Catalyzing Connections: A legacy by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir on African Art

Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere University, Kampala. (image by Margaret Nagawa)

By Rose Namubiru Kirumira

The one thing that is constant in an artist’s life is the need to create, exhibit, get sincere feedback from an audience, but most importantly be allowed to reflect on their development through friendly, sincere and constructive criticism. Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, I believe, provided these to many African artists. We will greatly miss her and thankfully, she has contributed to discussions on some of the momentous journeys of African Art.

Her writing confirms that artists on the African continent did, and have continuously and significantly, invested in the circumstances that contribute to the formation of contemporary African Art. Sidney recognized and respected those developments and specifically the unique spaces of formation by spending time visiting and listening to the different stories of artists and artisans as they maneuvered the harsh but very critical 20th Century. A century when colonialism, as in other socio-political fields, imprinted its mark on art education in Africa and when the idea of apprenticeship in the form of artisanal workshops shifted and adopted the western artist’s workshop as an alternative but informal learning space. Sidney’s work was concerned with the idea that workshops were conduits, whether positive or detrimental, from which generations of artisans and artists have learnt and in turn developed additional skills impacting on the formation of all forms of art in Africa.

Through my personal journey, as a young female sculptor and lecturer trying to understand and survive the challenges of the visual art profession, I met Sidney in 1998. I had just successfully organized the first-ever national Ngoma Visual Artist’s Workshop in Namasagali, Uganda. The subsequent Ngoma Workshops have had as participants now famous artists such as Sanaa Gateja, Fred Mutebi, the late Maria Naita, Taga Nuwagaba, Lillian Nabulime, Kizito Maria Kasule and Sylvia Nabiteeko Katende. Sidney sat with me for hours at the Sculpture studio of the School of Fine Art, Makerere University talking about the main motivations of my career, Ngoma Workshop and how I became a student of Professor Francis Nnaggenda. This became something that we both looked forward to on her visits to Uganda. She would ask, ‘Rose, now tell me … what have you been doing since we last met? Where have you been?’ Sidney knew my artist’s journey, and through it the journeys of all the artists I had interacted with as I navigated varied boarders on the African continent. I am honored that those stories resulted in a joint chapter “An Artist’s Notes on the Triangle Workshops, Zambia and South Africa.” (Kirumira and Kasfir, 2013) in one of her last edited books African Art and Agency in the Workshop (Sidney and Forster, ed. 2013).

Rose Namubiru Kirumira

Dr Namubiru Kirumira Rose is a senior lecturer at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, Makerere University, Kampala.