According to your profile you call yourself a multidisciplinary artist, can you share what that means in modern day Kampala?
Well… A multidisciplinary artist is simply an artist who works in different media and also in different fields or areas within the visual arts. So in this case, a multidisciplinary artist in Kampala – there are several of them; There’s artists like Xenson and people like Stacey. Stacey works in photography, she has done painting before, not any more. She’s done a couple of things, installation as well. Xenson has done almost everything from fashion to photography to painting to installations to poetry, he’s very much multidisciplinary. Personally, I work in painting, collage painting. I work in sculpture, installation, photography, I want to do performance in future. Ya, that’s it.
What is your approach to preparing for your work and why did you choose this form of art?
My approach is quite simple, I work mostly in my head, I do a lot of thinking about a particular artwork, whenever I have an idea I think about it more opposed to sketching. I do a little sketching and writing but I think about it over a period of time, months. When it goes past a couple of months, it goes past a year or something then the idea will be lost and I’ll move into something else. When I think of a particular idea for a couple of months before I execute it, I then write a little, look on the internet. And then when I get down to executing the idea, it’s only like maybe two days or three days or a week, a work of art is born. And for the form of art I do, I’d like to say that I didn’t choose to do whatever I do, it chose me. But also, I’ve developed over a gradual period of time to select what’s best for me. I’m very much inquisitive, I’ve tried to move around, the place in the Ugandan context; galleries, to get to know several artists, get to know those outside of my circles, the east African art scene… Get to know the international African scene… And think about how I can fit in. So it takes some time for an artist to really figure out what you want to choose. It’s a combination of so many other things.
Why did you want to take part in the Modzi Residency program? And how do you see African residency programs being beneficial to artists especially in such times?
So I first met the director of Modzi Arts, Julia Taonga when she was back in Kampala. That was about two years ago and then I took her around with a team from Modzi Arts: Edward Kiss and Gita Herrmann. I took them around the Kampala Arts Scene, they went to the galleries, they went to some artist studios, and I connected with her and the people at Modzi Arts. And I thought why don’t I come down to Zambia, see what’s happening there. And ya, I’ve been in touch with her asking if there are any opportunities. So when I got this chance to come down here, I was like ya, I should come down. Cos like you know, also my work is about the African experience, African culture and Africanism and all that sort of things, so I thought it best to interact or to engage with another African country. I saw it as a golden opportunity to be in another African country so I’m here. For African residencies and artists, I really encourage African artists not to be quick to jump out and to go outside of the continent. I mean there’s a lot to learn here. I mean for African residencies for a fact they make us be in control of whatever we are doing – to control our stories, to control our image. I mean especially you get to know more about yourself before you jump out and see other things, see the world.
From your personal experience how did you prepare for your trip to Lusaka from Kampala and how has this helped your artistic practice?
I had a bit of time to prepare. There was like maybe a month or so. So I had to get my finances in check. I applied for some grants, made some connections and I got some funding… some little funding here and there. I tried to sell some works which finally worked out in the end. Then I got on a bus and I was like, I have to get on a bus and use the road to go through this journey. To get a feel of the whole experience, the African experience cos I’ve never been to some places like Dar es Salaam where I passed by. I was meant to take a train from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka but I missed out on that, cos they had advised me that it would be a good experience. So preparation was like that… so some of the journey got a little rough. But everything was quite ok.
African art is currently facing some real challenges in terms of all public activities being cancelled or postponed how is this affecting your process of creating work for your residency?
Well, fortunately I think this situation has affected, I could say affected my practice here at the residency positively or maybe negatively as well because I had planned to do something else here. I planned to do something related to my work that I usually do about Pan Africanism and the African culture and the history. I was going to dig deeper into and research more about the traditions here before the white man came. But when I got here because of the whole situation about the Corona virus, I was triggered, I drifted off to another kind of thinking. And I saw that I need to do something about the experience that I am going through, the travelling during these trivial times and ya, I thought I should respond to whatever is happening right now, right at this moment because it is very important. It’s more urgent I thought. But ya, maybe a little later, cos I’m locked up here for some months. I could delve into the other intentions I had to do here at the residency.
We are sure at this point of Coronavirus you must desire to be at home but in the light of being locked in Zambia during this period how has the experience been?
Well, I should say the experience has been not bad. I mean firstly, because back at home everybody is just locked down, locked up. They imposed a serious lock down, nobody can do anything, almost nobody can move around in the streets. But here in Lusaka everything seems to be… the “lock down” is a little soft. So I can move around, I can go buy some materials, some supplies if I need to. So I ‘m glad I came here, I have my own place, I have a very nice host who has given me a place to stay and everything. So I’m very glad that I’m using my time profitably here. I am trying to do build a body of work and engaging with the art scene. I mean I can kind of do things here I wouldn’t have done if I was back home cos I would be locked up maybe at my parents home and maybe I couldn’t do anything so I’m really happy that I’m here right now. And making the best of these difficult times at least.
Can you share what your thoughts are for the future of artistic practices within the African context?
I’m pretty sure things are going to be better for the African arts or the African arts scene in the near future cos right now you see there some sort of awakening on the African continent. Young people right now engaging with the arts or the visual arts scene… putting out more intelligent work, more researched work, more heavy concepts. I mean better stuff than we used to see back then. And also African artists getting an eye from the outside continents, which is usually problematic but it can be a good thing cos African art is now getting bought outside, even in the continent people are getting and noticing whatever is happening, what African artists are doing. So in a matter of years, 5 or 10 years African art will be something. Going to see more museums I guess, more biennales, more art fairs, more culturally awakened people, which is going to be good. So the future is bright for the African art scene.
How have you engaged with the Zambian art scene?
Researched into the Zambian art scene… I have seen a couple of sculptures around Modzi, I’ve seen a few books. I went to some places today, VAC- Visual Arts Council of Zambia/Henry Tayali Gallery I saw some works. I haven’t been to many art studios cos it’s quite hard to get to some places right now, to see some people even right now. I’ve seen some work, and it’s quite impressive, mostly the sculpture. Sculpture is quite a hard a field, it’s quite bulky but I see so many sculptures here which is really a good thing. Here it means they are more patient and dedicated to a much harder field of art. Umm… who could be my favourite artist in Zambia so far? I think I find Aaron Samual Mulenga work interesting. It’s good stuff. And let me see… Clarence Albert Zulu who did some of the Modzi sculptures he’s really good as well… no he’s not really Zambian, he’s Zimbabwean haha! So who else? There’s…. I have to think about that!
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m building a body of work that’s going to be like a response to the situation right now. Of course, I don’t want it to be the usual wash your hands, wear a mask kind of thing that you see around the place. So it’s going to be much more about… more something poking in your face. Like you know my work is usually like that, where it’s a little provocative for some people. It’s going to be like that, it’s going to question whatever is happening. I mean as an artist to implore a certain kind of urge or feeling towards whoever is in control of the situation. Towards our governments, towards the people who are ahead of us. What are they providing to deal with the situation? What are they doing about it? What do they need to do? Are they doing enough? And who’s at the back of everything else? Why do we need to wear masks? I mean some questions seem simple and a little stupid. But we need to ask questions always. Where did this thing come from? Why is it now? Is it that now is when people are tip toeing around, they are not standing properly on their feet, just jumping up and down really scared. So those are hard questions to ask… so ya, I’m the one who sacrificed himself to trigger the questions I guess.