From Archival Articles to Future Festivals – Editorial June
By Gloria Kiconco
With a season of arts and music festivals drawing near, this issue of Start Journal invites the Kampala arts community not only to look ahead to the opportunities of future festivals but to look back on where art in Kampala has come from, and how the last six years, the last two decades, even the last fifty have led to this point.
For veteran artist and print-maker Fred Mutebi, the conversation begins 700 years ago with the invention of barkcloth. The conversation is framed around his exhibition at Afriart on 7th, which attempts to revive Ugandan barkcloth as a contemporary material and “to reinvent what may have been lost when formal art training was introduced by missionary educator – Margaret Trowell.” For Mutebi, it is not just the techniques and history of barkcloth that were lost, but the recognition of the material as key to contemporary art. Where the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts (MTSIFA) may have failed Mutebi in archiving the importance of barkcloth, it served another in sparking a passion for archiving contemporary art.
Ronex Ahimbisibwe shares an opinion piece first presented in August 2017 during an art forum at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala. However, in asking, “Can we think of a future without a documented or archived past?” he poses a question that started brewing within his mind when he had first joined MTSIFA. His article documents his desire and deliberate practice to document contemporary Ugandan art. An archive that began in 1998 leads him to a future date, July 14, 2018, the opening of the MTSIFA Alumni Exhibition 2018 to mark ten years of the digital archive and 49 years of Makerere Art Gallery.
Ronex’s timeline intersects with Katrin Peters-Klaphake’s reflective study, Art in Kampala at Work 012. Her study leans into the history of the MTSIFA to bring into context KLA ART 2012, which presented unusual and exciting spaces and formats for exhibition, and “Art at Work” the international exhibition that first introduced renowned curator Simon Njami to the Kampala arts scene. This year, Njami returns as the curator of the Kampala Biennale 2018 and KLA ART ’18 seeks out more unusual sites in the city to host pop-up exhibitions under the theme of “Off the Record”. This archival article reminds us when and where the groundwork for KLA ART and the biennale was laid.
Phillip Balimunsi picks up the thread from Ronex and Peters-Klaphake in his insightful interview with Professor George Kyeyune, Director at Makerere Art Gallery/Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration (IHCR). Their interview traverses some of the most contentious questions surrounding contemporary art in Uganda, bringing us to Art Crossroads with Ugandan Mastery.
The conversations around visual arts resound with their literary counterparts. Where Mutebi calls for the revival of barkcloth, Peter Kagayi, an established poet in Kampala and beyond, calls for a controversial return to oral tradition in his article, Poetry of memory is voice, not words. Daphine Arinda, a poet who is relatively new on the scene but already held a successful solo performance, reflects on the drive to write in her poem, Dreams to Write, which was presented in her eponymous show in 2017.
The inclusion of poetry in this issue is a deliberate reminder that Start Journal is an open platform for all art, not just the predominant voices of visual arts. Though the voices in this issue may intersect, clash, and present , they still lay important groundwork for the arts in Uganda, creating a future that might otherwise not exist had they not been documented and archived in the first place.
Some of these conversations were documented here at Start Journal. The invitation remains open for those who wish to discuss, debate, or build the digital archive of Ugandan art by publishing their visual, literary, or scholastic work.
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