Writing Art History Since 2002

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ARTsouthAFRICA 13.1 is the ‘Interview Issue.’ In it, we engage in conversation with a number of carefully selected artists, curators, writers and organisations who we know are truly committed to transformation, to changing perceptions about contemporary African art practice, and promoting the integration of communities that might otherwise not be exposed to the wealth of talent from the continent and the ways in which art can change lives. We published a number of excerpts and now present the full interview with Daudi Karungi, artist and artistic director of the Kampala Art Biennale.

daudi profile web
Image courtesy of the artist.
Is there such a thing as ‘African art’ and does the label “African Art” enable or limit artists from the continent? What qualifies an artist to call himself or herself an ‘African artist?’ Are the issues of labels and identity still valid?

Yes there is African art. This is art that was primarily produced before the advent of colonialism and, in my view, this ‘African Art’ is the birth of modern art. The label ‘African art’ is limiting to the artists mainly because of the economic interpretations. In the strictest sense, an African artist is one born on the African continent, irrespective of where they are practicing their art. Labels and identities are still valid because they help us to organise human thought and facilitate research, however they have been abused in order to patronise artists from Africa.

There is a perception amongst some on the continent that South African contemporary art is more ‘Western’ than ‘African’. How do we bridge the divide geographically and culturally, between the north and the south?

Of course, this perception is expected because modern Western art borrowed heavily from the African art I mention above. As to how to bridge the divide, continental art exhibitions like Kampala Art Biennale will encourage exchange and inter-cultural influences.

Is a new trans national ‘African art dialogue’ needed to foreground the various conversations, challenges and successes from other African centres of culture and thinking?

Yes it is needed. As a matter of fact, Kampala Arts Trust in Uganda is organising a regional art symposium in 2015 to address the same need for conversation.

If Africa can leave behind its idea of Africa as a geography, or as a post colonial reaction, or as being defined by blackness, can it then be defined rather as a new dynamic energy?

The fact is that Africa, as a continent, is a geographical location. However, its population is dynamic and global due to the influence of technology and information accessibility. This, in a sense, means that we can now combat neo-colonialism more effectively and define a ‘new’ Africa.

There is a new generation of Africans whose minds are not shackled by a past of oppression or power dynamics. How do we engage and inspire them to embrace art and culture? 

We have to build institutions like museums and resource centres that can inform the new generation of the history of our art and culture so that they can then embrace and build upon it. As they say “art is built on art”.

How can we avoid bad historical precedents and pigeonholing from framing our future discourse? 

We should ignore detractors, especially the ‘so-called’ art and culture institutions from the developed world, that claim to develop/promote African art and its artists without any knowledge of Africa and its artists.

What new stories of identity are revealed for this Africa through its art?

The emergence of new African curators, collectors and biennales.

What is African art when it is no longer called African art?


As Africa emerges, transforms and gains energy, what will African contemporary art represent?

African contemporary art will continue to represent the social, economic and political aspects of society.

What are the deepest provocations that art should pose for Africa today? And how do you think these will influence Africa 15 years from now?

The main provocations are in politics (wars, corruption and dictatorships), and art should continuously interrogate these so that, 15 years from now, African politicians would have changed their ways.

Daudi Karungi’s work has been collected widely in Denmark, UK, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, and numerous private collectors. In 2007, he co-founded START, a journal of arts and culture criticism. He is a founding member of the Kampala Arts Trust and started the first Kampala Art Biennale in 2014.

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