Photographs of public transport in Uganda are rather rare in the collections digitised by HIPUganda. There’s the photographs that are still on display at the railway station in Kampala, a rare bus as a backdrop for supposed smugglers. Pictures of Kampala town that include historical cars, such as this or this one, are just about the most liked and commented upon among the ones we shared. None of these more or less obvious examples seem to relate to the current state of affairs, while photographs of a colonial in a hammock, a chief in a hand-pulled carriage or a young Kabaka on a horse may be precursors of the present day VIP convoys.
HIPUganda’s R. Canon Griffin, publishing as Urban Unkindness, currently exhibits pictures made as part of a long term commitment to observing texts on public transport vehicles at the Goethe Institute in Kampala. The East African published an article in relation to the show. We expand on that publication here with unabridged replies to the questions asked by Bamuturaki Musinguzi, the author of the article.
The title ‘Your Heart Ho’ is a word play, between straight up going for “YOUR HEART AHOY!” and going for the middle ground, playing with “Ahoy!” – the cry of carriage men, and “Hoe” – a camaraderie thing between “hookers”. The words on the taxi or car or bodaboda or t-shirt are trying to hook you into the story or ideology of whoever had them inscribed there. They are asking you to go to Kawempe Maganjo Kagoma, but the words are asking to go to your heart. Whether it’s “Kun FayaKun” or “Ave Maria” or “Bitokote Again” …
These texts as a form of art are very important. Some class of Ugandans are dismissive of it, i guess it’s due to desensitisation by repeated exposure or that misled feeling of taking Taxi, Boda, and Truck people to have nothing important to say … But a long look at it, gives insight into the social structure of owners and operators of these public transport means, and how some expect to be seen. It also says a lot about the political inclinations of the “average Ugandan”. Those who might love Gaddafi, see Osama bin Laden as a martyr, the hardworking who love Jose Chameleone, Idi Amin is pretty popular, H. E Museveni, Rwigyema, Aronda Nyakairima, KONY, Bob Marley, Pablo Escobar, The Kabaka and ba Ssekabaka, Cobra, Salim Saleh, Muhoozi, Mandela … these are very moving figures for most. Religion is key too, “Rizik Teweta Koona” “Katonda yagaba/yagera” … Politics/Warfare, “people’s armed struggle” “Tuli Majje” “Wazalendo” “Lordi Lordi” “Big is Big” … Tradition/Culture, “balimuta jjo” … the struggle to make a living, “Omwaavu ayagalwa Nyina” “Mr. Economy” “School Fees” “Welfare” … and Nostalgia for school, with a sense of betrayal from the education system, all these and more are best expressed here … not forgetting ‘kamikaze’ youth or midlife culture of speeding and going gaga for SC Villa Joogo or Express FC or this biker/taxi gang/association … luckily, i am in it for the artistic value and i naturally don’t snitch, but it would actually be scary what mindscape you can project onto most of these friends based on this “road heraldry”.
People want to express themselves. To assert their identity and beliefs, to reach out and convert disciples, … to educate … to alert others to ‘what’s out there’ … others are just trying to camouflage with a marijuana sticker but know nothing about where the marijuana usage rabbit hole leads … to have something written there so the taxi looks like a taxi … some are sending pleas out to that that it is that we call God … some are actually sending signals that they can’t be messed with … and true, in the transport industry, we have the most dangerous good men or naive bad men or an average of it, some are showing off their powerful affiliates, and some are reminding you ‘Nothing is what it seems’.
Lots of these messages work on a subliminal level, people notice them but are not consciously aware they are being primed to accept reality in a certain way. It also gives people hope, to band up and follow some idolised figure than confront the reality of a free individual man roaming this strange or too familiar world we inhabit. Ultimately, one wants to say, “I am here, I am alive, I was here, and this is what i stood for.”
I had no big hopes of a material exhibition of the photos, because i do what i do for the reasons i do it, but then out the blue Goethe Zentrum Kampala had a call for a small projects grant, and i was like voila!
Even though i ended up footing most of the bill, (Thank you all my people with means who empower me with resources to do what i can do in this human endeavour), Goethe’s help and stimulation is immeasurable! Besides, they have availed me a platform, expanded an exchange, and thus have given a chance to cultural exchange. I am still working on it. I am in it for me. But for now, You have Goethe Zentrum Kampala to thank if you hadn’t been following my Facebook page “UrbanUnkindness” where i publish these things so any pastor, master, reverend, doctor, father, conductor, sister, hajj, mechanic or slay queen can ‘kukebera ri-search’ – ‘vet the research’ in other words behold the art and pay more reverence to each other on the road.
The future is bulletproof. The future is full of new things. Let not King Solomon/Sulaiman and his cryptic words daunt you that nothing is new under the sun on the face of the earth … today i saw a taxi written on “Mr. Economy” and, hell! that’s fascinating! I am me.
Like they say, the beautiful are not yet born and more uglier fun ones of us are here and on the way too, so, Dontcha!? Don’t you wanna see what tomorrow brings!? Jump into the fog! TRY ME.
Do you have or make photographs that in one way or another relate Uganda’s past to its present? We’d be happy to share them. Contact us with an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a message on Facebook.