Artist casts a critical eye on ambiguity
Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | A lot has been said about the revival of the Uganda Airlines; mostly how it is going to change the economic fortunes of the country through promoting tourism and boosting Uganda as a brand internationally. With this, a greater section of the public is optimistic that Uganda can now compete favourably on the international scene.
Amidst this euphoria, Uganda artist Eria Sane Nsubuga casts a critical eye on the overwhelming expectations of the airline. Before its revival, the national career had been grounded for nearly twenty years as a result of political corruption and mismanagement. More so, its revitalisation comes at the times when graft is at its peak in many government institutions and several international airlines are incurring increasing losses. Sane questions the success of such a venture- ironically with little planning from government- at such a time. The work is contextualised within a larger theme of the growing appetite of African for things white people consume. Such criticism for the national
career gains credibility with Sane’s adoption of the name Uganda Airlines. He perceives himself as the aircraft because of his ambiguous identity: a Ugandan artist living in the United Kingdom. There is indistinctness about his personality from the two places. In Uganda his home country, living “abroad” translates in being rich and able to afford everything you want. In fact family and friends will often approach you for handouts because they believe you are successful.
This is contrary to the reality which is, you are also struggling like them. This is similar to the too many expectations Ugandans have handed over to the national carrier. Additionally, Sane is confounded with the question of belonging. Because he spends more time in UK (Southampton) is he a UK citizen or still Ugandan with little contacts at home? On the other hand, living in a multi-national space like the UK-not to mention the frequent encounter with the growing white nationalism – one’s identity as an African is mostly likely to be compromised or disappear. The artist constructs powerful visual imagery in his art to convey such message of uncertainty. He recurrently adopts the word Uganda Airlines and the image of the aeroplane in his collage prints as if to emphasize its centrality to the larger subject of living in the shadow of white people and the growing appetite for everything that is white by Africans. In some artworks, his image is seen sitting in the cockpit or the passengers’ cabin to illustrate his relationship with the airline.
Though such connection between artist and aircraft can be interpreted as ironic- a dominant artistic parody in his art- the artist is intent to draw the mind and eyes of the public to the ambiguous topic of the Uganda Airlines. Nonetheless, the artist’s childhood memories of seeing airplanes- probably one of them being Uganda Airlines- flying over his home in Entebbe and drawing the cockpit in the dust together with his siblings; alongside dreaming one day to fly in it, contribute to this authentic examination.
Sane’s censure of the rebirth of Uganda Airlines is unmistakably relevant to the public’s expectations from the national carrier. It awakens important questions on its possible successes or failures. As such, one may ask the question if its revival was an honest option or one prompted by selfish interests: the desire to consume everything white in these contemporary times?