A few months ago, photographer Rudo Nyangulu travelled to Uganda where she was exhibiting her work along with three other Zimbabwean artists at a contemporary art showcase, the inaugural Kampala Art Biennale.
Held under the theme, Progressive Africa, applicants were challenged to present their perceptions of the current and future status of Africa through visual art. The month-long event featured pieces from 13 African countries and among them was Nyangulu’s submission, a series of images titled Siya So, which pays homage to the work done by tradesmen at Siya So, an informal marketplace in Mbare. Her Zimbabwe caught up with the visual artist and here is what she had to say about her work and visit to the east African country.
Vimbai Nyakabau (VN): What did the creative process involve from the call for submissions to sending the finished product to the Biennale?
Rudo Nyangulu (RN): The creative process started by deciding on what I felt best represented progress in Zimbabwe. I settled on studying the men and women working out of Siya So in Mbare and then went out to capture this said progress in action and finally selected the images for the set that I felt were most representative of the spirit of a progressive Zimbabwe.
VN: Did you have specific rules when it came to the process of creating the series?
RN: I didn’t have any specific rules, I just decided to go out to Siya So to see what elements of the marketplace spoke to me the loudest. It was an eye-opening experience as I had not been to Siya So in a long time. The one element that captured my attention the most was the number of women working in the workshops, they are not just selling, but actively making things. I was pleased that one of the chosen images was of a woman working in her apron in a workshop.
VN: With the theme being ‘Progressive Africa’, organisers of the Biennale explained that they anticipated that the event would result in images either for or against this purported progress. From your observation, which direction is your work more slanted towards; for or against?
RN: The work is slanted more towards pro progress which is echoed by the positive and optimistic attitudes of the artists from across the continent who gathered in Kampala at the opening. There was a very positive vibe, even from those whose countries are seemingly not doing well at present; the outlook was of a bright future for Africa.
VN: What would you say were some of the stand out narratives at the exhibition?
RN: There are so many but something I found interesting was the stamp that colonialism had left on the countries represented. Even so many years after liberation, it remains evident in our thinking and in the shaping of our craft as we consider what defines a progressive Africa. Few considered progress without any western influence.
VN: As a female African visual storyteller, which stories do you believe need to be told via the arts?
RN: The stories we need to tell via the arts should be of who we are as a people, our identity; to ensure that our children do not get lost in the global village. We also need to tell the stories that will make a difference. Sometimes, these are the difficult stories of violence, abuse, corruption and a broken people. These essential stories are also of our ‘ubuntu’, our ‘hunhu,’ the goodness of who we really are as a people – our ability to empathise with our neighbour, to mourn together, laugh as well as survive by working together against all odds. As a woman and a mother, I feel the burden to also tell the stories that affect my sex, the positive as well as the negative.
VN: As a whole, what do you take away from attending the Biennale and visiting Uganda?
RN: From the Biennale, I take away a sense of hope and oneness with our extended African family. Many have a strong belief in the brightness of Africa’s future, and this is key to staying on the continent and working hard to see this vision come to pass. As a Zimbabwean, visiting Uganda reminded me of all that does work in Zimbabwe and also how advanced our country is in terms of infrastructure regardless of the setbacks of recent years. Uganda in many ways has a long way to go before it catches up with Zimbabwe and at the same time it has so much to teach us! The Ugandans work and they work hard! Seven days a week and 24 hours a day, work is taking place in Kampala. It is a city that does not sleep, full of innovators who are hustling to make a living through focus and hard work.
The other selected Zimbabwean artists showcasing at the exhibition were Tashinga Matindike Gondo, Danisile Ncube and Nick Monro. All photographs are courtesy Rudo Nyangulu.