Event    08th Oct, 2018

Art has a role to play in Democracy building, so what next?

Artists, academia and policy makers gathered for the inaugural art and popular culture for citizens’ voice and agency Exhibition and symposium at Makerere to commemorate the World democracy month of September. The day filled with live performances from various Ugandan artists sought to explore how art and popular culture can be leveraged to promote democratic values that resonate with the every day life of Ugandans. To fully appreciate the role of fine art, art that depicts Uganda’s tumultuous past were showcased in an exhibition supported by the Makerere Art Gallery.

by Winnie Watera

Artists, academia and policy makers gathered for the inaugural art and popular culture for citizens’ voice and agency Exhibition and symposium at Makerere to commemorate the World democracy month of September. The day filled with live performances from various Ugandan artists sought to explore how art and popular culture can be leveraged to promote democratic values that resonate with the every day life of Ugandans. To fully appreciate the role of fine art, art that depicts Uganda’s tumultuous past were showcased in an exhibition supported by the Makerere Art Gallery. Ms. Mukyala Hasifa explained the metaphorical meanings of many of the art pieces to the attending participants and encouraged them to deduce the other meanings hidden within.

Throughout the day different speakers elucidated on what art and democracy means for Uganda; Mr. Kitamirike Emmanuel the Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute expressed concern about the preconceived idea that democracy is a notion of the west imposed on Africans by collaborators of the west. He argued that most of the democratic principles are values that Africans had cherished since time immemorial. He added that art can be a creative tool to advocate for citizens voice and agency as opposed to the monotonous workshop-based model which alienates many young people who are not conversant with the formal spaces.

Professor Kizito Maria, the Dean of the Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Art at Makerere University elucidated on the role of art in fostering democracy and social justice in the post-colonial era. He cautioned artists on their role in a democratic society which can either be positive or negative. Professor Kizito termed the current situation in Uganda as being “politically at cross roads,” and sent a rallying call to all Ugandans to perform their duties as citizens to uphold peace and social justice.

Professor Nawangwe’s speech lauded the work of the different partners in convening the exhibition and symposium. He encouraged the partners to create a well substantiated, critical and solid analysis of the usefulness of art in a country’s development. Hon. Mbayo’s speech echoed the Professor Nawangwe’s speech when she encouraged Ugandans to use art to speak about the ills in society and use it to unite the masses as well.

The panel session moderated by Ms. Kirungi Brenda Lynn among other things explained the nexus between main stream civil society work and the work of artists in a democracy. Ms. Harriet Anena asserted that the two only deviate in their implementation methods but are one in the same in their work they advocate for. The other panelists commented on the censorship of fellow artists by the government and its adverse effect on the craft. Mr. Andrew Karamagi evoked Article 17 of the Constitution which states that all Ugandans have a duty to participate in public affairs and asserted that the government’s neither legitimate nor legal. Dr. Justine Nabaggala a senior lecturer of performing arts at Kyambogo University encouraged artists to use their craft for social, cultural political and economic democracy. Mr. Ahmed Hadji argued that while empirical evidence of the extent to which art has influenced democratic decisions is lacking, several experiences had demonstrated the potential impact of organized artistic efforts.

The art and popular culture for citizens’ voice and agency Exhibition and symposium programme was fused with different performances by dancers, poets, comedians, singers, among others. A comedy skit performed by omukebette son of Mama Muke hinted on the public-school system in Uganda and the dangers of an uneducated population, Fixon and Symo Rapper performed a song called “downtown” which gives insights into the struggle of young Ugandans trying to make a living despite the harsh conditions and insensitivity of the city authorities and Wake the Poet performed a poem titled 256 which appreciates Uganda as a beautiful country that is prone to destruction by both foreign and internal forces among others.

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