Introduction to Kuona Trust and Nairobi was somewhat informal, but occupied by utmost interaction. The open studio tour, observed especially at activity intervals, saw resident artist Catherine’s studio crowded for most in-studio discourse. The warm welcoming opening dinner was arranged in a friendly environment, an Ethiopian restaurant, evoking intensive talk and fun for both the visitors and the hosts. The dinner was spectacular.
Being a rare opportunity for interaction of artists, coordinators and the general public, the activities seemed fresh and enterprising amongst participants. Artists and art administrators prominent within the African artists network took lead in partaking representational and presentational actions for their respective country organizations. Alessio Antoniolli and Amy Walker represented Triangle Arts Trust, UK; Zenzele Chulu represented Insaka Arts Trust, Zambia; Everest Chikawe represented Rafiki Arts Trust, Tanzania; Jacob Jari represented Aftershave, Nigeria; Krishna Luchoomun represented Partage, Mauritius; Kate Tarrat-Cross represented Greatmore Studios, Republic of South Africa; Kwako Boadu-Castro represented Sansa Workshop, Ghana; Reggie Bakwena represented Thapong Visual Art Centre, Botswana; Prof. Hercules Viljoen represented Tulipamwe Workshop, Namibia; Konjit Seyoum represented Abro Workshop, Ethiopia; and Koulla Xinixteris represented Bagfactory, Republic of South Africa and yours faithfully represented Ngoma International Artists, Uganda.
This is where all participants put on show their programmes to the entire assemblage. These evoked interesting discussions with learning points from country activity plans, creative ideas as well as presentation skills. Kuona’s presentation induced free-thinking dialogue, turning around their container-studio spaces, the 2000 books-stocked resource centre, technical workshops, corporate art training and the alternative exhibitions. I for one was inspired by Kuona’ use of unfamiliar avenues to encourage new audiences from the locality of their newly acquired residential complex. Partage’s programmes were a little distinctive. Exclusive remarks were taken from their art in the city project and workshops with the media; all being run in line with the norms of the audiences. In Addition Partage’s income generating gallery – showcasing small items like cards, books and utilities tested the network’s need for self-sustainability possibilities. Thapong’s undertakings looked more or less familiar, but uniquely implemented outstandingly their out of school youth’s program, artist of the year awards, and dream centre. There was also notable curiosity from how they deal with the press to cover their activities – poising interesting conversation. Triangle Arts Trust and Gasworks share premises in London, and so share most programmes. For geographical and cultural reasons, their activities seemed extraordinarily different compared to the African counterparts and so suggested inspiring questions especially on their education programme, artists at work signs, and their tailored talks and seminars. Greatmore presented practically extended projects, which sparked comprehensive discourse throughout the entire presentation especially on their mentoring workshops, peer workshops, and the different studio-different sponsor approach for their studio spaces. Insaka’s only workshop activity seemed customary, but their working relationships with the government – national council of art and culture, and big partners like Hivos (directly) posed considerable challenge to the assembly. In addition to the traditional workshop activity, Tulipamwe’s meetings with stakeholders and local authority involvement gave a new sense of innovation towards audience development; areas that Triangle has been spearheading in the recent years. Their community empowerment project displayed success in working with community as well as keeping a close relationship. Sansa and Aftershave displayed different but analogous programmes. From a geographical point of view they displayed common queries in continuity and self-sustainability but success in public and government involvement. My presentation for Ngoma provided an opportunity to gather, prepare and present to a wider audience testing my presentation and communication skills, from information gathering, preparation to presentation. Feedback from my audience suggested that my presentation could be improved by talking more about the local art scene and showing more images of exhibitions, artists’ projects and art from Uganda.
The panel discussion:
This was an open discussion of selected partners (on the panel) of Triangle in Africa together with the audience on the activities of Triangle and its role in the development of contemporary art practice in Africa. Moderated by Alessio Antoniolli (Director of Triangle Arts Trust) it delineated some of the faltering barriers and the solutions adopted by the various colleagues within the network. Attention-grabbing debate was based on the artists’ ability to portray content rather than technique – questioning about how a scene develops into an industry and suggestive of the development of a local language – tangible bonds between an artist and society. Artists are meant to believe that an artistic form is a language – a way of communication.
So it was a focused discussion that highlighted the strengths and challenges of developing activities in Africa and ended up being very informative.
Exhibition curated by Kuona, showcased a selection of work by artists who, over the years, have taken part and contributed to Triangle projects in Africa. The exhibition brought together work from several African countries, showing the diversity of practice but also the commonalities within the continent. Artists from 11 countries took part.
The exhibition resulted into ‘Smarties and Fluffy Bunnies’, a very exiting full-page article in the weekly newspaper, The East African written by Frank Whalley. (http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/magazine/-/434746/679888/-/15ja3pwz/-/in…). This was a very critical piece about the exhibition, which evoked equally analytical dialogue among the participants – actually expressing their own feelings towards the exhibition.
The following are extracts from email conversions amongst some of the participants to reveal the in-depth dialogue.
‘I have read the article and while he acknowledges that the exhibition is not the strongest one, he seems to understand that what we wanted to present is a snapshot of different ways of understanding and expressing the connections with Triangle.’ Alessio wrote.
‘Anyway, it sounds a little hash but that’s characteristic of critical writing. Much as we artists wish for positive critique about our creations, they too tend to get critical and critical by digging negative and negative. So we as artists should understand this.’I wrote.
‘I think if the writer had actually participated in some of the discussions and not just sneaked in to see the show out of context and not come to the panel discussion he may have been fairer.’Danda wrote.
‘I think the work is probably a result of losing the focus of experimenting in workshops and replacing it with the pressure of having to create good quality tangible work so as to be able to mount a good exhibition.’ Thom Ogonga wrote.
I wouldn’t let it bother me so much. Honestly. I think it all boils down to one imagining writing a great fascinating story about the exhibition and all. Maybe the art just doesn’t do it for him…. I think and feel that the article is just geographically orgasmic (metaphorically) but the writing is by me the opinion of the writer.’ Soi wrote.
‘Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.’
‘It is quite easy to get approval if we ask enough people, or if we ask those who are likely to tell us what we want to hear.’
‘The likelihood is that they will say nice things rather than be critical. Also, we tend to edit out the bad so that we hear only what we want to hear. So if you have produced a pleasantly acceptable piece of work, you will have proved to yourself that it’s good simply because others have said so. It is probably ok. But then it is probably not great either. If instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘hat’s wrong with it? How can I make it better? You are more likely to get a truthful critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea.’ The Famous Designer Paul Arden (saatchi and saatchi) said
For Kuona who hosted the exhibition it was an opportunity to show to the Kenyan audience how great the network is. However the exhibits seemed so contentious that they took the show beyond just this.
The meeting discussed plans and strategies for strengthening collaboration across the Triangle network as a means of developing new forms of sustainability for each partner and for grass-root activities. The meeting introduced Triangle’s Knowledge Sharing Programme as a scheme for supporting the development of local knowledge while fostering international connections.
There was significant involvement of local artists, students, and the general public as well as recorded involvement of the media, which observed the event’s objectives. Some breath-taking experiences of traveling artists through immigration procedures to artistic exchange activities – workshops, residencies, symposia were depicted in an array of artworks touching the public for meaningful intervention. The displayed exhibits and informal interviews from participating artists revealed technique-medium experimentations rather than content explorations complying with burning issues of the panel discussion an indicator of the significance of the interlinked activities of the conference.
Grant Year : 2009
The four-day convention organized in Nairobi by Kuona Trust in collaboration with the Triangle Arts Trust was generally an event of interactions between artists, their partners and the wider audience. Main activities included country presentations, and a panel discussion, a closed-door meeting and an exhibition of artwork from across the African artists network. Participants came from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The main objectives of the event were; to strengthen network support for the arts across Africa, to develop a critical dialogue that looks at the development and sustainability of artists’ initiatives within the continent and to develop cultural exchange activities and share knowledge. These were affirmative to a considerable extent.
Type of Project
Departure : Kampala, Uganda (East Africa)
Destination : Nairobi, Kenya (Est AFrica)