Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Most Important Art Exhibition of 2015 Is On

One of the most important art exhibitions Uganda will host this year is taking place at the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts right now. 

But you have to hurry, if you wish to see it because it closes on Saturday, June 6. 

The Ebishushani exhibition opened on Thursday, May 14, 2015, put together by HIP Uganda. 

HIP Uganda is History in Progress Uganda, an exciting, dizzying outfit that has been collecting historic Ugandan photographs for more than a year now. I would say more about them here but that would distract me and you from this important exhibition which you really need to go see before it closes. 

Ebishushani showcases the work of two Ugandan photographers, Musa Katuramu (1916- 1986) and Elly Rwakoma (1938-  ). 

HIP Uganda founder Andrea Stultiens has a soft spot for Katuramu bordering on the starry-eyed but I’ll talk about Rwakoma, who is still alive and hearty and as spell binding a story teller as he could be a photographer even at 76. (A hint: Stultiens believes Katuramu may have been one of the most gifted African photographers working in 1930s through to 1950s, a man who understood the value of the work he was creating with a very basic camera). 

But back to Rwakoma. 

Rwakoma is why I was interested in Ebishushani, Rwakoma is why I dug up my ageing Olympus recorder and placed it before his lips, Rwakoma is why I want to blog again, Rwakoma is why I’m suddenly going to exhibitions again. Rwakoma is why you should go see Ebishushani. 

If you do choose to go to this exhibition

1.       You will see the Yashica camera that took photos on October 9, 1962, on the sunny Tuesday Uganda was declared an independent nation, free of Great Britain rule. We can debate whether Uganda actually got “real independence” long into the night until Umeme turns out the electricity, but the camera is on display during the exhibition! A museum piece not yet tucked away for scholars to pore over. 

2.       You may run into Elly Rwakoma himself, Newsboy cap stuck firmly on his head, brown eyes twinkling behind thick glasses, grey bearded, with a walking stick but voice booming; ready to talk to anyone who asks a question about his photographs. Rwakoma, a qualified grade two teacher, still has a very sharp memory for dates and people he photographed or met. If you are lucky, he will tell you about some of his “camera-man” escapades in 1960s Uganda or more importantly…

3.       Rwakoma photographed nearly all Uganda’s Presidents from Milton Obote to Yoweri Museveni over 50 years, was fortunate to lunch or drink with them. Be a fly on the wall when some major political events were planned or just happened. Rwakoma walks around with 50 years of Ugandan history in his head and in his photographs and it is only when you go see Ebishushani and realise what is on show does not represent even 20% of what still remains to be developed from his film strips that you are forced to whistle in wonder. And hope Stultiens and her assistant Rumanzi Canon can quickly out more Rwakoma work. 

4.       Rwakoma “accidentally” documented an assassination attempt on President Godfrey Binaisa in Iganga sometime in 1980. Frame by frame. From just before the shooting started to the aftermath with a shaken President Binaisa brought out before the people again to reassure them the president had not been shot dead. But many died. Future President Yoweri Museveni was at the function and in the VIP tent when that shooting occurred, he was a minister of defence, and could have died too. The photographic evidence is on show in the Ebishushani exhibition. I could spend hours gazing at those faces and trying to identify the people in them and their subsequent fates. 

5.       You will see Uganda pre-1986. Pre-1962. Before the people who lived through those significant years knew they were living through epochal changes. Ebishushani is a chance you will not find anywhere since the destruction of the Uganda Television (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation) during the privatization fever of the 1990s. 

Come see the Ebishushani Exhibition. It is not just a once in a year experience, it may be a once in a lifetime event.