Ugandan female artists fight patriarchy in exhibition

Thursday March 24 2022

Lillian Nabulime's wood and copper sculpture 'Mortar and Pestle.' PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI


Eight Ugandan artists are holding a month-long art exhibition titled "Njabala: This is not How" at the Makerere Art Gallery in Kampala, focusing on the patriarchal Ugandan society that defines a woman’s body through virginity and infertility.

The art works reflect on the themes of memory, love, womanhood and activism.

Pamela Enyonu’s "Stella’s Goat (of Hymen Husbandry and Such)" is a tongue-in-cheek critique on patriarchy’s obsession with virginity. It shows a young boy with a goat lying on the seat behind him.

Among the Baganda, when the bride is proved to be a virgin, her brother is gifted a goat as a token of appreciation for preserving her virginity. Both virginity and a goat are referred to by the same word “embuzi”.

Anderu Immaculate Mali is exhibiting two works that complement each other, "Lord", a mixed media installation and "Silence in Dance", a five-minute video.

Lord is a wooden bed with razor blades inserted through a mattress, imagining the pain of sexual abuse, often experienced in silence.



Bathsheba Okwenje’s photography and text take inspiration from the Acholi word Kanyo, meaning to endure or be resilient.

Sandra Suubi’s "Samba Gown, 2022" is a performance piece re-enacting and rethinking the bride’s walk down the aisle as a walk down the streets of Kampala, .

"Little Black Dress" is a story about a couple that is struggling with infertility and seeks to subvert the tendency to blame infertility on the woman.

The exhibition, curated by Martha Kazungu and funded by the AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund, will run until April 9.

Newcastle University (England) and Makerere University are the project partners.

“The story of Njabala is a perfect illustration of how Ugandan society has and continues to use myth and storytelling to reinforce toxic culture, especially where women are concerned,” Kazungu says.

Lilian Mary Nabulime’s work "Mortar and Pestle (2002-2004)" is metaphorical, as a sculpture made of wood and copper with concave and convex copper objects symbolising male and female genitalia to enhance the composition; Sarah Nansubuga’s Sarah Nansubuga’s “Wake With Me, 2022” is a shamanistic portrayal of the folklore story entitled: Nsangi And The Ogre.

It is a work in progress, and the creator is ever seeking new avenues of exploration and expression in her artistic process. 

Reenacting the daily life of women in Kampala, last but not least is Esteri Tebandeke’s 22-minute short film Little Black Dress, about a woman who is stuck in a cycle of routine, obligation and guilt figures and finds a way to reset her life amid a feminist uprising.