Ronex: “Can we think of a future without a documented or archived past?”

The gourd project, 2016. Myself, Enock, Daudi Karungi, Segah

How can we explore the potentials of Kampala’s Art Scene and imagine its futures?

This opinion piece was first presented at the panel discussion “Points of Orientation: Navigating Kampala’s art world and beyond” organized by Fiona Siegenthaler for the Art Forum at Goethe Zentrum Kampala on 2nd August 2017. I was among the eight presenters selected by Siegenthaler to generate a question inspired by the opinion piece. I asked,

“Can we think of a future without a documented or archived past?”

I sold my first sculpture at Nommo Gallery in Kampala but never took a photo or kept any record of it. It still hurts that I have no recorded memory of that art piece.
My country Uganda has an archival tradition that is wanting, and what exists is known and accessed by a handful. It’s believed that archiving in itself is acknowledgment, accountability and responsibility of objects (artworks), policies and actions. Models have been formulated and modified over centuries in other countries, yet the first policy in Uganda, the National Records and Archives Act was enacted in 2001. Analysis of the Act shows that its formulators did little or no research about archiving, management, conservation, functions and purposes of archives.

How practical is it then, to tell our story and imagine a Kampala art future without the backup of well-managed and purposeful archives?

With new technologies, historians, researchers and the rest of the public are finding it a problem today, because there is an abundance of information, as most archives have opened up, and thus are easily accessible. It is becoming more convenient for current and future users to access more options than the traditional physical archives.

As Ugandans, if we are still struggling with archiving and access of certain information, what role can each player in the Kampala art world play to avert the situation?

This is my story. My interest in documentation

My First year at MTSIFA;  In 1998, at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine arts, Makerere University (MTSIFA), I made a relief sculpture in clay, thinking I was the first to make a relief sculpture. Later as I read more, history books revealed that some reliefs were dated BC. This made me feel stupid, but in turn made me love history more. I also learnt that to create, research is vital. It saves time and acts as a great informed foundation to build upon. Documented events and opinions are significant sources of information.

My Second year at MTSIFA; In 2000, I sold my first sculpture at Nommo Gallery in Kampala but never took a photo or kept any record of it. It still hurts that I have no recorded memory of that art piece.

This prompted me to invest slowly in a camera and a desktop computer so that I would not ever have to go through the same experience again.

Gourd project, 2006, was a project initiated by five artists: Myself, Henry Mzili Mujunga, Henry Segah, Daudi Karungi, and Enoch Mukiibi, supported by Roberta Wagner (director Uganda-German Cultural Society then) with a dream of starting a fund to facilitate the opening of the first art museum in Uganda.

We collaboratively created a metal gourd. We put it up for auction but the money offered barely covered our cost of production. We ended up buying the sculpture ourselves and to this day I enjoy its companionship at my studio.

That idea of a physical art museum is still alive, though it might take longer than expected to realize. With new technological advancements, more options and possibilities are available where documentation and archiving could also mean going digital.

The gourd project, 2016. Ronex, Enock, Daudi Karungi, Segah
Mujunga Henry and Segah, 2006
Mujunga Henry and Segah, 2006
The gourd at Ronex' Studio
The gourd at Ronex’ Studio

Art Uganda Facebook Page

Art Uganda, 2008, I opened a Facebook page and named it Art Uganda with the simple objective of capturing and sharing a glimpse of what is happening on the Ugandan art scene. I have mainly documented art-related events and art exhibitions. I thought it could also attempt to answer the annoying question, is there art in Uganda?

I have come to learn that archives and records are not just static documents or objects, but they evolve and can inspire other concepts and projects in the process.

MTSIFA Alumni Exhibition 2018

MTSIFA Alumni exhibition, 2018.
Poster of the MTSIFA Alumni exhibition, 2018.

MTSIFA Alumni exhibition, 2018, inspired by the Art Uganda digital archive, I am organising the first Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts Alumni art exhibition at Makerere Art Gallery/Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration (IHCR) in June 2018.  Most of the documented artists over the years have been educated at Makerere. The exhibition marks ten years of the digital archive and 49 years of Makerere art gallery.

This MTSIFA Alumni exhibition is the first of its kind to bring together former art school students. The exhibition is a reunion meant to celebrate the contribution and creative energies to Uganda’s art as the first center of formal art education in Eastern Africa.

The Alumni include nationals of Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Sudan, Malawi, Zambia, UK, and USA. The selection process is limited to artists practicing and living in Kampala with no thematic limitation in order to show their freedom of expression. The artworks therefore present a diversity of explorations including: sketches, sculptures, paintings, installations, collage, printmaking, photography, furniture and publications.

This is an opportunity to see different generations side by side sharing memories and challenges. The general public and university students and staff, are able to see artists’ expressions and development since graduating. We hope that the current students of the art school will be inspired by some slices of history.

The MTSIFA Alumni exhibition 2018 opens on 14th July at Makerere Art Gallery.

Ronex Ahimbisibwe
Artist and art achivist at Art Africa

Ronex is an artist based in Kampala, Uganda with past exhibitions in Africa, Europe, and USA. He was in residency at Iwalewahaus in Beyreuth, Germany; winner of the KLA ART 012 International Award; and founder of digital FB image archive Art Uganda.

He is always driven by one question: “What if?” He says to thrive on questions like: “What if I did this and that. What would be the outcome?” It’s a joy in itself as one gets surprised by the process and reversal of known truths.

1 thought on “Ronex: “Can we think of a future without a documented or archived past?”

  1. Thanks for the insight Ronex. We definitely need an archival system and definitely a museum for contemporary art in Uganda. websites, blogs, social media accounts are all avenues that Im glad Artists today are using as a way of creating an archive of their practice.I however wonder if the concept of a museum would require to be reinvented in the Ugandan perspective and away from a western idea of what a museum would be. No doubt it is absolutely thrilling to walk through huge buildings with art on their walls but I think its worth thinking about.

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