Closed schools, shut businesses, social distancing, washing of hands and wearing of masks sum up 2020. However, the disruption also served as an opportunity for art, with artists tapping into their talents to capture the period in song, word, canvas and sculpture.
Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication teamed up with Fotea Foundation for an exhibition, following the year-long “Photography and Visual Literacy for Active Citizenship” programme. The programme, developed to supplement the photography studies provided to students, aimed to develop visual literacy skills while encouraging participants to apply Ugandan history as they document cultural, political and social issues among local communities.
Eunice Sendikadiwa's Covid-19 woes are captured in Timothy Akolamazima’s photo essay Covid-19 and the untold tales of a working mother. The pandemic forced Dr Sendikadiwa to turn her kitchen into an office as she juggles household chores and lecturer duties — preparing notes and following up on her students’ research papers and projects through emails, social media platforms and calls.
Schools remained closed for many months last year, forcing parents and students to adjust to a new reality of homeschooling. One such innovation was radio-based lessons. This informed Mungere Peter Mubiru’s Village radio, showing children studying at home via radio.
Vanessa Mulondo’s Kids in Lockdown and Kenyan photographer Edwin Oblak’s Louis show the impact of Covid-19 on the life of a primary school pupil in Kyengera in Kampala and a young man living in Kibera slums in Nairobi.
Jackson Sewanyana’s project focused on the special trees of Buganda and their history, norms, beliefs and values. The trees include Muvule, Jjirikiti, Musambya, Kabakanjagala, Mutuba, Mwoloola, Mugavu and Mango. For example, the Baganda believe the Muvule tree hosts ghosts and spirits. No one is allowed to cut it down, so as not to upset the ghosts and spirits. Accordingly, the observation of these norms enables this tree to grow to full maturity and harvesting for good strong timber.
“It has been discovered that, traditionally, the Baganda conserved the environment through frightening and non-frightening norms, which they attached to trees and other forms of nature,” said Sewanyana. Blair Davis Mugume attempted to understand the intricacies in running an election campaign under Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. He trailed an MP on the campaign trail and his photo essay was titled The Politics of a Scientific Campaign. Naibi Turihohabwe focused on Ugandans and their relation to campaign posters, aptly naming his essay, Vote Me When You See Me. He also turned footage of Uganda’s past politicians into Political Travel. The video compilation features a satirical look at Ugandan elections, foreign relations, tribalism and other topics.
Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) looms large in Badru Katumba’s Pangs of Change, where the musician-cum-politician’s campaigns and career are captured. Equally featured is President Yoweri Museveni through Saidat Atidekki’s The Freedom Fighter of Luwero.
Elvis Lubaga’s Transition From NRA To UPDF, uses visual archival materials to show the evolution of former rebel group the National Resistance Army into the Uganda People’s Defence Force.
In Philip Peter Kairu’s Obote Deconstructed and Golden Silhouettes, archival materials on politics, health, freedom, and education tell the story of former presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin, showing how their histories are intertwined and bound by their mutual desire for power.
The exhibition opened on February 4 and ran up to February 28.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 20, 2021.