For the insatiably hungry-hunger of the mind, not of the belly-and emotionally invested lovers of art, literature, film or photography; there is WAZO Talking Arts. For the slightly curious, sometimes creative, followers and fans of the Ugandan arts scene; there is WAZO Talking Arts. And for the wandering (wondering), I-keep-hearing-about-this-thing-and-just-want-to-check-it-out crowd who never miss a step when it comes to knowing who or what is trending and forming an opinion of it; there is WAZO Talking Arts.
A monthly event organized by David Kaiza (you might recognize the name from bylines in the Arts section of The East African) and his support team, WAZO is a safe place for people who make art to talk about it with anyone who wants to listen. It’s set up like a panel discussion, with a special guest whom Kaiza interviews and the audience gets a chance to engage in a Q&A, or by reacting to a reading or performance or exhibition of some type.
If you’ve ever cooked a meal by yourself, and then sat down to eat it alone; you can understand why people who create things would want to sit around talking about their work.
Xenson (painter, poet, fashion designer, film maker) was WAZO’s guest last Tuesday at The HUB in Kamwokya. Listening to him talk was like sitting in the courtyard of some great fireside storyteller, with the small flames from paraffin lamps illuminating his wild hand gestures and the mosquitoes at our feet.
“Uganda is lost,” he told us; “politicians have taken the place of artists – who are supposed to be the observers and documenters of society.” His tale spanned the width and depth of the contemporary concerns of a young nation struggling with old notions; “When we are young, we are born free, but as we grow up society – or people – tell us what we should or shouldn’t do, taking away that freedom.”
“In life, and in art, you have three things; the past, the future and the present,” he said, and like any good story, his had his love affair with the creative nature of mankind, his hopes for the art market (“What we are selling to the rest of the world is the richness of our culture.”) and his struggles as an artist. “When I talk about what I see happening around me, people say oh that’s politics, you’re political, but it’s not politics. It’s morality.”
Xenson talked about the clothes he designs, the evolution of art in Africa, pop music (“What does Badilisha even mean?”) and his escapades as a rebellious teenager and student leader at Makerere University (where he attended Art School even though he had been offered Engineering). The way thoughts and ideas spilled out of his mind through his mouth and into our ears; at erratic pace, a single word spring boarding into an entire speech, made it very clear we were in the presence of a madman, but one whose madness was as stunningly genius as some of the work he produces.
Xenson had brought along two short films to share with the WAZO crowd; the first one, titled Kakoko, was a very disturbing montage of a dying chic struggling to breathe (some awesome sound editing here) while other chickens pecked at it and at their feed. “It’s about death, the struggle for life in dying – struggling to breathe, or prayer, bargaining with God, and of course how life goes on even when people die. The people who sit with you at your deathbed still have to get up and go on with their lives after you pass on.”
The second short film showcased a group of Kiga dancers performing their high-spirited ekitaguriro dance while Xenson painted them with white body paint and filmed the whole glorious affair. Listening to people talk about it in the discussion session that followed, an unsaid admission hung in the air that the 5minute film we had just watched was proof that ekitaguriro is about the same exact thing as bakisimba and entogoro – sex.
After his talk, Xenson debated and indulged his audience; their critiques, their flirtations and questions, even going into a spoken word performance (some slick wordplay in English, ending with him snarling at us in Luganda) at their insistence. The WAZO organizers fed us finger foods and soda, which for a free event was more than hospitable. WAZO Talking Arts happens the first Tuesday of every month, so check out the next one, and their Facebook page for details. You can also find out more about Xenson and his work by visiting his site; http://www.xensonart.com/home.html.