Africa gets a new contemporary art biennale in Kampala, Uganda.

The Kampala Art Biennale’s first edition will be launched in August 2014 – an exciting addition to the vibrant African art scene that has been developing in recent years. Like other key events and institutions in the continent, the biennale aims to recognise the role of African contemporary art at home and integrate it on the international stage.

Florine Demosthene, 'Bitta Disappointment', ink, charcoal, graphite and oil bar on polypropylene, 72 x 91.44 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Florine Demosthene, ‘Bitta Disappointment’, ink, charcoal, graphite and oil bar on polypropylene, 72 x 91.44cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The Kampala Art Biennale was established by the Kampala Arts Trust in partnership with the Uganda Tourism Board. The Kampala Arts Trust is a local contemporary art collective of visual and performance art practitioners run by Biennale curator and Artistic Director Daudi Karungi and curator and Artistic Advisor Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga.

Founded as a platform to educate, expose and create debate about contemporary art and its value in society, the Biennale also aims to recognise contemporary African art and integrate it into the international art stage. The Biennale’s vision is ‘afro-centric’, as it focuses on the promotion of artists – both local and foreign – who are active within the African continent.

Running from 1 to 31 August 2014, the Biennale will include more than 100 artworks by 45 artists from 13 different African countries. The exhibiting artists work in diverse media, from painting and sculpture to photography, video and installation.

Ezra Wube, 'Mengedu 5', 2005-2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 16 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Ezra Wube, ‘Mengedu 5’, 2005-2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 16cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

A debate for Africa

Themed “Progressive Africa”, the first edition of the Biennale seeks to address issues that concern Africa’s present situation and its future development, whether social, economic or political. The concept is based on the current pan-African, and increasingly global debate about “Africa is Now” versus “Africa is The Future”.

Topics at hand include the pursuit of sustainable economic growth and the creation of cultural sensitivity around current health, social and development issues. HIV prevention, efforts to create a cultural policy for African countries, the reduction of poverty, increasing access to and level of education and attaining other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are just a few examples.

Paul Ndema, 'Wings Spread', acrylics and ink on watercolour paper, 38 x 55 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Paul Ndema, ‘Wings Spread’, acrylics and ink on watercolour paper, 38 x 55cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

“An African art city”: Why Kampala?

Kampala is the capital of Uganda and its largest city. It is also home to the Makerere Univerisity, one of the most important and prestigious higher learning institutions in East and Central Africa, and the East Africa Development Bank.

Kampala also played host to an assembly of African countries that drafted the idea for the Conference on Security, Stability Development and Co-operation in Africa (CSSDCA), which was adopted in 2000. The Kampala assembly took place in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Kampala Document, which sets out a vision for a free and prosperous Africa based on an accountable government, implementation of democratic reforms and a thriving civil society as a road map for Post Cold War Africa. This document was the precursor for subsequent agreements set out by the CSSDCA.

Michael Soi, 'The general election 2', acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Michael Soi, ‘The general election 2’, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Being such a cultural and historically significant centre of debate, Kampala seems like the right place for creating discussion about Africa’s progress and development that includes art in the dialogue. The Biennale’s Artistic Director Daudi Karungi explains:

When it comes to the Art scene in Africa today, a few African artists and cities are known on the global art scene. The artists are usually those that are in the Diaspora and represented by top galleries in Europe and America, and the cities are those that had a strong colonial presence which influenced the arts and cultural developments. That said, Africa is full of very creative un-connected, un-represented artists that define art in Africa today. The Kampala Art biennale was, therefore, created out of the need for inclusion expressed by these artists working on the African continent trying to reach the global art scene. Secondly, because of a need to create new art hubs in Africa, Kampala took this opportunity to boost its tourism by starting the process of labeling its self as an African art city.

Eria Sane Nsubuga, 'The art of faking it', 2014. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Eria Sane Nsubuga, ‘The art of faking it’, 2014. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The 2014 edition of the Kampala Art Biennale will be the first ever biennale for Kampala. The East Africa Biennale (EASTAFAB), which was founded in 2003 and originates in Dar Es Salam in Tanzania, holds touring editions in Kampala and Nairobi.

Kampala also features the Kampala Arts Festival (Klaart), established in cooperation with the Kampala Arts Trust. The Trust eventually pulled out of the event’s organisation as it felt that the fair was too focused on a colonial attitude towards art in Africa. In contrast, the Kampala Art Biennale has been established to promote the African perspective on art and its context, as well as lesser-known art practitioners active within Africa.

Nonetheless, for artists, both events are good in that they promote art locally as well as internationally and allow for cross-pollination and launching international careers. Eria “Sane” Nsubuga, one of the finalists in this year’s biennale, commented to the Ugandan The Independent:

As Africans, we are still fragmented and weak to oppose anything and then start something of our own. We are like ants which have to cling onto someone to get onto the top of the mountain.

Samuel Githui, \Fahali Wawili', details [two bulls - west vs east on africa], diptych, 300 x 137 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Samuel Githui, \Fahali Wawili’, details [two bulls – west vs east on africa], diptych, 300 x 137 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Karungi defines the art scene in Kampala as having always been “very professional and creative”, thanks to the presence of the Margret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts. However, he also comments that the scene has always been restricted “within the city and patrons of the arts have been visitors and residents of Kampala.” He goes on to say that other key cities like Dakar, Lagos and Johannesburg, on the other hand,

have engaged in global art exchange, have hosted international art events like biennales and promoted their art/artists to Europe and America to create international exposure.

The Biennale in Senegal, Dak’Art, is the oldest in Africa (founded 1992) and one of the most respected and important contemporary art events in the continent. The second oldest biennial event in Africa, the Johannesburg Biennale (founded in 1995), was very short-lived: its second and last edition, in 1997, was curated by the 2015 Venice Biennale artistic director, Okwui Enzewor. Lagos Biennial was founded in 2011 and has so far held two editions.

In North Africa, Morocco holds another seminal event, the Marrakech Biennale, founded by expatriate Vanessa Branson in 2004, which in just a decade has become an influential and internationally recognised event in the African continent.

Shenzo Shabangu, 'They took everything', 2012, Linocut LR, 602 x 900 cm, Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Shenzo Shabangu, ‘They took everything’, 2012, Linocut LR, 602 x 900cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The future of Kampala Art Biennale

With the increasing interest in contemporary African art and the growth and development of the local art scenes in the continent, the Kampala Art Biennale is set to become another important nucleus for artistic dialogue, discussion and international exchange. Daudi Karungi says about the future of the Biennale:

My hope for Kampala Biennale is that it exposes this less known art from Africa to a global audience, it educates its mostly African visitors about the values of contemporary art and last, but not least I hope for the biennale to create debate about the challenges and successes of art/artists in Africa today.

Zerihun Seyoum, 'Adoption', 2013, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Zerihun Seyoum, ‘Adoption’, 2013, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: African art and artists, curatorial practice, promoting art, art and the community, nonprofit, biennales, biennials, festivals, events in Africa

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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