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ARTS: Sexuality in Buganda

20 artists rekindle the debate in `EKifananyi Kya Muteesa’ Exhibit

By Dominic Muwanguzi

An ongoing archival exhibition of artworks by 20 artists at Makerere Art Gallery is renewing the debate on cultural conservation and preservation and how culture continues to play an important role in the social and economic aspect of society. It is the product of History in Progress Uganda by Dutch Artist Andrea Stultien and Uganda photographer artist Cannon Rumanzi.

Among the exhibitors is renowned painter Henry Mzili Mujunga who has an installation tackling a controversial subject; sexuality in Buganda. Mzili’s work at the exhibition titled `EKifananyi Kya Muteesa’ is said to have been inspired by an old photograph of the Buganda monarchy from 1856 to I884; Kabaka Muteesa I and his chiefs taken by the British explorer and journalist; Henry Marton Stanley in 1875. The photograph was discovered in a Museum of Central African art in Belgium.

Mzili employs the `what if’ question to stimulate dialogue between his audience about some taboo topics around sexuality in Buganda. While engaging his audience, Mzili sets out to bring into perspective the notion of decrees by monarchs in contemporary society.  He questions the execution of royal decrees in this age of information and extremist tendencies. If a king issued a decree today, would the subjects comply without questioning its motive and origin? What would happen if the subjects interpreted this as a trespass on their rights?

Stanley’s works are considered factual because he carried a camera, an ink-pen and a diary all the time to document his experiences.

But as the work of another artist, Violet Nantume, shows, some of Stanley’s depictions are too hot to handle even for contemporary society. In Nantume’s rendition of Stanley’s work she improvises to ensure that depictions of items some people could considered offensive are not depicted.

So why would the artists carry out such a performance and what do they intend to achieve by this?

Sexual controversy is not a new phenomenon in Uganda art. But these artists re-examine perceptions on sexual orientation and their influence in ancient communities. Although there’s no particular text or image that allude to the most complex topic on sexuality in Buganda, the artists metaphorically uses it as tool to push their art into controversy and stimulate debate.

The archival works showcased use both traditional and new media. They include video art, performance art, film and installation. These artists, mostly new generation artists, passionately interrogate the issue of culture in context of the contemporary times. The final products of such cross-examination are artworks that further engage the audience into an artistic discourse.

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The exhibition is on at the Makerere Art Gallery.

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