Africa First as Biennale brings back studios
6 months ago, 20 Apr 13:50
Even as Kenya hosts Western artists of international stature, so neighbours Uganda seem determined not to be left out.
But while Kampala became the centre of formal art teaching in the region with the setting up of the Margaret Trowell School at Makerere — alumni include Elimo Njau and Eli Kyenune — the Ugandans remain focused on the riches this continent has to offer, rather than on the West — at least geographically if not in stylistic development.
Thus the forthcoming Kampala Biennale, third in the series, is to feature a return to the old tradition of the studio system whereby pupils studied at the feet of renowned artists.
It is how Leonardo learnt his trade (from Andrea del Verrocchio); Michelangelo too (Domenico Ghirlandaio) — in fact all of them, until the idea of the artist as solitary genius became current in the early 19th Century with the birth of Romanticism.
Co-ordinating a return to the studio system is Simon Njami, artistic director of last year’s Dakar Biennale and designated “librettist” for the Kampala festival, which runs from August 24 to September 24.
Born in Lausanne, he is billed as a writer, curator, lecturer, art critic and essayist… clearly a very busy chap.
It was he who proposed a resurrection of the studio system at the heart of the festival with the aim of radiating the transfer of artistic skills from one generation to the next.
To that end, six internationally acknowledged African artists and one European will be based in Kampala for 10 days, between next month and August, mentoring young artists in a range of skills including bookbinding, performance, installation, photography, textiles and film animation, in addition to the more traditional painting, collage and drawing.
The pupils have been chosen by open call, and the invited African masters are Bill Bidjocka (from Cameroon), Godfried Donkor (Ghana/UK), Abdoulaye Konate (Mali), Myriam Mihindou (Gabon), Aida Muluneh (Ethiopia) and Pascale Marthoine (Cameroon).
Odd man out is the watercolourist Radenko Milak from Bosnia Herzegovinia.
A confident director of the biennale, the Afriart Gallery founder Daudi Karungi, commented: “It’s all going very well – we’re pushing forward at a good pace.”
He added that running alongside the studio output and exhibitions an integral part of the biennale will be an education programme to include art workshops for 300 children, seminars on how the arts can build bridges with business and a programme teaching critical art writing.
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