Meaning-making in visual culture : the case of integrating Ganda indigenous knowledge with contemporary art practice in Uganda

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2010-04-16
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Taideteollisen korkeakoulun julkaisusarja A, 95
It is apparent that in Buganda, art produced in the studio is detached from its community. This realization undermines the basic tenets of the indigenous systems of knowledge generation, acquisition, and practical usability, which enabled Ganda society to enjoy the benefits accrued from its cultural constellations. Any culture comprises unique and specific sets of beliefs, values, and norms that distinguish it from other cultures, and within these a priori institutions, individuals and groups adroitly realize their own physiological, psychological, and social needs. One of the requirements that humans rely on to cater for their needs, is art, which is fundamental at all levels of human development. Roger Fry, (cited in, Howells, 2003) notes that people have two kinds of life: “the actual and the imaginative, and the work of art was ‘intimately connected’ with the second” (p. 35). The Baganda in order to satisfy this set of human requirements developed an art form, which was mainly instrumental in satisfying functional needs as well as spiritual concerns. The Baganda, out of dire need to fit into the social and psychological worlds, established strategic systems of bodily practice and oral culture that they used for pedagogy, communication and propagation of knowledge structures across generations. Having survived since the 14th century when Kato Kintu reportedly first came to Buganda, these strategies could not last long especially when the Ganda people adapted to new ideologies that missionaries, Arab and Indian traders, and explorers brought to Buganda.1 Roscoe (1921) writes: “…the beautiful bark-cloth dress of the women has also given place to tawdry blouses and skirts introduced by Indian traders.…” (pp. 100-101). Further, “Arab traders taught the locals to read Swahili in Arabic characters; “Before this, no Muganda knew any system of transmitting his thoughts to writing or of making any permanent records…” (Roscoe, pp. 100-101). Father Lourdel through Mackay persuaded the king to sanction the worship of pictures: “Hence arose the enthusiasm of the Baganda for medals, scapulars, and other images distributed by missionaries” (Lugira, 1970, p. 155-157). This enthusiasm arose as a result of the king’s as “master and center of everything in Buganda” was in favor of the pictures. By so doing, many of the local systems of perpetuating life within communities gradually slid into oblivion, giving way to alien tenets that accelerated local histories. Communities became increasingly detached from their indigenous ways of life and among those values that suffered the alien invasion was art. This study therefore, attempts to rediscover some of the effective tools that the Baganda used to maintain all faculties of their society functionally together. This study proposes Oral Culture as a tool necessary to redefine the links between art and its community. It further proposes Remix as a means of reemphasizing the oral. The overall purpose in this study is to describe the ways in which narrative and remix aesthetics could aid in the constitution of meaning in plastic arts, which would in turn continue indigenous knowledge. I will argue that since narrative is an effective communicative tool, then it would be vital in forging a relevant and understandable visual culture to its community. In support, I will also argue that since Ganda material culture is familiar and locally accessible, then it will be influential in constituting visualization of narrative representations specific and thus adapted to their own locales. Although I do not level any claim against significantly changing something, in my study, people’s perceptions find renewed hope: the frames that once made gates turned out fully pledged and autonomous artworks; the doors mutated into narratives; and cloth became drapery–no longer off cuts. Tradition is dismantled and waist beads worn as necklaces. Questions flare. Ganda artifact is used in new situations but still in its old casing: this attracts attention of the passersby, while stories mutate into tangible ‘things’–for those who never had a chance of ‘seeing’ them. Reflection becomes part of process: Kato Kintu reflects history while Kintu maintains legend; Kaleeba emphasizes tradition while Matyansi Butyampa and Sewandeku focus on reality. Many reflections from various viewpoints that I cannot conclusively recount in this short text, form part of the transformation experienced in artistic research most of the time missed by ‘scientific’ methods. In general, the artistic project breaks with tradition and plies its own route. I received comments of uniqueness and novelty as a result.
Thesis advisor
Kyeyune, George
Uganda, visual culture, contemporary art, folk art, folklore, visuaalinen kulttuuri, nykytaide, kansantaide, kansanperinne
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