UNDER GROUND Contemporary Art and blaxTARLINES Kumasi, KNUST / Joint Research Programme July 2021.
Coordinated by Nantume Violet and Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu
Redclay Studio, Tamale. Students from a local school on an institutional tour. 2021. Image courtesy of Redclay Studio and SCCA Tamale, Ghana
Ghana is a country is heralding new perspectives in art on the African continent. Between 2nd July and 16th July 2021, twelve artists from Uganda will visit art institutions in Accra, Cape-Coast, Kumasi and Tamale for the period of 14 days. The joint research/study programme will engage in studio – workshop and gallery visits, artist’s talks and seminars. The program gives space for participants to presentations their works and artistic practices and will engage in panel discussions with MFA and PhD students from KNUST.
Invited by the blaxTARLINES Kumasi Department of Painting and Sculpture at KNUST, Uganda’s artists, scholars and cultural practitioners will get first hand insights into the artistic discourses and work processes of artists from key art spaces in Ghana. In response to intensify south to south networks and collaborations, this will be an introductory meeting and hopes to deliver grounds for collaborations by initiating institutional contact to establish a framework for the movement of artists between Uganda and Ghana.
“Abaana ba Kintu…” (The Children of Kintu…)
An installation by Nakitende Sheila
Project by UNDER GROUND Contemporary Art
Projected time: Nov 2021 – Feb 2022
Artist: Nakitende Sheila
Project Curator: Nantume Violet
Exhibition Curator: Helga Rainer
In this installation, Nakitende Sheila is working with barkcloth (Lubugo), which is not only thought to be the most ancient textile made by humanity but also possesses a significant cultural value among the Baganda people of Central Uganda.
This important cultural significance and being a prerequisite of weaving led to the artisanal production process of bark cloth being declared a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO in 2005 and added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2008.
Among the Baganda it was customary for every homestead to have at least one Mutuba tree, (Ficus natalensis or the natal fig), from which bark fleeces may be harvested. But the benefits didn’t stop at making bio-fabric; in African traditional medicine, all parts of the tree are applied against a variety of ailments; its fruits are edible and the leaves are used for animal fodder. The trees can be used as live fences, providing shade for crops and with their high water retaining roots and regenerative soil quality, Mutuba trees support sustainable farming.
Okukomaga refers to the practice of crafting this permanently renewable bark from Mutuba without having to fell the fig tree. To allow the bark to regenerate, the exposed trunk is carefully wrapped with banana fibre. Mutuba trees may be harvested annually for over 40 years and are capable of producing up to 200 square metres of cloth.
This 600 year-old practice of Lubugo-making requires the sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark to be hand-beaten which gradually expands its size. This practice of Kukomaga is passed down through the generations and Nakitende Sheila learned that her grandfather, who passed away when she was five, had crafted barkcloth as a hobby.
Informed by her ancestors, the need to engage with traditional technology and using her knowledge of hand paper crafting, Nakitende began her creative and evolutionary journey to create a new material from this ancient practice, creating unique hand-made ‘barkcloth paper’.
“Abaana ba Kintu…” is an artistic intervention by Nakitende Sheila. The artist has innovated, through techniques of deconstruction and reconstruction of the fibre to create a new purpose for barkcloth. Originally perceived as a marker for social and cultural traditions (and resistance), Nakitende has advanced the cloth into a new material, informing her contemporary artistic practice.
Through this process of transformation, Nakitende explores healing, nurturing and meditation whilst reactivating hand-crafting techniques like paper making, weaving and stitching. This slow handmade process further reconnects with deep values of community-making practices, juxtaposed against the isolating, fast-paced lives of rapid urbanization, which is shifting living and shared spaces (architectural placements), in the social fabric of Ugandan society. Ultimately, Nakitende is commenting on the human condition and its environment through an interrogation of material culture.
“Abaana ba Kintu…” will evoke critical discussions around the artist’s processes of expression through various presentations including installations, film and written text. There will be talks and participatory programs, as well as an exhibition curated by Helga Rainer, which will be held in Kampala/Uganda, Kumasi/Ghana and Berlin/Germany. The project will culminate in a published art book, with commissioned texts from academic and art writers, sharing artwork images, processes and installation/exhibition iterations.