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What the Desire Luzinda nude photos say about us

By Ronald Musoke

Since she hit the Ugandan music scene with her single, `Nakowa emikwano’, in 2006, Desire Luzinda has possibly been the most photographed celebrity.

When another renowned musician and celebrity, Isaiah Katumwa, hosted her on his TV show, `Jazz with Isaiah” and told her that it appears people admire her body, she did not blink.

“Do you?” she asked him teasingly.

Her daring personality was on show again in an interview with The Independent early this year. “Failure is not an option in my life,” she said, “I fear snakes although I like to see one.” That, and many other instances, proves that the single mother of one who is possibly in her early 30s and must have been a teen when she went into the entertainment business, can’t be easily shaken.

Her spirit to dare has been tested since Nov.2 when images of her in the so-called `V-pose’ went viral on social media. They have sparked an almost national orgy of voyeurism, and an avalanche of V-pose copycats and parodies.

Desire Luzinda’s images were leaked on social media almost a month after a massive leak in early October of similar photos of Hollywood celebrities. In this case the photos were stolen from a cloud-based Internet data storage system. Luzinda’s photos were released by an estranged sex partner.


So far, a lot of attention has focused on Luzinda and her estranged sex partner; the former for allowing the photographs to be taken, and the latter for leaking them.

However, experts say, there is a third player in the whole saga, who also needs to be focused on; the Ugandan society.

The experts say that any discussion of pornography, nudity and nakedness must always invariably involve three actors; the presenter of the nakedness, the society to which the presentation of nakedness is aimed, and the `model’ whose nakedness is being revealed. This is the point one expert, Jim Supangkat, makes in his book titled `Provocative Bodies’.

He suggests that instead of focusing on the presenter of the photographs, like Luzinda’s estranged sex partner and the model; Luzinda, more attention should be on the society as the consumer of the images.

“In pornography, experts of communications iconography have found that it is the consumers who have the most influence,” he writes. Desire Luzinda is not the first celebrity to have their ‘private moments’ leaked to the public.In most cases; the main attraction appears to have been the body of the woman in various states of undress. The question is why? Why is the Ugandan society, it appears, so hooked on pornography?

Dr Sylivia Tamale, the outspoken professor of law at Makerere University says what is playing out is clear; it is the politics of power between the state, law, and women.

She told The Independent: “We come from a culture which defines women through sexuality and which uses pornography to harm and demean women. So whoever posted those pictures was using Luzinda’s sexuality to harm her.”

Tamale says to understand pornography; three issues must be put into consideration; the power between women and men; the level that involves multi-national business and women since pornography is a multi-billion dollar business depicting women as sex objects, while the third involves the politics of power between the state, law and women.

Tamale’s views stand starkly against the general discussion which has focussed only on Luzinda; on whether she is a victim or villain.

Oppressing sexuality

There has also been a renewed discussion of the place of nakedness, nudity, and pornography in the context of “freedom of speech and expression”.

Why should there be mass voyeurism in a country that has just enacted puritanical laws on sexuality issues such as same sex, public decency, dress codes, and pornography? Is it that mass voyeurism is a sign of persistent curiosity about the sexuality of the opposite sex in the true Freudian sense?

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian brain scientist who believed that all human behaviour is based on sexual drives and impulses. He would possibly have concluded that the interest in Luzinda’s photos is a form of national sexual obsession. He would also possibly have seen the society’s obsession as a form of cultural response to the increasing moral repression signified by the recent imposition of policing on sex orientation, dress codes including an implicit ban of the mini-skirt, and criminalisation of adult entertainment.

Uganda recently passed an Anti-pornography law which prescribes a jail term of up to 10 years for a person who “produces or participates in the production of, or traffics in, publishes, broadcasts, procures, imports, exports or in any way abets pornography.”

The law defines pornography as, “ any cultural practice, form of behaviour or form of communication or leisure activity that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activities or conduct…erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement or indecent act or behaviour intended to corrupt morals.”

The man behind the law is Simon Lokodo, the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity. At the time of debating it, Lokodo said the law was necessary to tackle an increase in pornographic materials in the Ugandan mass media and nude dancing or ‘Kimansulo’ in the entertainment world.”

He recently told The Independent that in his mind “there is no doubt that Luzinda’s pictures are pornographic under the current Anti-Pornography law”.

Lokodo says Luzinda and her sex partner should be charged with exhibition of pornographic material contrary to Section 13 of the Anti-Pornography Act.

She says instead, there is urgent need to shift and redefine pornography not as a moral harm but as harm to women.

Tamale says the current definition of the Anti-Pornography Law is vague because it is overly broad and it could be interpreted in any way and subjectively and it could be abused.

“We need to respect the rights in our constitution; the right to privacy, to free expression. As long as it is not harming anyone, it is okay. “What may be defined as pornography could be adult entertainment. It could be material produced by and for women, and may not entirely be pornography.”

Tamale insists there is need for an honest and open discussion about sexuality because sexuality is one of the ways that women are kept in a subordinate status.

“If you have adult expressions of sexuality that are used as sexual aides or sexual recreation, adults should be free to do that and Lokodo should keep out of it.”

So how would Dr. Tamale define pornography?

“I would distinguish between, for lack of a better word, good and bad pornography; the former referred to as erotica,” she says.

She says “good pornography” would depict adults having respectable and consensual sexual expression meant for adults and that is very different from the pornography that is usually produced by publications where women are depicted as sexual slaves or their bodies treated as sexual objects.

She says the current Anti- Pornography law goes overboard, it is too broad and it violates our rights to privacy, to expression and academic freedom.

“We should redefine, recast pornography, and take it away from moral harm and focus on the harm it does to women and potentially to men,” she says.

The V-pose and the law

Dr Tamale is not the first activist to seek legitimacy of nakedness.

Jim Supangkat who is an Indonesian sculptor, critic, curator and founder of the New Art Movement, dwells quite a bit on the difference between nakedness, nudity, and pornography in nude art and photography.

In `Provocative Bodies’ he focuses on the work of Indonesian painter Mochtar Apin who undertook very expansive research about the role of women like Luzinda, who get involved in nude art or photography as models.

“He wanted to discover the mental condition and the personal wishes of a model in the presentation of nakedness, both in nude paintings and photography,” Jim Supangkat writes of Apin.

Luzinda has said she allowed to be photographed naked in a “moment of madness” and that she did not expect the photographs to become public and feels “betrayed by someone she trusted”.

To ascertain the truthfulness of claims by the model in a nude image, Apin who was an expert on the subject focused less on what the models said and more on what they did, especially the pose they took.

In Luzinda’s case, in the most focused on image; the so-called `V-pose’, she covers both her private parts and breasts. Apin describes this as the typical “1950s and 1960s” pose. Such images typically sought to hide the genitalia and are quite different from today’s pornography. If Luzinda’s V-pose was a painting of her, she possibly could comfortably hang it somewhere in her apartment or art gallery.

It is also noteworthy that Luzinda, who is an accomplished photographer, TV personality, and stage performer, clearly understood her intentions in that photo. Unlike the feminist view that seeks to describe every woman in such a situation as a victim of the objectification of the female anatomy, it appears Luzinda is a “subject”. She clearly has her own agenda in the photo. Why would she cover the very parts her sex partner had already seen if she did not expect the photograph to be seen by other persons?

To use an expression from Kenneth Clark’s book, `The Nude: A study in ideal form’, Luzinda’s image is of a “balanced, prosperous, and confident body”.

Clark says “to be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition.”

He says the word naked implies a “defenceless” as in exposed and “without disguises”, according to John Berger. Luzinda appears neither deprived, nor embarrassed or defenceless.

Even as she posed for the V-photo, Luzinda was possibly aware of the spate of recent nude photo leaks of celebrities both local and international. Her motivation to go ahead with it in her “moment of madness” has sparked debate.

Lokodo’s sex obsession

One view is that it is her body and she is entitled to use it as she pleases. The other is that she is entitled to her privacy.

Dr Paul Nyende, a psychology lecturer at Makerere University, says it is not unusual for people who admire each other to take such pictures.

“This could be as a result of the games they play to enhance their relationship, have fun, and include fantasy and nudity in their sexual activity in privacy which is fairly acceptable,” he says.

He says the Luzinda photos are, in fact, “not really pornography”. Dr Ben Twinomugisha, a professor of Law at Makerere University, says the interest in Luzinda’s photos is a “gender issue”. He says the interest would not be as high if they were of a man.

“It is gender issue because you are trying to enforce male stereotypes to subdue women’s rights of freedom of expression,” he says.

He relates to the dressing codes implied in Uganda’s Anti-pornography law.

“When you talk about a woman in a mini-skirt and you allege that she is nude, that becomes discriminatory in the sense that the same standard is not applied to a man who is wearing shorts or a vest,” he says.

He says the Anti-Pornography Act is, therefore, unconstitutional because it is discriminatory since most of the time when people talk about nudity, it seems to target one gender; the women.

He says in Luzinda’s case, the only villain appears to be her sex partner.

“I don’t think it is proper to have nude photographs published anyhow but in this case we are talking about publishing someone’s photographs without her knowledge or consent. “The boyfriend could be charged under the Anti- Pornography Act. As for Luzinda, I don’t think she will be successfully charged under this Act.”

Dr Tamale agrees. She says a line must be drawn between harm and abuse, whether it is abuse that is associated with nakedness or with adults’ right to free expression.

“That line must be very clear so that when Luzinda’s boyfriend posted her pictures online, they crossed that line and harmed her,” she says, “For Lokodo to punish the victim whose rights were violated is to completely miss the point.”

Tamale says Father Lokodo needs to step down from his high moral horse and really understand these issues.

“Lokodo seems to be overly obsessed with issues of sex and this is dimming his reasoning,” she says. “Luzinda should be protected, not vilified. She took these photos in privacy and she has a right to privacy. We don’t want the state entering into our bedrooms unless they are coming in to protect us if we are being abused,” she says.

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