Please note, this blog-post is a continuation of the previous one in which we featured artists who contributed to the exhibition. Just like we did leading up towards the exhibitions. Here too, we share thoughts on the unfolding of events around the interpretations made of a photograph of Ssekabaka Muteesa, made by H.M. Stanley in 1875.
R. Canon Griffin looks back, seizes the day, and predict the future, using phrases in Greek, Korean, and (mirrored) Dutch in his contribution to Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa. In his own words:
“A photograph attempts to preserve something long gone. The appearance of a moment or a time, stored outside people’s heads. We are locked out of any time except the present. Almost nothing in the photo matters except that that amazing king once was, and is remembered, photo or no photo!“
Above: still life on Nasser Road, Kampala’s printing district. With Buganda maps/posters featuring Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa.
Kingdoms expanded and declined. Wars were fought, victories were celebrated, defeats were taken, and lives were lost.
During some royal reigns things were not that simple though.
Imagine not only being threatened by those you knew and have dealt with, fought, in times that evolved gradually. But in stead, over a matter of decades, receiving visitors from different sides, bringing different religions, different agendas.
And keep your ground.
Below: Lwanga Emmanuel reveals his Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa.
In the ongoing exhibition at Makerere University Art Gallery there is a film on a tablet next to Boyd Migisha (B40deep)‘s impressive welcome to the show. The film is based on footage shot by Canon Griffin and me on August 1st 2016.
The prehistory to the film started when I expressed a wish to remake Henry Morton Stanley’s photograph of Ssekabaka Muteesa in conversations with Ritah Namyalo Kisitu. Mrs. Kisitu is the Minister of State for Tourism of the Buganda Kingdom. She found the thought interesting, but initially did not see options.
Then late in the evening of Sunday August 31st I received a phone call. It was Mrs. Kisitu, telling me that ‘the Kabaka had agreed’ to have a photograph made at the Lukiiko, and that I should be at Bulange by 9am.
I have no idea where I got the idea, but in my mind there would be a rather intimate setting. Me with my camera, the members of the Cabinet and the Kabaka. Ideally the group would pose on the steps of the Bulange. I would be having the opportunity to carefully position the ministers who, at some moment between 1875 and now came, literally, into the picture when it comes to governing the Kingdom. But not being sure of what was going to happen I did ask Canon to join me. If only to document how things would turn out.
When I met the Kabaka’s entourage while approaching the Lubiri I understood that the reality was different from what I had envisioned. Next to the entrance of the Bulange was a huge screen that showed the Parliament room, with Muteesa’s portrait towering of the Kabaka’s throne. Drummers were setting up on two sides of the entrance. Traditional dancers were getting ready to move. Journalists were gathering behind a red rope. A crowd was growing.
I was told that I was not allowed to go beyond the rope. But Canon was allowed to enter the building and make photographs and film from up there. This way we would be ‘shooting’ both each other, as well as the Kabaka. We agreed quickly that we would film as much as possible, and would start making photographs the moment the Kabaka would come out.
The moment was brief and slightly chaotic.
A couple of weeks later I met Mrs. Kisitu again. When I showed her the film and photographs we made she said that our shots were the best once she had seen, and that she (also) felt the moment had not been well orchestrated. Just when everyone was in place the Kabaka’s daughter came out and distracted the ministers.
I mentioned that the scene nevertheless had looked so natural, as if it was a standard procedure and part of the ceremony. Mrs. Kisitu however stressed that this was not the case, and that the moment had been created in response to my request.
She also pointed out there were several people up on the steps who should not have been there. The soldiers, and the man in the suit, and then that other one… I removed them as far as possible. I did not manage to get rid of all the people making photographs with their phones. And the princess is there, distracting. Nevertheless, this is, I guess, the remake I wanted to make:
Today Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa had the honour and pleasure to receive Hon. Sylvia Mazzi, the Buganda Minister of State for Research. She toured the exhibition with Prof. George Kyeyune, who is posing with her in the photograph above in front of the joint work by Martha Namutosi and Piloya Irene.
The Minister liked the show and said that she would invite other people from the Kingdom to come, which is of course music to our ears.
But she also had some criticism. One of the points she made was on the way we spelled the late Kabaka’s name on our poster; with one e that is mirrored. The Kabaka’s name, she said, can not be altered under any circumstance.
The thing is, the various spellings of Muteesa’s name is something we have been grappling with, wondering what to do. Should we stick to the spelling that H.M. Stanley used? This exhibition is, after all, based on a photograph he made, and he spoke of Mtesa. Or should we go with more contemporary ways of spelling his name? Then it would be Mutesa if we would go for what is used mostly internationally, and for Muteesa if we would follow the Kingdom’s communication.
By the time the first Europeans visited Buganda, there was Arabic reading and writing at the court, brought in by traders from the coast. But we have not heard whether and how Muteesa’s name was written and spelled in Arabic. And even if we had heard of it, the notation system would not have allowed us, non-Arabic readers, to make sense of it and compare it to the different spellings that emerged from the visiting European guests. They spoke of Mtesa, M’tesa, and Mutesa, more or less in that chronological order. The writers of these text were not scholars of Luganda. It seems that none of them understood the subtleties of the longer and shorter pronunciation of the vowels, which leeds to Muteesa (and also, as the minister was kind enough to point out, to Ekifaananyi).
The mirrored e in our poster design is actually a reference to these different spellings that, despite the Kingdom’s efforts to a uniformity that does justice to the language, prevails in the (online) world. The design makes it apparent that there is an issue with the spelling of the name without making a choice for one version or the other.