On The Arts in East Africa

On Facebook we recently started an album with imagery from ROHO, the second edition of a magazine about the arts in East Africa from 1962. This image is with the editorial, written by Jonathan Kingdon:

‘The artists’ most valuable contribution to this age lies in giving knowledge of reality through his intuition-being direct. For among us are many whose life may be likened to passengers on board ship. Their “life in transit” started with the intrusion of other worlds and other ways. Acquaintance has characterized people’s relationships and an immature culture has grown where the excitement of intercourse degenerates as both destination and embarkation point recede ever further from sight.n It is painful to see the exhibition of lifeless junk that is supposed to give us ‘character’. Luxury hotels, political leaders, advertisers, local monarchs and the tourist caterers all fall back on the tawdry flotsam of shields, spears, fly switches and so on. This is to instance only one aspect of a failure to seize the immediate, another is a sort of blind import mania. Both display reactionary behaviour. Compare the beautiful Nandi shields […] with any of a dozen pamphlet covers and it may be seen how art subverted for other ends is deprived of all vitality.

There are artists here. When they are a part of society when they are asked to work for society, for what they say in images rather than where their art goes, or what it does, then our culture will be maturing.’

Reading this, it seemed that I should share it and make it a possible starting point for discussion. in a time when the customs of the Ugandan run galleries seem to (still?) mostly be expats and visitors to the country. There are many ambitious Ugandan artists but the editor of StART journal is European, just like the curator of Makerere art gallery, the people behind 32 degrees East, and me, the initiator of HIPUganda.

Where are the arts in East Africa now? Are they still part of something that could be called an immature culture, or has it matured in the last 50 years? Is culture a luxury good? Isn’t culture just there? Isn’t it just the patterns and the objects that are part of our living together? And art (as we understand it now), isn’t that then something that reflects on culture? Is art (or culture) something that needs an outsiders view to be validated? Just a few questions to juggle with…

(When googling J.S. Kingdon I only found references to publications about East African mammals… )


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