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Collective Memories at Nommo gallery

A recollection of Uganda’s remnant histories throughout the years   

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | There’s a feeling of nostalgia, elation, amusement and intrigue in the group show Collective Memories: Tracing The Que-rator at Nommo gallery. This is certainly a novel experience if one has been a regular visitor to art exhibitions in this space in the previous years. The sigh of relief starts from the eye catching renovation of the gallery and is carried through the artworks on display. In both scenarios, the theme of collective memories is intricately interrogated within the context of preserving Uganda’s social- cultural and political heritage. As such, the interior of the national gallery is purposely preserved against the newly installed modern infrastructure to create a fresh and standard environment to view art. Nonetheless, such presentation offers opportunity to appreciate past and present in one space. Hence, the gallery space acquires a new identity as a permanent exhibition.

The objects and artworks on display on the freshly painted walls are both archival and contemporary. In the foyer of the gallery, is a large screen mounted on the wall in one corner of the room. The film showing on the screen is the award nominee War Dance 2007. The film interrogates the life of three children living in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda as they prepare to participate in the National Music and Dance competition. Their enthusiastic performance of one popular traditional Acholi dance and music, and determination to win the contest is a representation of the youngsters’ hope and dreams for better future amidst a troubled background of fear and hopelessness. In another room, the classic documentary Bwana Jogoo 2019 that explores the love triangle of the 1970s Cranes Band’s Jessy Gitta Kasirivu, President Idi Amin Dada and Sarah Kyolaba, 17 year old “go-go dancer”, is also showing. Both films, document Uganda’s diverse cultural heritage but for Bwana Jogoo, it is more of a showcase of a very familiar chaotic social lifestyle of the Amin era that pitted many social and political celebrities of the time against the gun!

There is also a showcase of remnant objects and artifacts including the URA super-automatic printing calculator, URA Collection Bag, Samia tribal stools, Karimojong milk gourds and Nyoro sandals collected from the Uganda Revenue Authority Museum and Uganda Museum. The display of these items conjures a rich heritage of different Ugandan communities and institutions. A striking difference between the past and present technologies is at once observed and therefore the viewer can appreciate the long journey of transitioning from the prehistorical, the modern and to the contemporary setting. The other visual images on display inform of paintings, sculptures and illustrations further reignite the theme of memories and heritage conservation that pervade the exhibition. In particular, the installation of the “pavilion” which houses archival paintings including the original Court of Arms 1962, prints of paintings and poster from Nobert Kaggwa’s (1938- 2022) first One Man show (Undated) at Nommo gallery and Jacob Odama’s series of   past Ugandan Presidents 2013, underscores the theme of the exhibition.

The curatorial team for this show must be commended for a job well done. Their relentless efforts yield a showcase of art in the most standard manner with close attention to detail. Such thorough handiwork is suggestive to the professional path the gallery intends to pursue under its new dynamic stewardship. The curator of the National gallery, Phillip Balimunsi’s fervent vision to raise the profile of Ugandan art to the global art realms is partly realize through this exhibition. Yet the exhibition emerged from a series of conversations the curator had with eight budding curators- aptly named Team8- during the curatorial virtual workshop that took place in the second national lockdown. In paying homage to the incredible collection of Uganda’s history and memories the curator inherited at the gallery, the theme of the exhibition was therefore realized. The exhibition Collective Memories is consequently a collective engagement that fosters meaningful relationship between artists, artwork, curator and audience. In doing so, the different stakeholders are united under one cause to respond to the task of cleansing our collective forgotten consciousness of Art and bringing us close to ourselves again.

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Participating artists include Nobert Kaggwa, George Kyeyune, Lilian Nabulime, Cecil Todd, Simon Banga and Jacob Odama. The show is curated by Emily Akullu, Kajebe Jacob Joshua, Majorine Nabulime, Solomy Nabukalu, Harrison Davis Watsala, Fiona Joan Acheng, Moses Serugo and Martin Ssenkubuge.

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