Artist, curator, gallery owner and an art promoter, Daudi Karungi is the Director of the Kampala Biennale. A true art-ivist, he also is the co-founder of START the first art criticism journal in Uganda. As the third edition of the Kampala Biennale (KAB18) approaches, we have asked him a few questions about his singular artistic journey.
Daniel Hewson: How did your passion for the visual arts begin?
Daudi Karungi: When I finished high school, I applied for a Law degree at the government funded University program, but instead I received a placement in the school of industrial and fine arts which was my second choice. I did not resist it and I naturally sailed through 3 years of art school. It is at the art school that my passion for visual arts began.
DH: Can you describe in a few words the current art scene in Kampala?
DK: Kampala is fast becoming the art capital of east Africa with exciting emerging artists, art spaces, international events, a growing local audience as well as international interest where you have curators, collectors, museum directors and other professionals visiting the city.
DH: You are the co-founder of START, the first journal dedicated to art criticism in Uganda. How did this project begin and what role does it play within the east African discourse?
DK: START Journal was began in 2007 to document art activities first in Uganda, East Africa and the rest of the continent. This was necessary because there was not much written about art from this region then. START was also started to act as resource material for when the first modern art museum in Uganda will be established. Since inception START has been running on a voluntary basis with no specific business strategy. In the first 3 years we used to print quarterly issues and these were supported by foreign missions in Uganda. When the internet opened up around 2009, we moved it to our current online platform startjournal.org and since then different editors have been publishing with different schedules. START is the only art journal in Uganda. I guess we are not big on art writing, but that is about to change.
DH: As the Director of the Kampala Biennale can you tell us about the current narratives and relevant issues artists are seeking to address in the 2018 edition (KAB18)?
DK: Artists in Kampala have for a long time been fixated to technique and less on content, but that changed around 2010 when some of them got exposed to art from other African countries and realized that their art can do more than look good, that it can communicate. Since then you have artists addressing issues like religion, identity, global politics and its effects on Africa.
DH: (KAB18) will be utilising the ‘Master’ and ‘Apprentice’ mode of operation*. What is your reasoning behind utilising this choice?
DK: One of the issues affecting artistic growth in Uganda and most of Africa is that art curriculum used in training young artists is dated and Eurocentric. We realize that the practice has morphed and that there is a need to unlearn and relearn. This is why we are using the master – apprentice mode of transmission. A biennale in this part of the world should be a platform for learning and development.
* The seven Masters invited to share their skills with the Apprentices during KAB18 are: Bili Bidjocka, Godfried Donkor, Abdoulaye Konate, Myriam Mihindou, Radenko Milak, Aida Muluneh, and Pascale Marthine Tayou.
DH: Which young artists from Uganda currently inspire you and why?
DK: I like the work of Stacey Gillian Abe because of its multi medium nature (performance, video, sculpture, installation, photography all in one). I like two other artists Ocom Adonias and Arim Andrew. They are both having their maiden solo shows in Kampala this year and I am inspired by their potential (you will see what I mean if you see their work).
DH: The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) has now been open to the public for 7 months. This contemporary art space has proven to be groundbreaking in re-contextualising the African voice to create and generate its own voice of new knowledge production within the geographical mass that is Africa. Would you agree with this? Is there enough representation for narratives and voices from Eastern Africa currently being generated at Zeitz MOCAA?
DK: I disagree with that. I have had a chance to visit the Zeitz Museum and had conversations with its former curator and other assistant curators. I found that the collection besides the original Joachim Zeitz’s collection was majorly sourced from South African galleries and that in itself is problematic. I hope that with the new curator*, we can have a more independent acquisition team that researches and investigates all corners of Africa and find what has not yet been shown and articulate what contemporary African art is according to the findings. *Zeitz Mocaa’s new curator is Azu Nwagbogu.
DH: Narratives for artistic dissemination from East Africa outwards is much needed. I read that it is your dream for Kampala to establish its own modern art museum. How is this being initialized?
DK: A modern art museum in Kampala will happen sooner than later. We have been thinking about this idea for a while now and one of the things we realized was that a museum is not a building but the collection and the program. We are currently in initial stages of setting up the Uganda Art Society (a group of affluent and successful Ugandans) to act as the patrons of this project.
06.06.2018 – Interview by Daniel Hewson – Photos: courtesy Daudi Karungi
More about Daniel Hewson
Daniel Hewson is an educator, writer and artist from Cape Town, South Africa. In 2015 he was the recipient of the Alexander Rave scholarship for young cultural workers from developing nations. This enabled him to assist in preparations for the Weltkulturen Museum’s exhibition, ‘A Labor of Love’. This exhibition was held in Johannesburg in 2017.