Established by the Kampala Arts Trust in 2014, the Kampala Art Biennale has proved an important platform for exchange and growth within the local context of Kampala and beyond. The Biennale seeks to address issues of inclusion faced by artists on the continent, whilst channeling a healthy conversation around the complexities of day-to-day life within the ever-growing city of Kampala. Élise Atangana, the Artistic Director for this year’s edition, speaks about the curatorial framework for this edition, entitled ‘Seven Hills.’
‘Seven Hills,’ the theme for the second iteration of the Kampala Biennale is inspired by the Buganda Kingdom; now Kampala. This city was originally built on seven hills, as were the cities of Rome; Lisbon; Athens; and Yaoundé, among others. In this light, the project extends beyond the city itself, acknowledging the various histories and connections between them. As the invited curator for the second edition of the Kampala Biennale, I’m interested in mobility and transformation. Since its origin Kampala has grown to encompass twenty-one hills. This expansion has been reciprocated in almost every sphere of the city, and can be read through a multitude of historical and political narratives, as well as the mythical and traditional values still prevalent in contemporary culture. What is less clear is how this expansion affects the city dwellers – their ways of thinking, inhabiting, and functioning within this constant state of flux.
The biennale provides an invitation to those that visit and inhabit the city to engage a wide-range of voices in a temporal experience from past, present and future. The biennale is a multi-disciplinary and experimental proposition with thirty participating artists from different parts of the world. Exhibitions will showcase painting; photography; sculpture; film; multimedia installation; sound; digital art; performance, collaborative projects and poetry. The selected emerging and international artists have been invited to a one month residency. During this period they will produce a variety of site-specific projects. Each artist will interact within the context of one of the fastest growing cities in East Africa. I was also interested, through an open call, to engage art practitioners to a critical response on the notion of virtual mobilities. As Monika Büscher and John Urry European Journal of Social Theory (2009) point out, virtual travel – often in realtime – “enables presence and action at a distance, transcending geographical and social distance.”
‘Seven Hills’ is an organic project on ‘mobility futures,’ which interact with contemporary art practices. The frame of a mobile laboratory is the more appropriate method for this satellite, longterm research focus. Exploring a variety of artistic language, experimentation and marginal territories, our focus aims to create a space for dialogue and collective thinking on multiple levels around aesthetics, experiences, critical discourses and perspectives linked to (im)mobilities and the (non)movements of people, objects, and services in both physical and virtual space.
The project would like to be part of a conversation through art processes and platforms about the main mutations that occur within the mobility paradigm, but on a smaller scale, within a specific context. This will avoid any generalisation of a phenomenon that concerns everyone, individually and collectively. A plural perspective can open up a dialogue at different levels and bring a critical debate that could resonate at the same time locally and globally.
The Kampala Biennale will run from the 03 September until the 02 October 2016. This article was first published in the September 2016 edition of ART AFRICA magazine, entitled ‘Beyond Fair.’