Reviewed by Joel Ntwatwa
Uganda, perhaps, comes down to one man – Muteesa I. We could argue on this but his meeting with James Augustus Grant and John Hanning Speke (1862) and subsequent meeting with Henry Morton Stanley (1875) inform what we have today as this country. The interpretation of Muteesa’s Kingdom’s name to mean the current name of the country Uganda, the coming of white missionaries, the religious wars, Uganda becoming a Protectorate etc, all stem from this man’s influence.
Who was this man? Are there biographies of him? Are there biographies outside the oral tradition? Ekifananyi kya Muteesa as referred to in this book “by many” but researched, initiated and curated by Andrea Stultiens of History in Progress, is the first photograph of the man in recorded history. The Baganda did not make the photograph but there is a history behind it, a context behind it, many different interpretations around it. Ekifananyi 8, according to Andrea, is an attempt to widen the picture’s story and to unfix its history.
Kifananyi  can be translated from Luganda to mean – image, likeness, picture, photograph, or painting. There is a dictionary lemma reproduced at the end of the book that gives different uses of the word and perhaps contributes to a better understanding of some of the sections of this book.
As the final part of the series Andrea Stultiens has been working on, it makes sense to get back to the beginning; To what could be the first photograph (not picture!) taken in Uganda and not surprisingly by none other than Henry Morton Stanley.
Stanley would be the one to negotiate for the coming of the white missionaries to Buganda with the then Kabaka -Muteesa I. At the time, there were Arabs present in the Kingdom and perhaps they had already had some influence especially when you consider the dressing of the King in the kifananyi. Stanley’s invitation however, would change everything for this man and King called Muteesa and for those in his matwaale [territory] as well as those outside of it in the region.
Andrea writes in the logbook section of the book that she receives a low-res version of the photo almost at the same time in December 2013 from two people, Kathryn and David. It says the photo is in a museum in Belgium. She is bewildered she has never come across it and even more bewildered that very few people seem to take interest when she shares it on the HIPUganda Facebook page. She has her questions about this in the book. Mine, partly answered in the book, are is the photograph in Belgium because of the connection of Stanley to King Leopold? Is there any interest in it from the Kingdom of Buganda? How do Baganda or Ugandans relate to images? However more important, how invested are the Baganda or Ugandans in their own history?
The photograph is said to have been taken in 1875. Is it the only one of Muteesa I in public record?
Is it the only one of Buganda/Uganda during that time?
Other bifananyi of him or activities in the region are likenesses, paintings, drawings, illustrations and not photographs.
In the photo, you have Muteesa I, seated at the forefront taking on a regal pose with several other men, taken to be chiefs, standing behind him. It is a picture of power. It is the one photograph that connects us to a history older than one hundred and forty two years.
Andrea’s mission, as stated earlier, in the making of this book and an exhibition that was on show in April, 2017] was to widen the photograph’s story and to unfix its history. This comprised collecting and sharing images related with the man who made the photograph – Stanley, images of the Kingdom, and inviting interpretations of the picture by artists alive today.
The book has two parts. One informs Andrea’s thoughts and journey towards unfixing the photo. The second part gives us a look at the results of the unfixing as it unfolded through the eyes and hands of the artists she interacted with.
As the book starts I am met with a snapshot of what I imagine to have guided many an explorer through Africa – Aaron Penley’s ‘A system of Watercolour Painting’. You may call this an art book. However, this is exactly what an explorer had to have. The 19th century was not a time of point and shoot cameras or smartphones, so for documentation purposes there was reliance on human skill. This book helped the explorer to record things better, advising which colours to use when painting, how to make strokes etc.
James Grant, on the top of the book, had written “My guide through Africa.” but after page 36 are what can be termed as insertions of illustrations he was making – the first, a drawing of the upper side body of a black person, probably a Muganda man. After this, there are writings that seem to be summaries of what is in the book and then a disturbing image.
An illustration of a nude black man in another book. It is titled “M’tesa King of Uganda in his throne throom preparing for a blister”.
My first thoughts on this was to wonder whether these first European visitors, Grant and Speke, thought of the people they met as specimen or other natural objects seeing as this quite revealing illustration is right next to paintings of birds. What is more, there are other paintings, illustrations of the King and subjects at his court with comments aside like “bad likeness” “good likeness”. Some comments say “nobody”, meaning that if it wasn’t indicated that this was “M’tesa” then he wasn’t important.
Elsewhere in the book this drawing of a nude Mutees is dressed up, first by by curator and artist Violet Nantume, then by fashion designer Stella Atal. As a Muganda I might have said on seeing this illustration “What were these bloody English men thinking drawing the King nude?” Something that curators Martha Kazungu and, Robinah Nansubuga as well as Buganda deputy minister of tourism Rita Kisitu and a co-worker of hers present in the office sort of said in their reactions to seeing it. The co-worker is quoted in the logbook as wanting to have smashed Andrea’s laptop.
However, I thought about this and reached other conclusions regarding the picture’s potential significance. Muteesa I exposed himself to the whiteman quite literally. And more so in a way he had not done so to many of his subjects. Yet we do not know how exactly the picture was made. Was it drawn from memory maybe? Did Muteesa I not acquiesce to this drawing?
Apropos, there is a double heartedness to how things are valued in the Kingdom. Nudity is looked down on publicly. But ‘privately’ the tabloids are selling, songs with very lewd meanings are very popular. What does the (un)dressing of Muteesa I in pictures in this case mean? Is it the guarding of a public conscience?
In retrospect, one wonders about anthropology especially when you are the subject. Can the anthropologist be looked at as satisfying his own curiosity or as a pawn in a greater game, in this case seeing that they would open doors to a colonial legacy.
In unfixing Muteesa I’s history in this book, there are more than thoughts related to the anthropologist’s though….
As I keep opening the pages, I am met with more likeable bifananyi. Mostly of Muteesa I and what was court life in his rule. There are bifananyi of other Kingdoms’ icons as well – King Kamurasi of Bunyoro, Omukama Chwa II Kabalega, Ntare V. Rugingiza – Ankole’s last warrior King. However more noticeably, there is a journey in time from that photograph’s making to present day.
Case in point: Illustrations note that the Kabaka had been photographed with 11 of his chiefs, later there are photos of Lukiiko’s or Parliamentary sessions of Buganda, one in 1930 and one in 2017 with a much larger group. In the 2017 one the Kabaka is pictured with his wife and other members of Lukiiko.
A lot seems to have changed for Muteesa I’s Buganda.
The logbook gives the book its mind. You get to understand how the journey of unfixing the photo started, what different photos mean. Andrea’s interactions with those close to the photo are described – whether the museum keeping it, or the royal family, or Ugandans who are making interpretations of it.
Twenty two artists were involved in widening and unfixing the photograph’s history: Margaret Nagawa, Violet Nantume, Fred Mutebi, Stella Atal, Piloya Irene, Martha Namutosi, Nathan Omiel, Sanaa Gateja, Timothy Erau, Daudi Karungi, Lwanga Emmanuel, Odama Jacob, Wasswa Donald, Ian Mwesiga, Matt Kayem, Eria (Sane) Nsubuga, Henry Mzili Mujunga, Eva Ddembe, Mukiza, Papa Shabani, Ronex Ahimbisibwe, Fred Ndaula, Migisha Boyd and Canon Griffin.
In their interpretations, Muteesa I takes on many forms, as a mask, a wood carving, a light painting, a photogram, a collage, a dressed up illustration, a drawing, embroidery, digital picture and more. And much more is added, mostly in terms of social or political contexts.
Margaret Nagawa’s English and Luganda poem, for example, is rich. Given a material form on silkscreen print and barkcloth, it questions the idea that Muteesa I’s “identity” is kept in a museum far from home yet he was laid to rest whole. It makes it more curious given that the place where former kings are buried – Kasubi caught fire recently.
“The Kabaka was buried whole.
Or so they say.
How then did parts of his body
End up in a museum in Cambridge, England?
How did his likeness
Enter a museum collection in Tervuren, Belgium?”
There is an interesting way of making pictures that Ian Mwesiga uses in his interpretation. It is called “Tracing with the mind”. In drawing hand-eye coordination always seems to be a key thing. But here it takes on another relevance. Mwesiga fixes his eyes on the subject and draws without shifting his gaze downwards to see what he is doing. It is not until he he feels the picture is finished that he sees what his movements have resulted in. On drawing Muteesa he says
“Because the details of the photo are really not clear I try to be sensitive to light and shadow. I can’t get clear lines of where the eyes, nose and mouth are. What I can see are just blacks and greys. When I’m lost, don’t know anymore where I am on the paper, I look down and the drawing is done.”
I think about this statement and find myself thinking of it as an indictment of Uganda’s history.
It’s as if someone looking down on the 142 years of Uganda is saying
“Because the details of the past are really not clear, I try not to be offensive regarding the darker times and brighter times. I can’t get clarity as to what brought us to this place – was it the colonialist who brought this? Was it the Muganda in the picture? Was it the religious factions coming in? What I can see are just the dark moments in history and the ones we cannot really be sure about (depending on vantage point or side). When I am lost, don’t know anymore where I am as a Ugandan, I look down and the drawing is done.”
That drawing could be the headline that morning.
Odama’s method is different. He invents details. Since the photo is quite blurry in some places, especially where the faces are, he makes it his intention to “make the faces come out”. This creativity brings into the kifananyi faces of more recognisable faces like those of Apollo Kaggwa, Ham Mukasa and Stanislav Mugwanya. And the finished kifananyi is exemplary of a bigger period in history than only the 1875 meeting between Stanley and Muteesa.
Thinking about it, he brings the future and past of Buganda/Uganda into one space, on his paper. Muteesa I still commands those in the future. The Kingdom still stands as he sits in power.
And there is still more to this, it makes me think about identity. Maybe we do invent some details to give meaning to what may be disappearing in our cultures. For example, the dress code has changed several times over the last 142 years. The beloved Gomesi for example, as worn by the Nnabagereka now looks like a long silky ball gown, more circular than square at the bottom. Kwanjula ceremonies are becoming bigger and more extravagant than before. There are changes, new details.
When I came to Violet Nantume’s painting of the King laying astride with a white figure straddling his groin, I gazed for a bit, thought and then burst out laughing at what she was saying. Was this photograph Stanley took masturbatory? Was it ego building? Was it Stanley knowing this would make Muteesa feel powerful? Did Muteesa do a power exposition in the form of a photo and was Stanley the accomplice? I of course can’t say exactly what she was thinking but besides what it might morally bring up in Buganda, it is awkwardly funny.
Henry Mzili Mujunga’s set up which was sabotaged at the exhibition asks difficult questions and leads to still more of them…. Was it vandalised on the basis of cultural morality? Does art offend, do pictures embed themselves on our minds and confront our ideals?
Andrea’s conversation with Eria (Sane) Nsubuga in the book follows this conversation of how provocative art is especially in deconstructing histories. His method was to use newspapers as his media of choice. He goes on to say that “politicians and the media are in bed together. The former get the first pages in order to keep their sway over the masses.” Stultiens and Nsubuga engage about personalities like Anne Frank, contextualising Christianity in Africa and more… It is a very enjoyable part of the book.
Mukiza activates the Kabaka. Meaning he puts a smile on his face, gives him an Oscar in his hands and makes those chiefs behind him iconic characters such as Barbie, Superman, the Pope, Botha and Cecil Rhodes. It’s very noncanonical. After all, the Kabaka never smiles. Perhaps for Mukiza this is the Kingdom in the Kabaka. The adoration of the subjects finally spilling out. The use of characters like the Pope can be an allusion to his role in bringing the religion to his Kingdom. For characters like Barbie, Botha and Rhodes I didn’t quite get it but for Superman, this makes Muteesa I extremely powerful. And so far, the interpretations mostly agree on that point. When you put the Oscar in context though, it simply makes the Kabaka an actor in a big production. A colonial production? A political production?
In line with this Piloya Irene’s set of barkcloth masks bring to mind just one thing, the fact that we really do not know this Kabaka. He is as the Greek stage hypocrites, putting on a persona for the stage. We know nothing more than his Kabakaship. Nothing about his personal details. He is a masked King. One could say the 142 years have made a mask of the Kabaka and his other chiefs. One could, as it is said these barkcloth masks got itchy and uncomfortable to wear quite quickly, ask though “did the Kabakaship get itchy for Muteesa too?”
Finally Boyd Migisha goes a little further into the world of the power of Muteesa I: A very muscular King, wearing a lion’s skin surrounded but an amalgam of different superheroes or warriors. I could recognise Dr. Manhattan, the most powerful man in his world, Indiana Jones, a character that could be Scorpio of Mortal Kombat now holding guns, and the others still have me pondering. Inasmuch as this maybe the outcome of the wildcard among the artists, it presents a kifananyi a larger part of the population in Uganda may be most comfortable with – superheroes, fantasy, modern day elements like mobile phones and more…
And sadly, fantasy is what Muteesa I could end up being without depictions such as this. The most famous depiction of him is one said to be done by Prince Joseph who would have based his drawing based on eyewitnesses who had seen Muteesa. However, this was until recently known by very few – Barbara Kimenye, Prince Joseph’s family, Andrea and her co-workers.
Which brings me back to my first questions…. How do Baganda or Ugandans relate to images? And more importantly, how invested are the Baganda or Ugandans in their own history?
Why this book is titled “…The King Pictured…by many” for me seems to be a desire for a personal catharsis but also an artistic catharsis for Andrea. The photo is kept close to her own home yet belongs to another of her homes and probably needs to be owned by those in the latter. “By many” to me meaning Muteesa I is an icon under appreciated by many.
Many Baganda can tell certain histories, but when it comes to noticing or having heard of this photo by Stanley, cannot relate. This book is an opportunity not just for Baganda but for those connected to this country to think about a visual remnant of a point in time in our collected histories that brings us all together.
 we stick here to the spelling as it was first encountered in Ham Mukasa’s document, but are aware there are very good arguments for Kifaananyi.
The Ebifananyi books, including Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa can be ordered internationally here. From Thursday November 14th they will be available at Afriart Gallery and the Uganda Society (@the Museum) in Kamwokya, Kampala.
Want to read more?
Kabaka Mutesa I, the father of Uganda’s formal education. Article in the New Vision, July 5th 2012
Muteesa’s only known photograph traced to Belgium. Article by Andrew Kaggwa, October 28th 2017 in the Observer, based on the research by Andrea / HIPUganda (with some errors!).
Ugandan artists interpret Muteesa photograph. Another article by Andrew Kaggwa, November 8th 2017 in the Observer, based on the research by Andrea / HIPUganda (with some errors!).