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Art in public in Kampala spaces

 

Reflecting on the recent arty innovation on the Kira-Kamwokya stretch

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | The recent initiative by Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) to create an avenue for wildlife sculptures along the Mulago- Kira- Kamwokya stretch provides an opportunity to reflect on the type of art in public spaces in Kampala. Does it interrelate with the public by responding to the respective community’s need or it only serves the needs or propaganda of the State?

There is a critical lack of engagement and interaction between the public, artists, and the government in Kampala. Political priorities present serious challenges to developing public art interventions and community engagement by cultural institutions in the city, such as Goethe Zentrum and 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust, that work to streamline relationships between artists, urbanites and public art, initiating partnerships with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

A prime electoral constituency, the city is a site of tension between the central government and political opponents. Kampala’s public art further reinforces this spatial order, in some cases, overtly preventing public access and disregarding relevance to residents. However, the bi-annual contemporary visual art festival, KLA’ART has ignited a spark for (re)imagining creative possibilities in the city.

In a bid to strengthen its grip on Kampala, the Parliament of Uganda, passed the Local Government Act in 2010. The legislation gives the central government absolute powers to run the city. In addition, in order to oversee activities and implement government interests within the city, a new post — Executive Director of KCCA — has been created and a Minister of Kampala appointed by the president.

The State’s authority in the city is further reinforced in sculptures that take on the form of monuments — built from concrete, perhaps a symbol of the state’s firm rule. The government’s political intentions were made all the more evident in October 2012, when the 50th Independence Anniversary monument  (The Journey 2012 ) was launched to commemorate the Golden Jubilee Independence celebrations. Occupying Kololo Airstrip, a venue for government celebrations, it purposefully evokes the qualities of a political statue.  Though the public is not barred from accessing the statue, the Uganda Police Force presently guards the site. And the relationship between the police and the public in the city is not cordial. Indeed, the police have been accused of harassing and torturing people on many occasions.

Another monument, The Stride 2007, bears striking similarities. A composition of three human figures — Man, Woman and Child — moving forward, the statue symbolises a clichéd nationalist teleology. Modeled from bronze metal by George Kyeyune and Maria Naita, the iconic sculpture was designed for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala in November 2007. Like the 50th Independence Monument, the military police are routinely deployed in its vicinity, discouraging public engagement.

In contrast, the first Kampala Contemporary Art Festival (KLA’ART) challenged twelve artists to work within twelve open locations in Kampala using shipping containers as working studios. The containers symbolised the creative and innovative aspects of traders, who use the structures as venues for conducting business.

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