spread venereal diseases. In short, women in the city became a threat (White 1990). They were labelled ‘wicked or bad’ women who threatened the stability of the state. Politicians and priests joined together in the campaign for immediate action (Musisi 1999:177; Trowell 1957:37-38; Summers 1991).

In an attempt to re-subordinate the woman in the city, the colonial hegemony circumscribed the rights of nurses and midwives. For example, the MTS committee threatened to de-register insubordinate hospital workers. Those nurses and midwives who claimed independence over their sexuality were suspected to be immoral and expelled. The MTS administration censored the mail of trainees, weeding out any letter it perceived to be an ‘incitement to immorality’. The Church Missionary Society, located in the centre of the city, engaged in a campaign aimed at getting rid of the ‘wicked’ women from the city. Legislation was enacted to restrict women’s movement. For example, vehicles were prohibited from transporting unaccompanied women to the city. Some women were deported from the capital, Kampala (Musisi 1999; Summers 1991).

In conclusion, Trowell’s Mother and Child has a multiplicity of meanings. I re-engage it to retrace the contours of the colonial hegemony into which Trowell fused the instruction of modern art. It sets the gendered pedestal on which contemporary art in Uganda was born and became interlaced with – to use Trowell’s words – ‘warps and wefts’. I have engaged Trowell’s visual representation and text. I have outlined the colonial notions of class and gender propagated through the family, as well as through the medical, religious and political institutions and the way Trowell confronted and critiqued them. I have demonstrated that through such institutions the woman in Uganda was constructed and policed. I have outlined the way in which colonial hegemony forced women into the city. I have demonstrated that the woman in the public sphere was perceived as a threat to public order and health. I have also responded the way the patriarchy responded. Prostitution, disease and wickedness became convenient tools for framing and neutralising the woman.

Amanda Evassy Tumusiime (PhD) is Senior Lecturer Makerere University, Research Associate in the Department of Fine Art Rhodes University, Fulbright Scholar, African Studies Association Presidential Fellow, Fellow of the American Council of the Learned Societies, Fellow of Next Generation of African Academics.

I acknowledge the constructive comments I received from Start Journal Blind Reviewers spearheaded by the Executive Editor, Ms Margaret Nagawa. I appreciate the help from Ms Annette Sebba who took the trouble to locate old photographs from Albert Cook Library, Mulago, since it was being renovated. I appreciate the Albert Cook Library staff, especially Mr Joseph Sebulime, for all their support. I am grateful to Dr Angelo Kakande for asking me hard questions.


[i] The marriage between Margaret the artist and Hugh the doctor is also important because it set the platform on which the link between the Makerere Art School and Makerere Medical School was built. This link still exists today. For example, Trowell’s first classes in the late 1930s included hospital workers (nurses and doctors). Her first professional art student, Gregory Maloba, studied hospital patients during his modelling sessions. Later the study of human anatomy was adopted as a core subject in the art curriculum. It still is. The Medical School has a Department of Medical Illustration which recruits graduates of the Art School and offers a postgraduate programme (Master of Science Medical Illustration) which is taught by artists and medical practitioners.

[i] Timpson was employed by the colonial establishment to run the MTS. Founded in 1918, the MTS trained young girls from all over the country as midwives. Both the colonial administration and the missionaries argued that the school helped to decrease maternal mortality and ensure safe motherhood (Summers 1991:802). Because it was run by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) the MTS was considered suspect. The Catholics argued that their evangelical objectives were not being highlighted and soon they would be overshadowed. In 1924 the Catholics withdrew their support to the CMS-run maternity programme and began one of their own at Nsambya, headed by Mother Kevin (Summers 1991:803).


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