Daudi Karungi is an artist, publisher, gallerist and Director of the Kampala Art Biennale. As a founding member of the Kampala Arts Trust and one of the city’s leading voices, ART AFRICA asks for his insights into the Biennale and questions the importance of such events within the growing community of arts practitioners in Uganda.
ART AFRICA: Since you entered the Ugandan arts scene in 2001 you’ve played an instrumental role in developing a healthy ecosystem of artistic networks; from START, Afriart Gallery, the Kampala Arts Trust and in 2014, the Kampala Biennale. What insights can you give us into the growth of this arts sector over the past decade?
Daudi Karungi: The growth of this arts sector stems from absence. This is not unique to Uganda. In 2001, there was nothing in terms of art awareness that would involve artists appealing to quality exhibitions, informed audiences and relevant events. There was a looming need to make that happen, whether by myself or anybody else. I soon realized that in order to build an ecosystem that is sustainable, the art cycle needs to be created. This cycle is an industry. To have art, there must be artists, gallery spaces, dealers, museums, critical writers, auctions and international art events that shine a light on that particular space.
I decided to contribute by dedicating my time to the realisation of each one of these. Some I did myself, like the Afriart Gallery. Other parts of this cycle such as nurturing and providing workspace to artists are covered by other institutions like 32° East and Makerere University. Events like the Kampala Art Biennale are collaborations with all art spaces in Kampala. We are still struggling with the critical writing, but it is something we are tackling and that we will surely overcome. In my lifetime I hope to see that artists from Africa are equally represented as those from the rest of the world. Now that the art world is looking at Africa, there is a constant stream of brilliant artistic activity popping up in East Africa and on the continent on a daily basis.
As a relatively new initiative, what are some of the challenges you face?
When we started the Biennale in 2014, the biggest challenge was professionalism, because in Uganda we did not have professionals to organise the Biennale. But we successfully managed with what we had. In order to get a professional team it required looking for the right funding, which was challenging. The other challenge, which can be interpreted as an advantage, is a lack of proper contemporary art exhibition spaces. And of course the appreciation for local art and involvement, which is limited but steadily growing each year.
How does this year’s theme ‘Seven Hills’ situate itself in relation to the previous 2014 theme ‘Progressive Africa’?
In 2014, we wanted to have a theme that was limitless and could attract all kinds of artists from the continent to respond. At the time, the continental conversation was about the progress of Africa; economically, culturally, and socially. When we invited Elise Atangana to curate the 2016 edition, she proposed the theme ‘Seven Hills’ which is at once specific to Kampala (known as the City of Seven Hills), but raises the issue of ‘Virtual Mobilities’, which shows how Kampala relates to the rest of the world. There is no longer a need to claim the progressiveness of Africa. It is a fact that takes place in various forms and in different places. From the broad topic of Africa in 2014, we now move towards a focus on a local context, like a case study, looking at the same issues of mobility amongst societies, economics and politics.
The Biennale will run for the course of a month. Please can you tell us more about the programme, and the various areas of engagement?
There is a main exhibition which has three segments. One component is artists-inresidence who, over the course of a month, produce artwork in situ. They will also participate in workshops with different groups of people around Kampala, like University students. Secondly, the artists selected from the ‘Virtual Mobilities’ open call, and third, an international video focus. We also have the talks programme and a primary school art challenge involving twenty-five local Kampala schools.
A large emphasis has been placed on the need to create visibility or access to the arts through mainstream media, social and digital platforms. Why do you think artists from this region struggle to get their work noticed, and how do you feel the Biennale might change this going forward?
I believe that in this digital age, the whole art landscape has changed. Every day, artists in Africa continue to share their work with the world. Therefore, technological innovation has created alignment in terms of visibility and opportunity. Now you can see Africabased artists in the media, art fairs and Biennales all over the world. Kampala Biennale is an addition to this equilibrium, because as much as virtual promotion of artists is necessary, the physical movements and encounters of artists and artworks are essential. The professional opening week of Kampala Biennale acts as a rendez-vous for artists and professionals to exchange and strengthen networks on the continent and internationally. It does not end with this but in fact becomes a moment that creates the next art project.
This interview was first published in the September 2016 edition of ART AFRICA magazine, titled ‘BEYOND FAIR.’