Ubuntu simply means “spirit of togetherness in all humanity regardless of gender, age, race, or colour. And it was the theme of this year’s Laba! Festival held on May 27 in the Kamwokya suburb of Kampala city.
The festival held annually along a section of Bukoto Street in Kamwokya where the organiser; the Goethe Zentrum Kampala (UGCS), occupies a niche as a street art festival. Its core objective is to facilitate engaging, interacting, and entertaining the audience in a mish- mash of art, music, and food. It is a podium to expose art to a larger audience with no price tag attached.
But it is also an opportunity for young artists to showcase their creativity without being constrained or intimidated by the demands of conventional art spaces like galleries and museum. As a result, Laba! has successfully launched many art careers.
As if to emphasise its evolution as a comfortable space for budding artists to showcase their art, this year’s Laba! was missed by many of the usual big names like usual suspects Ronex, Edison Mugalu, Afriart gallery, and Karibu Art gallery.
Their absence was both good and bad. Their creativity was of course missed but it gave the festival a relatively lower tempo than past festivals which facilitated easy up-close engagements with the artists by some visitors.
One artist who captured the collaborative spirit of Ubuntu and effectively engaged the public with his art is Denis Komaketch.
He presented an installation titled `Make some Noise’ which, on the face of it, appeared not in the least related to Ubuntu. His artwork was inspired by noise often created by metal fabricators. Komaketch who is a professional instrumentalist, worked with artisans from metal fabrication sites in Nakawa; another city suburb to create the initial sounds which he fused with guitar and flute sounds to produce music that is layered by different types of sound. The merged sound-the baseline- was amplified and boomed out in a megaphone-like installation at the festival. It was an experimental idea of (re)constructing and deconstructing sound that involved the artist and the community of metal fabricators who are often disregarded. That is the spirit of Ubuntu.
A similar integration of different elements of daily life into art was at work in another installation titled `Sabaala Embaata’ interpreted as `hit that duck!’. The phrase is often used by selfish motorists threatening to knock-down pedestrians along city roads. It is often an empty threat but the artists from Kikaali Studios use it to show that its self-centered spark is contrary to the concept of Umbutu.
The artists who included an illustrator and animator used this life experience to create a short video that is viewed by the audience inside a small booth covered by a black curtain at the entrance. This re-erection of the video hall on the open street continues the conversation of experimentation while exploring the subject of togetherness. In the spirit of Ubuntu, the video hall or booth ceases to be only a venue of watching films but is a platform for people to meet and make friends regardless of color, age and sex. This year’s festival was also different as it was not an open market filled with crafts like was the case in previous fetes.