The notion of a travelling art exhibition is one that is unfamiliar to many Ugandans, which makes this exhibition something of a phenomenon. The itinerant showcase of contemporary African practices has visited many African capital cities including Libya, Addis Ababa, and Bujumbura. And right now, the Kampala railway station garden is the current home of the platform. Not only will the showcase be open to the public every day until 14th October, but since it is smack in the most accessible point in town, there really is no excuse for anyone not to check it out.
The ‘heavy weights’ like H.E. the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Uganda, H.W. the lord Mayor of Kampala city followed due protocol and addressed the guests. Although the speeches were refreshingly brief, each speech was punctuated with the same message. That the platform was meant to combine the local and Pan African history for the public and create an awareness of creativity and culture as vectors of development.
It was slightly disappointing to see that the exhibition was just going to stand on a few wooden panels erected at angles of each other with photographic art plastered across them. However, after seconds of gazing at the first picture showing images of ‘DRUM’ magazine, I was washed over with the luminous reality that these photos carried stories far heavier and much deeper than expected. This epiphany seemed shared by several people who lingered over a picture or two lost in the narration they told.
While most of the guests rushed to the cocktail tables to serve food and drink, a smaller group hurdled around the montage of photos which showcased the work of artists from all over Africa. The maze created by the wooden panels had us moving in circles and looking at pictures we had seen before each time with a new awareness. What was most intriguing about these pictures was the expression of the profound similarities that many African states share. For a moment, one would be convinced that they were looking at a roadside vegetable stall in rural Uganda only to realize that it was actually a picture taken of Nigeria.
While the overwhelming similarities drew a smile, the stark differences in infrastructure and architectural developments were not so subtle an indication of the different levels of development in the continent. In reality, the celebration of 50 years of independence may cause tremors of jubilation but photographs like this help us to realize that not only have we come from far, but we also have a heck of way to go.
Some of the photographs were indicators of colonial influences over the culture and building styles of many African nations. However, a larger number of the pieces were depictions of themes that characterize Africa. Jean Depara, a photographer from Angola for example simply captured images of life moving dynamically and normally in night clubs which resulted in pictures that carried themes such as freedom and modernity.
The entire time the exhibition was running, the Kampala Symphony Orchestra was playing on stage. The European influenced classical music was a curious soundtrack to the commemoration of an African country’s independence. In fact, a certain prominent member of the public sector was heard telling a friend that the music was for ‘bazungu” However, many would agree that the feel of live classical music was so unlike the typical pop-music cover band patch-ups which Kampala events have become accustomed to in the recent years.
Not only was the orchestra filled with talented Ugandans, a high praise to the level of artistic evolution, but it was an impressive and majestic sound that poured out of those gardens and spilled into the street that even the passersby standing at the bus stop swayed his head to the tune. It was a pure and unfiltered melody which pianist Fred Kiggundu Musoke tapped out of the piano. And guest Carmela Sinco fascinated the audience with some of her original compositions which were inspired by the Namirembe Sunrise, boda boda riders and late night drives in Kololo.
Art at work literally educates the public on culture, history and creativity; it’s pretty difficult to imagine how a country as young as ours wouldn’t borrow a lesson or two, to carry into the next fifty years or so. Since we as Africans pride ourselves on having shared values, this exhibition exposes just how shared they are.