New book: Voices:
reflections on art and culture in Uganda
Voices: reflections on art and culture in Uganda presents a wide-ranging and well-informed picture of the arts and culture of Uganda. This is a compilation of the thoughts and voices of role-players who have themselves participated in, and contributed to, the growth and development of the arts and culture sector. Explorative in nature, and drawn from interviews with 52 prominent cultural practitioners, it is a reflection on what has happened and what is happening in Uganda, and why. It provides first-hand insight into music, film, theatre, dance, visual art, comedy, creative writing, poetry, arts journalism, publishing, animation, fashion, visual arts, crafts, heritage, cultural rights, culture and development, governance, youth, festivals, tertiary education, government, and women’s empowerment, and much more. Highlighting both challenges and achievements, this book is a useful tool to frame the incredible explosion of creativity taking place in this country.
Compiled and edited by Peter Rorvik, the book is published by the Mimeta Centre for Cultural Sector Development of Norway.
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If someone landed in Uganda today, what would they make of the arts and culture scene? They would notice similarities and patterns that occur or have occurred in other developing countries, but how would they describe the uniqueness of what has happened and what is happening?
It is not the intention here to capture a comprehensive historical report of what is arts and culture in Uganda, that remains a possible task for Ugandans who are best placed to conduct such analyses. This current Reflection is a contribution towards understanding some of that history, some of the stories, and some of the role-players who are shaping the journey. The telling of the Ugandan stories (and indeed there are many) is reflected through the multiple voices that inhabit the sector. This is a compilation of the thoughts and voices of role-players who have themselves participated in, and contributed to, the growth and development of the sector. There are of course alternate, complementary or competing voices and narratives, and these will be welcome elements in an ongoing process of discovery and re-discovery, defining and re-defining, of what arts and culture means in Uganda.
This Reflection is a collation drawn from a series of explorative interviews with fifty-two people who are significant participants in the process.
The interviews are presented, not in alphabetical order, but in a story arc guided by the various disciplines in which the practitioners work. This is not always straightforward, as many people work across disciplines and genres, or, for the purpose of these interviews, they are sometimes talking about arts other than their own. Accordingly, following the opening section of interviews that provide a contextualization of the operating environment in which arts and culture is taking place in Uganda, the interviews flow more or less sequentially through arts journalism, publishing, creative writing, poetry, storytelling, copyrights, theatre, film, animation, music, comedy, dance, fashion, visual arts, crafts, heritage, cultural rights, culture and development, governance, youth, festivals, tertiary education, government, and women’s empowerment. The latter part of the book features comments on prominent
themes that emerged during the discussions.
This project was initiated by Mimeta Centre for Culture and Development, following their observations of what has been happening through the activities of their Ugandan partner, Bayimba Cultural Foundation. With Mimeta’s backing and encouragement, this qualitative reflection has been investigative in nature, along the lines of process research, where the on-the-ground engagements very much determine the way forward of the research. It is reflexive and reflective. Directions arise in response to what comes out of the discussions with roleplayers, their stories and observations. The process was to initiate and conduct open-minded and open-ended meetings and interviews in order to build up stories and understanding of people’s experiences. My role has been to provide structured coherence to the process and presentation of these stories, to draw out principal touch points, experiences and outcomes, if and when they emerge. Apart from just one or two instances when questions were sent by email, other interviews were conducted by Skype or whatsapp, but most were face-to-face discussions. There were basic guideline questions about what has happened and what is happening in the arts and culture world of Uganda,
and why. Who have been principal role-players, what have been their motivations and circumstances, what
have been the most significant changes and why. As far as possible, it was an open-ended exploratory process, out of which arose new areas and avenues of relevant interest. The practitioners sometimes come at the same topic from similar or different angles, there are overlaps, there are idiosyncrasies and unique perspectives, which together build a very layered picture of Ugandan arts and culture, and Ugandan society. Common threads and themes became apparent, and this precipitated the inclusion of additional sections which appear in the latter part of the book. New names came up and led to other
interviews. In that respect it was very organic. Final texts were sent to the interviewees for crosschecking. In most
cases they also supplied photographs which add a visual dimension to what was being said in words. As already mentioned, this is not an analytical report, but it certainly provides informative insight into the arts and culture sector of Uganda.
It is a useful tool to frame the incredible explosion of creativity taking place in this country.
Selected qoutes from "Voices"
“The understanding of why art is important has not been registered in our national psyche.” A.K. Kaiza
“If art develops it must develop from within the logic of its own dynamics, needs and observations. If you leave artistic expression to itself it will continue to develop in its own way.”
“Having a dedicated Ministry will not solve all the problems but it will signal government recognition of the importance of culture in our national context.”
Emily Drani/ John De Connick
“The political leadership needs to associate itself positively with what the arts means for society, its contribution to social and personal well-being, and its contribution to the creative economy.” James Tumusiime
“We must stop expecting the west to solve our problems. Very importantly, when will we get local support for the arts, from KCCA or national government?”
“Art is the highest form of human intelligence. Our people are slowly embracing that, and art is connecting people.”
“If you hold things to yourself you will die with it, and they will die with you; they will be lost to the world.”
“Theatre makers have to address social and political issues in order to sustain relevance.”
“We need innovative audience development strategies, strategies that serve existing loyal audiences, and build new ones.”
Adong Lucy Judith
“What we need are cultural entrepreneurs who are able to link demand with supply, people who understand everything from product to pricing.”
“An important response to piracy is to start more cultural dialogue with audiences to encourage greater appreciation of local films, to get them to watch more local films.”
“We also need the arts institutions that teach not only the technical skills, but also the business side of art.
“Buying local art not only supports the growth of our industry, it connects us to our own culture.”
“In the same way that a brushstroke can say a lot in a painting, so too, a basket, or a bead, is a little sculpture in its own right.”
“We have seen comedy move from clowning and cross-dressing to being about presenting well thought-out jokes and stories.”
“Our experience is that teamwork facilitates and amplifies creativity.”
“Partnerships are essential for growth and development.”
“Above all, youth want to be involved in the decision-making processes about their future.”
“It is also important that we, as artists, know our rights, because freedom of expression is a fundamental basis for creativity, it informs the work of all artists, across all genres.”
“In light of the lack of financial or infrastructure support by government, the arts sector is being driven to a large extent from within, with support by civil society organisations, donors, NGOs, embassies, and commercial private companies.”
“As a beginning, arts and culture has to be part of the curriculum, at both primary and secondary school levels, and of course, at tertiary institutions, where we need good quality specialisation.”
“We need structures and systems across all areas in the creative sector.”
“The Save the National Theatre campaign is an important step in materialising some form of structure and a valuable experience for future advocacy work.” Acaye E. Pamela