By Kefa Senoga
As Uganda Christian University (UCU) celebrates its silver jubilee this year, the Fine Art Department under the Faculty of Engineering, Design and Technology seeks to connect young people to antiquity through art.
Through a protracted project dubbed “Tudda Nyuma,” a Luganda expression meaning moving backward, the Department seeks to connect young exhibitors and art lovers with cultural heritage. This connection has added relevance in 2022 as UCU celebrates 25 years and Bishop Tucker Theological College (BTTC) marks 100.
The project is meant to portray key historical characters through imagery in different artistic ways like painting, embroidery, sculpture and photography.The name “Tudda Nyuma” is coined within a book called “Simuda Nyuma” a trilogy written in the 1930s by Hamu Mukasa, a chief from Buganda. Hamu Mukasa (1870-1956) has his name etched in the UCU Hall of Fame because he donated the massive land for the establishment of BTTC, now known as UCU where a library on the Mukono campus also bears his name.
The late Mukasa was aware of the importance of storytelling and documentation. He wrote and had his life documented extensively, including in photographs.
Looking through Mukasa’s family collection consisting of photographs, books, manuscripts and documents and as part of her doctoral research on Ugandan photographs, curator Andrea Stultiens from Holland landed on the book “Simuda Nyuma.” With this book was a manuscript that had a catalogue of about 100 different images, which Mukasa had desired to illustrate in an uncompleted book.
Andrea says quite a lot of Mukasa’s material is available and has been digitalized by her and her partner Canon Griffin as part of a social media platform, “History in progress in Uganda,” which they started together in 2011.
Further engaging current people to work with historical facts – most especially those specific to Mukasa – is what led the Holland researcher to UCU and a collaboration through Dr. Eriya Nsubuga, a senior lecturer of Art at UCU.
“It was not much my choice to collaborate with UCU, but the strong connection to Mukasa came on my path, thanks to a friend, Dr. Eria Nsubuga who was already teaching at UCU by the time of the initiation of the project,” Andrea explains.
The first phase of this project was done between 2014 and 2016 with an exhibition at UCU documented in the Ham Mukasa library. Other exhibitions were held in Holland. UCU students who participated in this project found added excitement and meaning related to their art passions as the students assisted with the exhibitions in the various places.
Andrea says that with this project happening again, it will be a beneficial collaboration and exchange between external artists who will share their knowledge and working experience in the field with the art students at UCU. She adds that this will be a platform for students at UCU to appreciate the history of their institution.
She says “UCU students will contribute their imaginations to the narrative of the university’s past within the wider historiography of Uganda” and also hopes to learn a lot from both students and faculty on how to develop her research and visual arts practice.
Nathan Omiel, a lecturer in the UCU art department, reveals that there have been ongoing workshops attended by art students at UCU ahead of the exhibition.
“We ran two workshops with students and that was in line with having them engage with real time practicing artists in the field and look at their methods, philosophies and the process of there work,” Omiel said. “We took on the artist Cannon Griffin Rumanzi for the first step up of workshop that happened in May, of recent in July we had artist Shilah Nakitende who works with barkcloth as a material, they came and ran these extensive workshops that are supposed to help students to sort of have an outside view of what art is.”
Omiel emphasizes that through these workshops, students are supposed to produce artwork that is supposed to be presented and curated in preparation for the exhibition. He adds that final work will be exhibited in September for the whole month around the same time as UCU celebrates 25 years.
Omiel noted that the project benefits the art department because they are dealing with experienced and practicing artists who works directly with Andrea at history in progress Uganda where they do photo archiving for the basis of retelling and reawakening history.
Regarding the project, the subject content is not necessarily limited to Ham Mukasa. The focus also can be on past officials of UCU like the ex-principals, ex-deputy vice chancellors ex- vice chancellors among others who have been significant influencers.