Uganda National Museum is presenting an experimental event series in which existing objects in the collection are remade and used in performative ways.
In the exhibition Facing Our Past: Rethinking Future Museums, the public is invited to engage with objects such as bowls and mats, which are usually displayed for "looking only". The museum wants to introduce new ways of collecting and museum-making, and to encourage new narratives and interpretations of material in the ethnographic collections.
“The exhibition involves artworks or objects as mere units of the performative installations that shape an intended experience, which makes it extremely difficult to count artworks but instead curators decided to qualify experiences offered by each installation and space within the exhibition arena,” the co-curator of the exhibition Philip Balimunsi said.
The exhibition features a collection of 80 gourds (both uncut and cut to form an installation), 20kg of cowrie shells, two cartons of packed salt and 25kg of refined salt, 120 (A3 and A4) photos of the study group since the start of the project, 240 footprints of a museum practitioner within the exhibition and moving from the exhibition entrance to H9, and a 5m X 2m sticker typographic interpretation of study group members' vision of the Future Uganda museum through words, a painting and sketches of the artistic impression of H9 by the invited visual artist.
“Rather than invite the visitor as a passive participant, consumer or viewer, the team of co-curators decided to turn the exhibition into an arena of experience that triggers audience active participation into a performative related process. Visitors also become creators of content rather than consumers,” said Balimunsi, who is also a curator at the Uganda National Cultural Centre/Nommo Gallery in Kampala.
“By coming to this exhibition, the visitor voluntarily joins the new school of museology, which seeks to Africanise museums by creatively shaping space for audiences to contribute through written sticky notes and documentation of their presence on gourds. At the entrance, audiences are offered a branded pen, headphones and a newly cleaned unused gourd as tools of documentation and experimentation. On the sticky notes, audiences write their experiences about the exhibition and the two installations of salt and cowrie shells,” Balimunsi added.
The exhibition, running until January 15,2022, is run jointly with MuseumFutures Africa, which works with museums across the continent to test, explore and study potentials for new formats of African museology.
Spearheaded by the Goethe-Institut, the project was conceived through a series of "Museum Conversations" in 2019, as a means of mobilising museum driven processes of innovation, transformation and adaptation across the African continent.
The project aims to find ways in which museums' needs can be turned into productive forms of reconstituting the value and relevance of African museums, both to their immediate and broader constituencies.
The participating museums in 2021 included the Uganda National Museum, Musée National de Guinée, National Museums of Kenya, the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg Township, South Africa, the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art in Lekki, Lagos State, Nigeria, and the Musée Théodore Monod IFAN Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal.
According to Joseph Ssebunya, a co-curator, the Uganda National Museum formed a curriculum study group of 11 people including visual and performative artists, community museums, heritage practitioners and museum staff, who have spent a year sharing ideas.
Balimunsi said the curriculum set basic guides for the team to meet and discuss issues in line with the modules in view of their challenges and success. The project also offered a networking opportunity through pairing of museums to visit each other for tangible experiences and references before execution of individual projects.