Update: October, 2017 /Essays

 

 

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“Being Modern”: Identity Debates and Makerere’s Art School in the 1960s

Sunanda K Sanyal

(Published: Monica Visona and Gitti Salami eds., A Companion to
Modern African Art.
Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell: pp. 255-75)

Ulrich Middeldorf was a historian of Renaissance art. A student of the legendary Heinrich Wölfflin, he headed the Art Department of the University of Chicago. On 16 May 1950, he wrote a letter to his contact at Uganda’s Makerere University College, thanking him for sending an exhibition of student paintings to Chicago. “I have seen many things coming from curious outposts of civilization,” Middeldorf wrote:

From Asia, from the Americas, from our city slums,…..but the material which you lent us is really the most surprising and most satisfactory which I have ever seen. What seems to me so remarkable about it is that it seems altogether developed from genuine feelings and interests of the students, with little or no reference to European conventions. That gives the work an amazing freshness and makes it……excellent study material for the psychologist of art, on the same level as good children’s drawings or genuine primitive art.

He also felt strongly about the artists’ choices of palette:

I very much hope that the modern magentas, greens, purples and reds and yellows never will come to your corner of Africa before this particular color taste is firmly established. I have seen so many good folk arts completely ruined by them.[1]
 

The unequivocally essentialist and paternalistic tone of Middeldorf’s remarks shouldn’t surprise us, since it was the norm of colonial culture. Rather, what we should find odd is that his “curious outpost of civilization” was actually an art department of an African institution of higher learning. Why, then, did Middeldorf find “little or no reference to European conventions” in those images?

Margaret Trowell, an English artist and educator trained at London’s Slade School, brought formal art education to Uganda in 1937. Having accompanied her doctor husband to Kampala, she organized art classes first at her house, and then at Makerere College, which, in the following year, became the Higher College of East Africa. This art training enterprise was soon recognized as the college’s informal art department, a status that became official after the institution became Makerere University College in 1949. Because Trowell’s primary goal was to produce art teachers for Ugandan schools, the department became attached to Makerere’s Institute of Education, offering a three-year Teacher’s Certificate. This obligatory relation ended after Trowell’s retirement in 1958; the department was eventually named Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, offering an independent degree course.

Like Middeldorf, Trowell was convinced that Africans had a unique way of seeing, and that the European model of art training was completely ill suited to their creative pursuits. Deeply religious, Trowell regarded the Bible as a potent source of subject matter. She rejected the Renaissance pictorial convention for its dependence on the emulation of nature; and disregarded modernism for its formal experiments that underscored the artist as the subject, a creative strategy she dismissed as “soulless superficiality” (Trowell 1957: 123-4). As an alternative to both, the art of the Middle Ages (though it isn’t clear what exactly she meant by her reference to this vast epoch) offered her the correct balance of pictorial abstraction and concrete content. So in order to nurture what she saw as the innate naïveté of her young adult students, she encouraged them to visualize East African rural life, or poems and stories she narrated to them. Such a strategy, she firmly believed, would help them forge an authentically East African pictorial art. The growing urban experience of a changing East Africa thus remained irrelevant to most of her early students. It was the outcome of this endeavor that so pleased Middeldorf. During the 1940s, several exhibitions of the art of Trowell’s students were held in England and the United States, of which the Chicago exhibition is one example. Middeldorf’s comment about the absence of “European conventions” in the images sent to Chicago testifies to one of the consequences of Trowell’s instructional priorities.

However, after Margaret Trowell retired from her position as the head of the art department in 1958 and returned to England, a group of British and African instructors educated in the language of modernism took charge of the art department. Even though the department was named after Trowell soon after this transition, the new leadership tacitly dismissed the products of the Trowell era as crude and naïve, and introduced a mode of training that they believed would bridge the gap between the local and global arena of art. In other words, Middeldorf’s “folk art” produced with “genuine feelings” under Trowell’s supervision was “ruined”, after all. As the despised “magentas, greens and purples” reached that “corner of Africa”, the art lost its “amazing freshness”. This transition in the identity of the art school, which operated within the confines of a university college that was destined to be a full-scale university, is central to this essay.


Since I have elaborately discussed Trowell’s pedagogical methods and their rationale elsewhere, here I do not dwell on that history.
[2] Rather, against the background of that account, I revisit the discourse of modernity and modernism at Makerere’s art school during the early postcolonial years. Instead of engaging in an image-based art-historical analysis as I did in my previous work, here I take a critical look at a series of texts ---essays, interviews, letters, speeches, and memoirs--- to interpret the art school’s attempt to forge an institutional identity for itself, in light of the larger debates over education and identity that defined the culture of Makerere campus in the 1960s. Agencies of specific individuals who contributed to these debates receive special attention in this discussion.
 

The art school in transition

In 1962, Makerere’s status changed from University College to a constituent campus of the new University of East Africa, with those at Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam as sister institutions. Though Nairobi later founded a fledgling design and architectural studies department, Makerere was the only campus that offered art training in such conventional mediums as painting, sculpture, and printmaking.

Margaret Trowell’s favorite student, the Tanzanian Sam Ntiro, had succeeded her as the head of the school in 1958, but the following year he was replaced by Cecil Todd, a Scottish artist who left a teaching job in South Africa to come to Uganda. Soon, beginning with the Tanzanian-born English artist Jonathan Kingdon in 1960, a new group of teachers joined the faculty in the subsequent years: the English ceramist John Francis, the Zanzibari painter Ali Darwish, the English painter and printmaker Michael Adams, and the Sudanese printmaker Tag Ahmed. The only faculty member who had been a Trowell student was the Kenyan sculptor Gregory Maloba. With the exception of Darwish, who had trained at the Slade School (Maloba was partially trained there as well), all the full-time instructors, including Cecil Todd himself, were alumni of London’s Royal College of Art.


Unlike Margaret Trowell, these teachers wanted to prepare students with strong academic grounding in the modernist methods, techniques, and the grammar of visual representation. Contrary to Trowell’s goal of producing art teachers for Ugandan schools, they aimed at training professional artists. Cecil Todd, according to his student Kiure Francis Msangi, was a perfectionist.
[3] Most of Todd’s former students clearly remember his insistence on the mastery of the elements of visual representation, such as the European conventions of drawing, rules of pictorial construction, and the science and theory of color. The faculty members of the school generally held the belief that such a European model of instruction offered a body of knowledge that was relevant to art training anywhere in the world. Indeed, it seems most of them wanted to make a clean break with the Trowellian past, and were often indirectly dismissive of it. “Todd wanted to forget about Trowell”, says Pilkington Ssengendo, a student from the mid-1960s. He succinctly describes Todd’s attitude about the Trowell years: “She did her job, and that’s it. Now we have a different mission, namely to introduce a modern art school based on European art.”[4] The importance of the artist’s individuality, central to the modernist discourse, was paramount in this endeavor. Consider, for instance, Jonathan Kingdon’s reminiscence of his teaching methods:
 

I thought it was fine to teach people color theory and history, but [that] it shouldn’t overshadow their individual, unique experiences of the world. And that’s what I really made a particular point of. I taught them one-to-one, so that they got individual critiques….the student was in a sense running the show. He was telling me what he wanted to do, and my role was only really to provide suggestions.[5]
 

By artistic individuality, the new instructors meant that a student would handle a wide range of subjects and explore new approaches to visual expression; their work would illuminate various dimensions of subject, content and form. The goal was, as the painting department declared in the school’s handbook of the mid-1960s, “……to develop the intrinsic talents of the students”.[6] Needless to say, such individualist approach to the artist’s identity was entirely opposed to Trowell’s ideals. While Trowell had been attentive to the development of a student’s individual creative potential, her insistence on a distinctly “African” cognition, conceptualization and execution of images always took precedence in her teaching; individual artists were always framed by their ethnic identity. The allegiance of the new pedagogy, on the other hand, was primarily, if not only, to modernist art, where an artist’s aesthetic decisions overrode personal religious convictions. The curriculum not only emphasized rigorous studies from life, such as sketching outdoors, but students were also expected to broaden their knowledge base of art beyond Africa.

The school’s production in the 1960s went well beyond mere academic exercise. Kampala was rapidly turning into an affluent urban center, where Makerere proudly offered a cosmopolitan setting for higher education. The number of international students at the art school steadily increased, which provided opportunities for cross-cultural exchange that enriched student work. While acquiring formal and technical skills and expanding their understanding of art, many students used such experience in numerous ways to explore crucial questions about tradition and identity. We need, therefore, to examine certain issues in the larger debates that were shaping the culture of the campus at the time, before returning to evaluate the role of the art school in that scenario.
 

Two dominant colonial views of Africans

Imagine a scale with two poles: affinity (variously understood as sameness or universality) at one end, and diversity (difference or particularism) at the other.  Individual as well as collective assertions of cultural identity fundamentally involve ongoing negotiations between these two extremes. In light of the disparate power relations of the colonialist discourse, asserting self-hood while acknowledging the historical inevitability of the colonial impact can be especially complicated for the colonial subject. Ernesto Laclau sheds light on the issue:
 

European imperialist expansion had to be presented in terms of a universal civilizing function, of modernization, etc. As a result, the resistances of other cultures were presented not as struggles between particular identities and cultures, but as part of an all-embracing, epochal struggle between universality and particularisms---the notion of peoples without history expressing precisely their incapacity to represent the universal (Laclau: 86).

 

The dichotomy of universality and particularism that Laclau explains had crucial implications for the identity discourse in East Africa in the 1960s, the groundwork of which had been laid in the colonial era. Examine, for instance, the argument of Victor Murray, a professor of Education at the Shelley Oaks College in Birmingham who surveyed schools in Anglophone Africa in the 1920s. In the book that resulted from his trip, Murray elaborately explains his universalist view of African cultures. “Any race with a long history of struggle and achievement is a superior race, and we need not quibble about the fact”, he says about the British. “Grown men are ‘superior’ in the same sense to children of their own race….” But then he continues:

 

Their attitude to them is determined by the belief that the children will grow up to be like them, even, perhaps, to surpass them. Relationships, therefore, are conditioned by the end in view. And it is the same with the African (Murray: 5).
 

Notable are the quotation marks around the term ‘superior’ the second time it is used. Though Murray begins by establishing the idea of British superiority over Africans, he qualifies the term, suggesting that Africans are capable of ascending to the level of the British. He sees culture as the deposit of history; and Africans, according to him, have yet to build culture (Murray 320-5). However, he generously confers to Africans an equal right to the accomplishments of Western civilization:
 

For them [Africans] as for us the treasures of the world’s past have been heaped up. We received the treasures of Greece and Rome and Judaea, and have added to them. And if for us, barbarians and Gentiles, Plato thought and Virgil sang and Jeremiah agonized--- and Christ died, these things happened for the African too. For him also in later days Beethoven played, Leonardo painted, Shakespeare wrote, Pascal invented. There is no “African culture,” ---as of yet. There is this universal heritage waiting to be taken up by them (Murray: 323, my emphasis).
 

Later, he adds:

What we call “Western” or “European” or “modern” civilization is a blend of various elements not all of them Western or European or modern. It has come to us from Greece and Rome and Palestine, and doubtless the cultured Roman of the Augustan Age would have been shocked to think that the barbarian British could ever have “carried on” his culture (Murray: 326-7).

Despite his admiration for the achievements of Western civilization and his denial of any form of cultural identity for Africans, Murray is not saying that everything Christian-European is worth emulating, whereas everything African is heathen, therefore expendable. Rather, he claims that religious and secular alike, Western accomplishments are worth emulating because they are essentially human accomplishments, rich with contributions from a variety of sources. And as a universal religion, Christianity is a crucial part of that cultural wealth of mankind. The difference between the “primitive African” and the “civilized Briton”, to him, is analogous to the difference between the early Briton and the “civilized Roman”. Similarly distant from civilization, yet equally capable of elevating himself, the African is as much a shareholder of the glory of human heritage as the ancestor of his colonizer. Therefore, the question of European superiority over Africans is a temporary one, and that of African cultural heritage is irrelevant at this stage of development. Murray’s paternalist, social evolutionist bias, then, is more than obvious. Yet, while he refuses to acknowledge Africans’ own right to pick and choose to construct their own histories and identities, he also argues against a spurious notion of cultural authenticity (which we encounter in Ulrich Middeldorf’s remarks about modern African art), and at least upholds the historical fact of cross-cultural discourses.

However, it was the view that Murray opposed that was far more influential in British colonial circles. Grounded in the theory of Dual Mandate forged by Frederick Lugard and manifested in the British colonial policy of Indirect Rule, it came to be known among educators and policy-makers of the early decades of the twentieth century as Adaptation Theory. The following sentence from the lengthy memorandum of the Advisory Committee of Native Education in British Tropical Africa produced in 1925 summarizes it well:
 

Education should be adapted to the mentality, aptitudes, occupations and traditions of the various peoples, conserving as far as possible all sound and healthy elements in the fabric of their social life; adapting them where necessary to changed circumstances and progressive ideas, as an agent of natural growth and evolution.[7]
 

It is tempting to believe that the Memo highly values the particularisms of African cultures –to borrow Laclau’s terms— as opposed to Murray’s view, which, stemming from the colonial notion of universalism, openly justifies colonization. Yet a careful reading confirms the power dynamic underlying Adaptation Theory that equally endorses colonial domination by playing on the rhetoric of difference. Take, for instance, G. C. Latham’s view of “educated Africans”. “For their part”, Latham argues:
 

Educated Africans must realize that if they wish to enjoy a greater share in the administration of their own affairs they must fit themselves for such responsibility, and that what they need is not so much a matter of book knowledge as of character. They have to learn self-criticism, reliability, self-control, and a genuine sense of responsibility before they can be entrusted with a considerable share in the direction of the destinies of their own race.[8]
 

Also instructive in this context is the opinion of Donald Cameron, an avid champion of Indirect Rule and Governor of Tanganyika in the 1920s. “Native Administration must be educated to meet changing conditions”, says Cameron when discussing the efficacy of Adaptation theory. “And in East Africa the cultural poverty of the native tribes makes it inevitable that they must get their culture from the West.”[9] The blatant condescension of both men leaves no doubt that equally convinced of their own superiority, they are loyal executors of Lord Lugard’s plan for Indirect Rule. Fundamentally rooted -- as Laclau reminds us-- in the “universal civilizing function”, the two apparently incompatible approaches, then, turn out to be two sides of the same coin. While the imperialist gesture of Murray’s universalism dismisses all specificities of African cultures, the cautiously worded Adaptation Theory cunningly uses the “African Mentality” argument to sufficiently distance Africans as exotic others in order to ensure subjugation to British rule.
 

Debates on Makerere campus

This earlier colonial discourse served as the foundation for the complex debates over the education system and cultural identity in Anglophone Africa during the early phase of self-rule in the 1960s. The difference, however, was that now Africans had a voice in those conversations. While the 1925 memorandum and its apologists had always argued for vocational training over a general university education for Africans, educators like Murray had confidently asserted the need for total exposure to the latter. As Makerere evolved into an international institution of higher learning on the eve of Uganda’s independence in 1962, its pedagogy and social training came under intense scrutiny. On the one hand, European teachers like M.M. Carlin of the English Department, who dismissed any effort to introduce materials on Africa into the curriculum as “relativist claptrap”, insisted on European-style university training.[10] And ironically, his view was popular among many Africans, for whom university credentials represented power and social status in independent Africa.


On the other hand was noticeable resistance to what was seen as the “Oxbridge” (a fusion of Oxford and Cambridge) mode, evident in everything from Makerere’s curriculum and instruction to life in residence halls. Makerere and other African colleges were seen as institutions that not only provided education, but also shaped identities of their students, which made Africanization of the curriculum and campus life a priority for many African as well as European instructors. For most committed nationalists in Anglophone Africa, the colonial rhetoric of “African Mentality” became “African Personality”, a back-to-the-roots pan-Africanist call that often held any European presence in African education as highly suspect. Such urgency even led to the proposal in West Africa to remove Jane Austen, even Shakespeare from the Literature curriculum.
[11] Makerere’s education report of 1963 regretted that the existing university education was “more concerned to educate an elite than produce a large number of graduates and diplomates suitably trained for East Africa’s present needs”.[12] At a symposium held on campus, the exiled Malawian novelist David Rubadiri, who was also Makerere’s Deputy Registrar and a Lecturer of English, drew further attention to this question. “The student comes to Makerere”, Rubadiri observed, “and feels that he would like to have a new identity, a shedding off, so to speak, of his old identity which he wants to forget.”[13] Such discussions suggest that the dilemma of negotiating one’s cultural identity between the universalist and particularist extremes intensified in this period. A quick look at the ideological maneuvers of some of the young writers who had a key role in these debates will illuminate the art school’s position in the cultural climate of the era.
 

African literature or literature from Africa?     
The exiled South African writer Ezekiel Mphahlele[14] wrote on the nature and role of literature:

“Give us some words of wisdom,” you ask the tortoise. “Tell us about life.” “What life?” Tortoise says. “I have my own, you have yours.” “But you eat the same food we do, drink the same thing, I mean figuratively.” “Yes, but I mind my own business.” In one of those desperate moments when you need reassurances from this strange thing called literature, it keeps its head in for self-protection. You can kick it around, throw it over in its back. Inside there is another system of life with its own rules, covered with a shell that yields no answers. You will have to smash the damn thing with a huge rock or pickaxe if you are really desperate to know. But that will be the death of the creature. On the other hand, as long as it is alive, it will feed on the very reality against which it compels us to evaluate it.” (Mphahlele 1974: 48, my emphases).

Though written in 1974, Mphahlele’s imagined conversation with the metaphorical creature alludes to a major debate among African writers in the 1960s. Literature’s potential as an ideological tool (the service of the tortoise as a window on reality) came into conflict with a writer’s allegiance to the peculiar demands of the discipline (the creature’s stubbornness against any compromise of its autonomy to extrinsic obligations).

In the 1960s, there was urgency among some writers to define the parameters of a literature that would stand apart as an African enterprise in its language, form, and content, in its sincere portrayal of a contemporary African reality. Yet as Mphahlele observes, the tortoise would rather die than surrender to such servitude. Translated into the vocabulary of the identity debates of the time, writers were faced with the task of negotiating their identity at a precarious position on the scale between the universal and the particular: for Mphahlele and others like him, to be a modern writer was, on the one hand, to recognize one’s postcolonial African identity, while avoiding the pitfall of essentialism; on the other hand, to negotiate with the global character of this creative enterprise, while denying the overarching colonial rhetoric of universalism. Collectives of creative individuals provided platforms for public discussions on this issue; and Transition, a literary magazine first published in Kampala in 1961 by a Ugandan of Indian origin named Rajat Neogy, became the most popular periodical in East Africa for voicing a variety of opinions.[15]
 

This discourse of cultural identity made its impact in other Anglophone countries across the continent. For instance, funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Mbari Writers’ and Artists’ Club was founded in the Nigerian cities of Ibadan and Oshogbo in July 1961, and in Enugu in February 1963.[16] With rising Nigerians as its founding members, such as writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, and artists like Duro Ladipo, Uche Okeke and Demos Nwoko, the organization made seminal attempts to bring intellectuals throughout Anglophone Africa under its banner; the Sudanese artist Ibrahim el Salahi, the African-American artist Jacob Lawrence, the Australian critic Ulli Beier, and Mphahlele himself, were among the non-Nigerian members. In June 1962, Mbari organized the First Conference of African Writers of English Expression at Makerere to determine the parameters of African literature. Opposing the notion of “African Personality”, the delegates searched for a broader scope of contemporary African writing. Mphahlele later explained the goal in simple terms: “African literature should be treated as part of the world literature”, he said, “and not as something specially African; that there is in reality only good and bad and mediocre writing, whether African, Chinese, Mexican and so on…..”.[17] Disagreements on such platforms were common, and young writers often changed their positions. For example, at the same conference, the Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo underscored the need for a literary work to be rooted in African soil; yet in 1966, shortly before he was killed in the Biafran war (1967-70), he refused an award offered him for his poetry at the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar. He justified his reluctance to this recognition by saying, “There is no such thing as Negro art”.[18]


Chemchemi Cultural Centre, a sister to Mbari Club, was founded in Nairobi in 1963 under Mphahlele’s leadership. Simply put, the organization aimed at encouraging public initiatives in cultural activities and making intellectuals aware of the contemporary African public. “With a thing like Chemchemi”, remarked Mphahlele during a newspaper interview in early 1965, “I have felt all along that to inject ideas into people one has to start publishing things and writing things and talking about things, and have a place where people can come for a chat, advice, or to look at paintings.”
[19] With frequent drama and writing workshops, art classes, and symposia, Chemchemi became a local cultural platform in Nairobi for both writers and visual artists, albeit a short-lived one.
 

Since these writers were anxious to identify with their peers from the rest of the world because they saw Africa as an emerging force on the global scene, they inevitably confronted the controversial question of language. While acknowledging the need to develop literary enterprises in vernacular languages, they recognized the indispensability of English in reaching a larger public. “How does an African writer face up to the problem of translating into a foreign language thoughts and feelings that originally operate in his mother-tongue?” asked Mphahlele when speaking about the Makerere conference, “…we concluded that the richness of English goes a long way to compensate for any difficulties. But a writer should not fear to do violence to standard English if he finds it cumbersome.”[20] His position sharply differed from that of the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who aggressively insisted on the indispensability of the vernacular for African writers. This debate flared up in 1963, when an Igbo scholar named Obiajunwa Wali wrote an essay in Transition, harshly criticizing the use of the colonial language by African writers and arguing the need to write in local languages.[21] The multiple –and passionate-- responses to this article demonstrate the integral role of language in the writers’ debates over identity. [22] For Mphahlele or Soyinka, for instance, to insist on the use of the vernacular and on the distinction of literary subjects that were deemed “African” was to betray the tortoise, so to speak, in favor of the colonial identity trap of the “neo-primitive”. To someone like Ngũgĩ or Wali, on the other hand, to hold Literature’s disciplinary identity above cultural particularisms and to see the language of colonial domination as its vehicle was to buy into the illusion of equality professed by Victor Murray and M.M. Carlin.
   

Art: debate on the margin

Written language had not only represented educational status in Africa since the era of missionary schooling, but was also integral to the project of nation-building in the postcolonial era.[23]  Literature, therefore, was understandably an intensely politicized enterprise central to the identity debates of the 1960s. In contrast, art at Makerere had always had a peripheral status. Since Makerere’s infancy, art had been ornamental, rather than integral, to the institution’s educational project. When the institution became a University College in 1949 under Special Relation with the University of London, no one had any clear idea how art would fit into a curriculum primarily geared toward training future civil servants. In fact, it was proposed that art education be terminated altogether. It survived primarily due to the commitment and perseverance of Margaret Trowell.[24] Even in the 1960s, when the art school had a structured curriculum and a much greater visibility on campus, its position within the university often seemed equivocal. Jonathan Kingdon, for instance, recalls occasional confrontations with academics in other departments, when he and his colleagues had to defend --often adamantly-- the importance of their discipline in higher education.[25] Unlike the literary front, where identity debates revolved around specific and complex issues of language, subjectivity, and educational benefit, discussions and critiques of art were much less nuanced and more polarized.


The one common concern about art education in the 1960s was that the training was misguiding young artists. Faculty and students of other departments often alleged that the art school was inculcating derivative means of artistic expression, eventually creating identity crisis for artists. The target of this allegation was the European-derived instructional model practiced at the art school. The alternative, however, wasn’t clear, as there seemed to have been various notions of what constituted serious art; it was generally understood as a kind of art that would effectively articulate the artists’ cultural identity. The complaint about the ineffectiveness of the art training is evident in the comment of David Rubadiri, who noted at Makerere’s Arts Faculty conference of 1965 that several art school graduates had completely stopped their artistic pursuits after leaving the school.
[26] This concern about the school was voiced more directly in various Kampala publications, such as Uganda Argus and the campus journal Makererean, and invited responses from the school’s instructors and students.[27] Sometimes the question of elitism came to the fore. For instance, the printmaker and painter Michael Adams once took art critics to task in an essay published in Transition. He sarcastically complained that able critics were actually frustrated artists, who, in the name of good taste and knowledge, only trivialized serious art. Adams stressed the value of artistic talent, and argued that truly able artists could speak for themselves without intervention from critics.[28] Consider, on the other hand, Cecil Todd’s remarks made in 1970. “I have found myself in circumstances”, Todd observed:
 

Whereby I have largely tended to abandon the painting of pictures and have devoted myself to those aspects of the visual arts which are associated with our everyday environment and to which all people have access simply “because they are there”…[29]
 

Todd’s interest in public art suggests that unlike the much younger Adams, he had little interest in making the distinction between “high” and “low” art, which leads us to conclude that Adams’ view was his own. Nonetheless, there was an impression on campus that the school was responsible for fostering an elite culture unrelated to an African student’s needs; and despite the differences of views among the European instructors, they were most often the indirect targets of such criticism from other quarters, by Europeans and Africans alike. For example, R. G. Harris of the English Department remarked in his response to Adams that in trying to isolate themselves, artists were “not [being] very helpful or effective in the business…..of bridging the gap between themselves and the rest of society”.[30] On another occasion, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is reported to have reacted with passion to the “bourgeois” nature of the art school’s education (Sicherman 1995: 30). In light of the art school’s commitment to underscore creative potentials of individuals, why, we might wonder, did its critics find such education questionable?


Historically, the negotiations of modernism –and by this I mean a specific art-historical period of about a century, from the Realists in France to the Abstract expressionists in America—have always been in the complicated gray zone between sameness and difference. Aggressively projecting its otherness, the avant-garde in Europe once subverted the value system of an art establishment that was incapable of addressing the priorities and concerns of a new century. It is this claim of difference, of particularism, which gave the avant-garde project its revolutionary edge. Yet paradoxically, ignoring all the differences and inequities of colonial domination (which almost precisely coincided with the rise of modernism), the utopia that lay at the core of most modernist movements eventually also claimed to speak for a homogeneous humanity.
[31] The myth of a Primitivist universalism (the we-are-all-same-under-the-skin rhetoric) so obscured the specificity of the modern artist (white, male, heterosexual) as a subject that the marginalization of “other” artists (non-white, women, gay) was easily overlooked. Examined in the postcolonial context, this culture of exclusion appears especially problematic. Thoroughly institutionalized by the mid-twentieth century with no subversive potential left, the modernist discourse categorically refused to acknowledge the modern creative enterprises of the former colonies; the three powerful institutions of modern art –the scholarship, the gallery, and the market—consistently denied modern artists from Asia, Africa and Latin America a place in the canon. And curiously, such rejection was conveniently explained with an excuse of difference that sharply contrasted modernism’s universalist rhetoric of freedom and originality: the modern artist from a non-western culture was regarded as an exotic other with an identity crisis, trying hopelessly to emulate the Western model of art practice. Even on the rare occasion when any such artists gained partial entry into the canon (such as the Cuban Wilfredo Lam), they were evaluated with a thorough essentialist bias.[32]


For the postcolonial artist, then, modernism is largely an art discourse concealing a power relation rooted in the legacy of colonialism.
[33] And from this perspective, perhaps it is not too difficult to see why the modernist thrust of Makerere’s art teaching in the 1960s, with several Europeans in leadership positions, would be held suspect by some in Makerere’s highly charged cultural climate. Since modernism in the Western world had already become an official, elite culture, the art school’s critics saw its imported version at Makerere not only as irrelevant to the intellectual development of the students, but as a possible instrument of cultural hegemony. And notwithstanding Cecil Todd’s interest in public art, this impression persisted through the decade. Such criticism was voiced in a variety of venues, and in it two of Margaret Trowell’s former students had a significant role: the Tanzanian-born Elimo Njau and Sam Ntiro.

Elimo Njau:

In 1962, Elimo Njau delivered a speech at the International Congress of Africanists in Ghana. Speaking about the current role of the visual arts and artists in Africa, he made it quite clear at the outset that his presentation was more a theological rhetoric than a critical analysis of the subject. “By true Africanists”, he clarified, “I mean African artists embracing the ideology of the living God and His creative power through the mind, souls and bodies of real people in present Africa” (Njau: 15).  An observer later surmised the basic premise of Njau’s speech. “This was no scholarly address but an impassioned declaration of faith”, he wrote. “It was obvious that when he [Njau] said ‘God’ he meant ‘God’: that his painting was an act of communion” (Welbourn: 92). Njau held the value of academic knowledge acquired from history as secondary to a vision achieved through inspiration, and suggested that inspiration was impossible without faith:
 

For want of a common faith to reunite the new tribe [of detribalized, schooled African artists] they seek and believe in slogans and transient art movements. They are afraid of reconstructing their new God because superficially they believe that new scientific knowledge has displaced their God of fear and unity.” (Njau: 16).
 

It leaves little doubt that this is a veiled criticism (belief in “slogans and transient art movements”) of the art school’s model of training as well as its graduates. Njau then delivered his final sermon: “Do not copy”, he advised. “Copying puts God to Sleep” (Njau: 17). There is no question that the speech betrays his allegiance to Margaret Trowell’s philosophy on the one hand, and strong disapproval of the art school’s new model of training on the other. As with Trowell, art and faith were intimately related in Njau’s mind. While the first sentence addresses a pedagogical question, the second one is purely symbolic, implying that copying would destroy one’s originality, distancing the artist from God. Needless to say, this position was diametrically opposed to the secular views of Trowell’s successors at the art school.

A few years later, Njau’s comments about one of his own enterprises further illuminate his notion of cultural identity articulated in the Ghana speech. On a piece of land donated by his father at Marangu, his birthplace in the Moshi district of Tanzania, Njau founded Kibo Art Gallery in 1964. He explains the aims and ideals of this establishment in a poem. “It is like a mango tree”, he writes:
 

Too slow in growth to compete with ephemeral fashions of the art world; but with roots too deep in the soil to be uprooted by any shallow wind of “civilization”.

Its roots sink deep into the earth to reach out for the bones of our ancestry and sap that is our heritage from God.

Its trunk powerful and round like true communal life in unity and harmony.

Its branches open up into a generosity of leaves, flowers and colourful fruits to feed the world and inspire humanity with spiritual health, joy, love, peace and humility in eternal wonder…… (Kariara: 147-8).
 

If modernism marginalized the postcolonial artist, Njau celebrates that otherness by attempting to forge a cultural identity grounded in the notion of an authentic Africanness.  The similes and metaphors here are meant to evoke a spiritual image stronger than the one felt by his audience in Ghana. It is tempting to see him in the same camp as someone like Obiajunwa Wali, who argued for the primacy of the vernacular in African literature; but the problem is that unlike Wali’s concrete examples and more focused analysis, Naju’s rhetoric relies almost entirely on emotion, nostalgia, and faith, for which the medium of poetry serves as an appropriate vehicle. His suspicion of the art school’s educational model, articulated in phrases like “ephemeral fashions of the art world”, fails to propose a concrete alternative.[34]


In fact, a large part of Njau’s opposition to the leadership of the art school seems to have been motivated by personality issues. After his graduation from the school in 1957, he taught at an elementary school on Makerere campus for several years, but was never offered a teaching job at his alma mater. Several former students from that era believe that he was not on good terms with the expatriate faculty of the School.
[35] Though Njau himself has been reluctant to discuss this question explicitly after so many years, neither has he tried to hide his feelings entirely. “There was always a tendency among young people to think about progress and modernity as a sign of advancement”, he recalls, and then adds:
 

Todd was one of the few teachers who also practiced what he taught. He initiated the idea that Africa is a blank slate on which to create something. So he started from ground zero. I differed from him when he wrote off that whole tradition, that nothing existed before. Todd was blanketing our history, which was not his duty.[36]
 

I have discussed Cecil Todd’s work elsewhere to argue that Njau’s allegations against him do not hold up;[37] thus, I propose here that his remarks have more to do with the identity politics of the time than with a critical evaluation of art. In short, Todd’s racial origin was fundamental to Najau’s unwillingness to accept his leadership role at the school. Njau also believes that Jonathan Kingdon’s ideas of social consciousness were limited to the urban milieu. “It was really a part of the Western package of urbanization, painting night clubs, prostitutes….,” he says.[38] Again, from his description of what he saw as the limitation of Kingdon’s art, it becomes obvious that even though Kingdon was born in East Africa and spent a significant part of his life there, Njau is still determined to categorize him as a European.

Sam Ntiro:

A Chagga student from the Kilimanjaro region of Tanganyika, Sam Ntiro eventually became the most successful painter from the school in capturing an international market for his work. He never learned to draw from nature, and developed a signature style that Elimo Njau interprets as a kind of naïve approach to painting-- as if he was “somebody learning how to talk when one is already mature”.[39] Unlike Njau, Ntiro went to the Slade School and the University of London in the 1950s for further study; yet he remained steadfast in his pictorial strategies. As Trowell later proudly recalled: “Neither I nor all the powers of the Slade could have taught him to draw in the conventional European manner if we had struggled throughout all eternity” (Trowell: 125). There is no question, therefore, that Ntiro’s work closely followed Trowell’s vision of modern African art as essentially different from its Western counterpart. Indeed, its positive reception in England was firmly rooted in a condescending, late Primitivist view of African cultures that echoed the basic premise of Adaptation Theory.  Phrases like “gaiety, sense of colour, and a quite obvious native talent for drawing”,[40] and “a living modern art deeply rooted in tradition”[41] leave no doubt that Ntiro’s was the kind of art that prompted Ulrich Middeldorf to write the ecstatic letter of gratitude to Makerere in 1950. In summary, then, not only did Sam Ntiro come to epitomize an East African cultural authenticity desired by his largely Western audience, but he seems to have accepted his audience’s constructed image of an authentic Africa as his own view of his race and culture.

It is thus logical to assume that Ntiro would have serious misgivings about the art school’s pedagogy. He left his position as the head of the school in 1961 because he was chosen by the independent government of Tanzania to be the first Tanzanian ambassador to Britain. But his differences with the new faculty at the school over the goals and methods of training may also have contributed to his resignation. Nonetheless, he remained active in the East African cultural scene through the 1960s; for example, he participated in a conference on East Africa’s cultural heritage held in Nairobi in December 1965. The following year, the sixteen papers presented at that meeting from all over East Africa on various issues in linguistics, music, literature, and art were published as a book.[42] Ntiro, who at that time was working for Tanzania’s Ministry of Culture, examined the current problems of the visual arts in his paper “The Future of East African Art”. Instead of using a religious rhetoric as Njau had done in Ghana, Ntiro argued his case by combining some of Trowell’s views of indigenous arts with his own socialist political ideals. He proposed such reforms as government regulation of outside influences, such as the import of foreign art teachers, and state control over the production and dissemination of artifacts. His paper met with an adverse reaction from Jonathan Kingdon, who reviewed this publication in Transition. While Kingdon praised one of Ntiro’s paintings illustrated in the book, he sarcastically characterized Ntiro as someone subscribing to a totalitarian ideology (Kingdon: 45-7).

Public platforms like the Chemchemi Cultural Centre in Nairobi accommodated intellectuals of very different persuasions, including Njau and Mphahlele; in fact, tensions generated by such differences is one reason the organization did not exist for long. A vital part of Chemchemi, Njau organized art workshops and shows at the Centre with young Makerere artists, and organized discussions on issues of contemporary art in a changing society. It was here that the Community of East African Artists was born, which held its first group exhibition at Njau’s Kibo Art Gallery in 1964. At a Chemchemi workshop in the same year, a Makerere graduate from Tanzania named Winifred Obed delivered a paper titled “The Attitude and Transition of East African Art”. Because Obed worked for the Ministry of Culture in Tanzania, it is quite possible that he was influenced by Sam Ntiro’s view on the current state of the art school. He took the instructors of the art school to task with open contempt:
 

Between the African student of art today and that African past are dazzling colours of European art history. The recipe is served for four years at Makerere Art School without a single mention of East African artistic past. You are told that your generation is the one to lay the foundation for the first artistic trends in East Africa.[43]
 

Obed’s criticism is especially revealing for its precise attack on the art school’s training. He sarcastically uses the word “recipe” to suggest that the school’s goal of encouraging artistic individualism was not only formulaic, but it also had a hegemonic gesture, since, according to him, the art school’s universalist approach ignored local cultural specificities. This is particularly apparent in the last sentence. It is probably true that European and Asian arts were emphasized in the school’s art history classes at the expense of African –especially East African-- art.[44] And if we add to this the school’s tacit dismissal of Trowell’s achievements in the 1960s and its nurturing of a modernist individualism with primary allegiance to art, then we are indeed faced with the universalizing tendency of an imported version of modernist ideals. In light of Obed’s criticism in the larger context of identity politics in the East African cultural scene, it is also likely that he would accept an artist’s individuality, if it came with a clearly discernible mark of the artist’s cultural identity; something, we can assume, he would recognize in Sam Ntiro’s work.

Despite such active dialogs in the art milieu, however, the exchange clearly lacked the intensity and complexity of the debates on the literary front. While each side generally dismissed the other as identifying with an extreme position on the identity scale, we hardly find any evidence of critical attention to art and identity. Even with arguments presented through metaphors, Mphahlele’s fictive conversation with the tortoise appears far less sentimental and more analytical –yet no less introspective-- than Njau’s glorification of the mango tree. The only exception to this was the Kenyan sculptor Gregory Maloba. Despite being one of Trowell’s earliest and most favorite students, Maloba did not side with his former peers.

Gregory Maloba:

Maloba began his teaching career at the art school in the 1940s, during Margaret Trowell’s presence, and continued to head the sculpture department under the new leadership until 1966, when he left for the University of Nairobi. There is no evidence that he had any major differences with the European instructors. Consider, for instance, part of Maloba’s speech at the Art and Craft Conference held in Kampala in 1965, discussing the role of tradition in contemporary African life. “….when the word tradition is used”, said Maloba:
 

Then one wonders! Many of us East Africans, born and grown on East African soil, feel fully qualified to state frankly that this clamour after a traditional East African culture could do much more harm than good; for the simple reason that it is a clamour which is superficial, it is a clamour which disrupts and confuses.
 

He later observed in the same speech, “Are coffee trees and the radio not existing happily side by side with matoke [green banana] just now!”[45] While Maloba aggressively rejects the particularist position on the question of one’s identity as a modern African artist, he does not resort to a universalist rhetoric (overlooking real differences for the sake of an imagined sameness) in his response. Instead, such metaphors as coffee trees, radio and matoke demonstrate his awareness of the importance of an open-ended approach to the problem; and in that respect, he sounds very similar to writers like Ezekiel Mphahlele. What is more, the somewhat lighthearted nature of the metaphors –compared to, say, Njau’s mango tree—convey the message with an air of levity, without compromising the gravity of the issue. We could even observe that what Maloba sees as dialogic coexistence –between the old and the new, the African and the Western, tradition and modernity— comes very close to what would be identified today as hybridity. 

Between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, Maloba, like Sam Ntiro, was trained at several British institutions, in Wiltshire, Bristol, and London. Unlike Ntiro’s, however, his experience abroad shaped his awareness of a changing Africa and his ability to intellectually process outside influences. It is relevant to quote here at length his comments on teaching:
 

A number of times we have had visitors to the Makerere School of Fine Art, and heard “This is very much like the European Moderns isn’t it?” or “Look at that --- have your students seen some Picasso’s or those Henry Moore’s?” Of course, if I wished to please this sort of visitor, I would answer “No, they see only examples of West African and Congolese Art”; a lie of course.

The truth being that students ought to look at work by artists of every race and generation if possible (my emphases).[46]
 

These remarks leave no doubt that despite his deep respect for Margaret Trowell, Maloba did not subscribe to her idea of artistic originality or her notion of a pristine African spirit. It is also obvious that Elimo Njau’s lamentation of the African artist’s belief in the “slogans and transient art movements” was precisely Maloba’s advice to students-- “to look at work by artists of every race and generation”; and Njau’s definition of a “true Africanist” was, to him, not only a “clamour”, but a “disrupting” and “confusing” one. One of Maloba’s largest public commissions, Uganda’s Independence Monument, located at Kampala’s city center, remains a testimony to his flexible approach to art and identity. It pays homage to a new-born African nation, while acknowledging Maloba’s debt to Jacob Epstein, the English sculptor he so admired.[47]
 

A two-fold task

No matter how unequivocal and resolute its mission, criticism from within and outside Makerere caused the art school to struggle with its modernist self-image. As Carol Sicherman notes, even Jonathan Kingdon admitted to having occasional doubts about the efficacy of the school’s training, especially the danger of blind emulation of Western standards (Sicherman 2005: 183). Indeed, forging itself into an institution of modern art in a young nation was difficult for the school, as it was never destined to be an art academy. It had always had to identify itself as a part of Makerere, not only because of its location and the history of its birth, but also because the region did not provide adequate means for the livelihood of full-time artists. Realizing the economic factor early on, Margaret Trowell had focused on producing art teachers; yet at the same time, she had to assert the independence of art as a discipline in order to keep the art school from becoming a misfit in Makerere’s Special Relation with the University of London. This duality of the school’s struggle continued in the 1960s, when the artists, on the one hand, were ever more conscious about their disciplinary uniqueness; while on the other hand, were eager to be a part of the higher education system that would ensure their status as intellectuals, as opposed to craftspeople. In other words, it was a two-fold task of survival. Thus, it was necessary for the school to maintain a public profile through individual as well as group efforts. Artists regularly contributed visual images and essays to Transition, and two issues of a journal called Roho (“heart” in Kiswahili) was published from the School in 1961-62. Despite its short life, the visual and literary contributions from teachers, current and former students, and outsiders made this publication a concrete testimony to the artists’ communal efforts. Artists also often collaborated with other disciplines, producing plays with the theater group at the English Department and designing literary journals with writers. Dhana, which came out in 1970 with designs by printmaker Tag Ahmed, was such a journal. In this same period, the school also designed the heraldic coat of arms for the nation, which further enhanced its image.  

The most forceful attempts by the artists to command public attention, however, were through exhibitions and public commissions of art on campus, in the city, and in distant parts of the country. Apart from the art school’s own gallery, which opened in 1969 with funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation, a private establishment named Nommo Gallery was the most popular venue for solo and group shows in Kampala.[48] Furthermore, public art like murals and sculptures --both collaborative and individual projects-- drew attention to both the art school’s presence within Makerere and to the expertise and vision of the artists as gifted individuals.

All these alliances and oppositions through the 1960s demonstrate that the question of cultural identity was much more complicated than the simple choice of either a purely universalist or a particularist position. As always, such negotiations were never resolved on collective levels, and the surviving texts of the discussions and debates enhance our understanding of the cultural politics of that vibrant era. While the exchanges on the art front were not as politicized as those in the literary milieu due to the relatively marginal status of art within Makerere’s educational structure, the debates among artists nonetheless remain crucial; for despite what we might identify as their flaws and limitations, all the positions illuminate the problems of discussing art and identity against the complicated background of a modernist approach to art training in the postcolonial scenario.

Following its fourth and final transition, Makerere became an autonomous university in 1970. This was a radically new decade in Uganda’s history, one of violence and instability that would challenge the expectations and optimism of the previous era. All the European instructors would leave, and a new generation of artists would emerge with different values, identities, and creative strategies. But to survive the crisis, this progeny would build on the legacy of the heady days of the 1960s in multiple ways. Makerere’s art school today remains a living testimony to that struggle.
 

References:

           Adams, Michael, “Critics--- Men of Taste?”, Transition, 2(6&7), October 1962: 35.

           Daler, Judith von, A New Gallery in Kampala, African Arts, autumn 1970: 50-52.

           Featherstone, Mike et al eds. Global Modernities (Theory, Culture and Society series), London:
           Sage, 1995.

           Hassan, Salah ed. Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading, Rotterdam, The Netherlands:
           Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: NAi Publishers, c2001.

           Kakooza, George, Contemporary Attitudes to the Visual Arts in East Africa. Unpublished M. A.
           thesis, Makerere University, 1970.

           Kariara, Joseph. Kibo Art Gallery. Tanzania Notes and Records, 64 (March 1965): 147-48.

           Kingdon, Jonathan, “Culture by Conference”. Review of East Africa’s Cultural Heritage, Transition,
           6(iii, 28), January 1967: 45-47.

           Kwanai, George, Nommo Gallery, Transition, 4, 19 (1965): 39.

           Laclau, Ernesto, “Universalism, Particularism, and the Question of Identity”. October, 61, summer
           1992: 83-90.

           Latham, G.C., Indirect Rule and Education in East Africa”. Africa, 7(4), October 1934: 424-7.

           Macpherson, Margaret, They Built for the Future: A Chronicle of Makerere University College
           1922-1962
(Cambridge: University Press, 1964).

           Maloba, Gregory, “Petson Lombe”, Roho, 2, June 1962: 34-5.

           Mazrui, Ali A., Cultural Engineering and Nation-Building in East Africa. Evanston: Northwestern
           University Press, 1972.

           Moore, Gerald & Donald Stuart, African Literature in French and English. Makerere Journal, 8, 1963:
           29-34.

           Mphahlele, Ezekiel, “African Literature”, Africa Report, New York, July, 1962: 16-17.

           Mphahlele, Ezekiel, “The Function of Literature at the Present Time: The Ethnic

           Imperative”, Transition, 45, 9(ii), 1974: 48-9.

           Murray, Victor, The School in the Bush. London, New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green & Co., 1929.

           Njau, Elimo, “Copying Puts God to Sleep”, Transition, 3(9) June 1963: 15-17.

           Noor, Ibrahim (From a Student’s Notebook), “Art in Africa— Backwards or Forwards?” Transition,
           27(6, ii), 4, 1966): 39-41.

           Rubadiri, David, “Makerere Revisited (A Symposium on Goldthorpe’s Book)”, Makerere Journal, 11,
           1965: 8-9.

           Sanyal, Sunanda K., Imaging Art, Making History: Two Generations of Makerere Artists.
           Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Emory University, 2000.

           ------------ “Transgressing Borders, Shaping an Art History: Rose Kirumira and Makerere’s
           Legacy”. In Tobias Doering ed., African Cultures, Visual Arts, and the Museum: Sights/Sites of
           Creativity and Conflict
(Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi), 2002: 133-59.

           ------------ “The Local and Beyond: Francis Nnaggenda’s Sculptural Innovations”. Nka (Cornell)
           #18, 2003: 76-9.

           ------------- “Kabiito Richard’s Paintings: A Local Reinvention in a Global Perspective”,
           African Arts (UCLA), 37(2), summer 2004: 34-43.

           -------------- “Modernism and Cultural Politics in East Africa: Cecil Todd’s Drawings of the Uganda
           Martyrs”, African Arts (UCLA), 39(1), spring 2006: 50-9.

           Sicherman, Carol,Ngugi’s Colonial Education: “The Subversion…of the African Mind”,
          
African Studies Review, 38(3), December 1995: 11-41.

           Sicherman, Carol, Becoming an African University: Makerere 1922-2000. Trenton & Asmara: Africa
           World Press, Inc., 2005.

           Trowell, Margaret, African Tapestry. London: Faber & Faber, 1957.

           Wali, Obiajunwa. The Dead End of African Literature?. Transition, 4, 10 (September 1963): 13-15.

           Welbourn, Fred B., “What is an Africanist?”, Makerere Journal, 7, 1963: 92-103.

           Yau, John, “Please Wait by the Coatroom”. In Ferguson, Russell et al eds. Out There:
           Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures
.
New York, N.Y.: New Museum of Contemporary Art,
           Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, c1990: 133-9.

 

______________________________________

[1] Ulrich Middeldorf, University of Chicago Art  Department to Alexander Galloway, Makerere University, 16.5.50. Rhodes House Archives, MSS Afr.s. 1825, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

[2] For references to Margaret Trowell’s teaching, see: Sanyal, Sunanda K. “Modernism and Cultural Politics in East Africa: Cecil Todd’s Drawings of the Uganda Martyrs”, African Arts (UCLA), 39(1), spring 2006: 50-9. Also see: Sanyal, Sunanda K. “Kabiito Richard’s Paintings: A Local Reinvention in a Global Perspective”, African Arts (UCLA), 37(2), summer 2004: 34-43. Also see: Sanyal, Sunanda K. “Transgressing Borders, Shaping an Art History: Rose Kirumira and Makerere’s Legacy”. In Tobias Doering ed., African Cultures, Visual Arts, and the Museum: Sights/Sites of Creativity and Conflict (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi), 2002: 133-59.

[3] Personal interview, Nairobi, 8.4.98.

[4] Personal interview, Kampala, 19.8.97.

[5] Personal interview, Duke University, North Carolina, 12.3.99.

[6] Margaret Trowell School of Fine Arts Handbook: 13.

[7] Uganda National Archives, Secretarial Minute Papers 112, item 2. Memorandum of the Advisory Committee on Native Education in British Tropical Africa, 13.3.25.

[8] Latham, G.C., Indirect Rule and Education in East Africa”. Africa, 7(4), October 1934: 427.

[9] Latham, G.C., Ibid., 424, quoting Donald Cameron’s speech.

[10] For more on this discussion, see Sanyal, Sunanda K. “Modernism and Cultural Politics”: 51-2.

[11] This proposal came up at the writers’ conference at Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone, in April, 1963. See: Moore, Gerald & Donald Stuart, African Literature in French and English. Makerere Journal, 8, 1963: 29-34.

[12] Education in Uganda (The Report of the Education Commission, 1963), item 6, 2; item 85, 29.

[13] Rubadiri, David, “Makerere Revisited (A Symposium on Goldthorpe’s Book)”, Makerere Journal, 11, 1965: 8-9.

[14] Ezekiel Mphahlele has since changed his first name to the African version “Es’kia”. However, I use “Ezekiel” to avoid confusion, because all of the literary references I use in this study have this older version of his name.

[15] With the increasing uncertainty and threat of the Amin years in Uganda, publication of Transition was shifted to Nigeria in 1975. Only two issues came out from there in the next one year, the first under the name Transition/Chindaba, and the second Chindaba. The journal then changed place once more and began to be published from Harvard University in the United States under the old name Transition. It is still being published from there. 

[16] The Congress for Cultural Freedom was allegedly a CIA front-organization that underwrote cultural projects. It even funded Transition, which raised a controversy in the late sixties. (See: “Rajat Neogy on the CIA”, reprinted interview, Transition, 7(32), August-September 1967: 45.

[17] Mphahlele, Ezekiel, “African Literature”, Africa Report, New York, July, 1962.

[18] “Death of Christopher Okigbo”, Transition, 33-7(ii), October-November 1967: 18.

[19] East African Standard, Friday, 29.1.65.

[20] Mphahlele, Ezekiel, “African Literature”, Africa Report, New York, July, 1962.

[21] See: Wali, Obiajunwa. The Dead End of African Literature?. Transition, 4, 10 (September 1963): 13-15.

[22] For more on the responses to Obiajunwa Wali’s article, see: Sanyal, Sunanda K, “Modernism and Cultural Politics”: 53. 

[23] See: Mazrui, Ali A., Cultural Engineering and Nation-Building in East Africa. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972: 10-25.

[24] Trowell, Margaret, African Tapestry, 108-9; Macpherson, Margaret, They Built for the Future: A Chronicle of Makerere University College 1922-1962 (Cambridge: University Press, 1964), 49, 57.

[25] Jonathan Kingdon, personal interview, Duke University, North Carolina, 12.3.99.

[26] “Makerere Revisited”(A Symposium on Goldthorpe’s Book), Makerere Journal, 11, 1965: 13. In keeping with the general trend of the conversation at that meeting, his observation implied the possibility of a problem with the art education, as with education in other disciplines.

[27] Noor, Ibrahim (From a Student’s Notebook), “Art in Africa— Backwards or Forwards?”,  Transition, 27(6, ii), 4, 1966): 39-41.

[28] Adams, Michael, “Critics--- Men of Taste?”, Transition, 2(6&7), October 1962: 35. 

[29] Kakooza, George, Contemporary Attitudes to the Visual Arts in East Africa. M. A. thesis, Makerere University, 1970: 55-6.

[30] “Critics and Creators. Harris vs. Adams”, Letter to the Editor, Transition, 3(8), March 1963: 7.

[31] While it is true that certain modernist groups, such as the Surrealists, were aggressive opponents of colonial domination, such protests were never effective enough to affect either the course of colonialism or the Eurocentric underpinnings of modernism. What is more, it can be argued that the Primitivist impulses of the Surrealists themselves (Man Ray’s photos of white women juxtaposed with African masks, for instance) served largely to undermine their political radicalism.

[32] See: Yau, John, “Please Wait by the Coatroom”. In Ferguson, Russell et al eds. Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. New York, N.Y.: New Museum of Contemporary Art, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, c1990: pp. 133-9.

[33] See: Featherstone, Mike et al eds. Global Modernities (Theory, Culture and Society series), London: Sage, 1995. Also see: Hassan, Salah ed. Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading, Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: NAi Publishers, c2001.

[34] Interestingly, despite protests from some members in the audience in Ghana that Njau was not being academic, many liked his presentation and wanted him to go on (Welbourn, Fred B., “What is an Africanist?”: 92). This perhaps suggests that many of those who subscribed to the notion of African Personality in that period were unsure whether the idea could at all be expressed in objective terms.

[35] Personal interviews: Kiure Francis Msangi, Nairobi, 8.4.98; Francis Musango, Kampala, 26.3.98; Norbert Kaggwa, Kampala, 17.11.97; Mazinga Kalyankolo, Kampala, 12.3.98. 

[36] Personal interview, Nairobi, 10.4.98.

[37] See: Sanyal, Sunanda K. , “Modernism and Cultural Politics”: 56-9. 

[38] Personal interview, Nairobi, 10.4.98.

[39] Personal interview, Nairobi, 10.4.98.

[40] RHA, MSS Afr.s., 1825, LXII, 114. Manchester Guardian, undated clipping.

[41] RHA, MSS Afr.s., 1825, LXII, 114. Uganda Herald, 7.7.46.

[42] See: East Africa’s Cultural Heritage: African Contemporary Monographs. Nairobi, 1966.

[43] Obed, Winifred, “The Attitude and Transition of East African Art”. Chemchemi Newsletter, 2, (May 1964): 6.

[44] Francis Musango, personal interview, Kampala, 26.3.98.

[45] George Kakooza, Contemporary Attitudes to the Visual Arts in East Africa (M. A. thesis, Makerere University, 1970), 214, quoting Gregory Maloba, Towards Inspiring Art Education in Schools, Art and Craft Conference, 1965.

[46] Maloba, Gregory, “Petson Lombe”, Roho, 2, June 1962: 34.

[47] For an elaborate discussion of this sculpture, see: Sanyal, Sunanda K., “The Local and Beyond: Francis Nnaggenda’s Sculptural Innovations”. Nka #18, 2003: 76-9. Also see: Sanyal, Sunanda K., Imaging Art, Making History: Two Generations of Makerere Artists. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Emory University, 2000: Chapter 3.

[48] For a report on the second show at Nommo Gallery, see: George Kwanai, Nommo Gallery, Transition, 4, 19 (1965): 39. For an early report on the School’s Gallery, see: Judith von Daler, A New Gallery in Kampala, African Arts (UCLA), autumn 1970: 50-52. Also see: Makerere Art Gallery Catalogue, 1973.

  

   

 

Essays

An Unexplored Discourse in Kolkata’s Visual Culture

From Object to Experience: Notes on American Sculpture

Scandalous Art and the “Global” Factor

Kolkata’s Contemporary Art : A Look in the Mirror

Installation in Perspective: Two Outdoor Projects

Critical Perspectives on Photograph(y)

Sex, Culture and Otherness  Two (W)edges in Kolkata’s Art

A Majestic “Africa”: El Anatsui’s Wall Hangings

Writing as Transgression: Two Decades of Graffiti in New York City Subways

Teaching Art History at an Art School: Making Sense from the Margin

Medi(t)ations of a Decentered Self  The Art of Jayanta Roy

Picturing Maladies   The Art of Subhadarshini Singh

Subir Hati’s Painted Prisms

কিশোর সাহিত্য নিয়ে কিছু কথোপকথনের শুরুঃ বিভূতিভূষণের 'চাঁদের পাহাড়'

“Being Modern”: Identity Debates and Makerere’s Art School in the 1960s

Critiquing the Critique: El Anatsui and the Politics of Inclusion

‘Global’: A View from the Margin

Amrit: A Poetic Meta-Exhibition

Essay/Interview 

In Conversation with Kanishka Raja

Talking to Annu P. Matthew

In Conversation with Sarina Khan Reddy

Essays & Reports:

Representational Painting After Richter : Critical Issues By Robert Sullivan

Criticality in painting developed in such a way as to determine the intentionality of the artist, the formal handling of medium in relation to the work, and the intrinsic individuality that resulted from a fusion of the two.
Representational Painting After Richter : Critical Issues By Robert Sullivan    [..more]

Rituparno Ghosh by The Critical Tourist

When you are all but convinced that art these days does little more than serve self-promotion and the market, someone comes along to show that all is not lost, that art can still make a difference. It happens rarely, but when it does, you have to salute that artist. Rituparno Ghosh, the first openly gay and transsexual Bengali filmmaker and actor, ...
Rituparno Ghosh by The Critical Tourist

[..more]

Film
A Homecoming Spectacle

The documentary examines specific aspects of the visual culture of Durga Pujo, a grand religio-cultural festival held in Bengal, India. Locally, it is seen as the occasion of the Hindu Goddess Durga’s annual visit to her parental home. Central to the rituals is a sculptural image of the Goddess killing Mahisasura, or the buffalo-demon. This mythic event is considered a symbol of the eternal battle between Good and Evil, and of female empowerment.
 
“A Homecoming Spectacle” (58 mins. & 28 mins.)
 

[..more]

Wordpress Blog:
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Let us be proud as Indians!
(I have a policy that this site will only cover issues related to art and visual culture, which is why I do not comment on a lot of other things happening around us. Today, however, is an exception. After fighting for her life for almost two weeks, the 23-year-old victim of the brutal gang rape and assault in New Delhi has died. So yes, today is an exception indeed).
  
We, the Indian public, who have been on the street with passionate cries for the heads of the six perpetrators, now can have our wish fulfilled, for now it has turned into a murder case. In this context, .. [..more]

The cartoon controversies in India:
Democracy comes with its tests, some of which every democratic nation inevitably flunks. In fact, there hasn’t been any nation in the history of democracy that has passed all the tests all the time. And needless to say, a regime always finds ways to justify its anti-democratic actions, no matter how ridiculous its arguments. But what’s ..

[..more]

In the Name of the Goddess

The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata
by
Tapati Guha-Thakurta












T
he book’s central concern lies in conceptualizing a specically contemporary and artistic history of the urban festival. In keeping with its title, the book examines the diversity of images and practices—from the consumerist spectacle and the bonanza of awards to the efflorescene of public installations and art and craft productions—that unfurls in this season ‘in the name of the goddess’.      [..more]

Tapati Guha-Thakurta is Professor in History and currently the Director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC)

In the Name of the Goddess
The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata
by Tapati Guha-Thakurta.

408 pp.  Imperial   8vo   Hardback ISBN: 978-93-84082-46-8 Rs. 5500
Available:
www.flipkart.com, www.books.rediff.com,
www.infibeam.com, www.uread.com, www.nbcindia.com


www.primusbooks.com

Imagi(ni)ng India


Imagi(ni)ng India
Paintings and Videos by Kathryn Myers,
Curated by Sunanda K Sanyal in 2013,
at Main Gallery,
Lesley University, College of Arts.. [..view]

Ganesh Pyne


Ganesh Pyne, the famed contemporary Indian painter
spent all his life in the city that so enchanted him. He is widely acknowledged as a leading second-generation Indian modernist. Succeeding the early pioneers, such as M.F. Husain and F.N.

Souza, his cohort was the first to be trained in post-independence India...The critical discourse of modern Indian art is only beginning to understand the complexity and multivalence of Ganesh Pyne’s creative contributions. [..more]

In Conversation with Kanishka Raja
Originally from Kolkata, Kanishka Raja now lives and works in New York. For more than a decade, his large, hybrid painting installations --employing such diverse pictorial devices as Indian textile, linguistic and miniature motifs; drastic perspectives; pop imagery and surrealistic juxtapositions-- have received a fair amount of critical acclaim. I sat down with this ambitious artist in his Brooklyn studio to talk about his art training, life in New York, and his views of contemporary art.

[..more]

Talking to Annu P. Matthew
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s work is firmly grounded in cross-cultural experience. Professor of Photography at the University of Rhode Island, she appropriates images from diverse sources and juxtaposes them to make incisive comments about displacement, family, social inequities, and cultural memory. I chatted with her at her Providence home about her background, artistic strategies, and her life between/across cultures.
  

[..more]

In Conversation with Sarina Khan Reddy
Born of an Indian father and a white American mother, Sarina Khan Reddy is a new face of the South Asian immigrant culture in the United States. Her new media work intensely scrutinizes, among other things, the hegemonic underpinnings of American world view. I met with Sarina at a café in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to talk about her life and the sharp political edge that defines her art.
                     
[..more]



A Majestic “Africa”: El Anatsui’s Wall Hangings
Displacement of objecthood has been one of the primary attributes of much of modern art in the latter half of the twentieth century. From the emergence of environments, installation and happenings in the 1960s, to earth art, conceptual art, and performance art of the subsequent decades, ..
                                      [..more]

Writing as Transgression: Two Decades of Graffiti in New York City Subways
Of all the genres invented in the history of modern art, “protest art” is one of the broadest and most open-ended, not least because it encompasses a wide variety of forms, materials, processes and aesthetics. If Picasso’s Guernica shares this rubric with anti-apartheid posters from South Africa, then the definitions of the..

[..more]

Critical Perspectives on Photograph(y)
Back in the 1980s, the photo historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau concluded her insightful essay on art photography with a poignant observation that left many photographers uncomfortable, even irate. Art photography, she wrote, “has systematically engineered its own irrelevance and triviality...        [..more]

Installation in Perspective: Two Outdoor Projects
During conversations about installation, I have often heard Indian artists insist that the West has, only in the recent decades, merely intellectualized something that has been part of the Indian heritage for centuries. As with all nativistic gestures, such claim demonstrates an erroneous...         [..more]



Medi(t)ations of a Decentered Self  The Art of Jayanta Roy
A large canvas is wrapped in taped newspaper sheets; Barack Obama and Paris Hilton peek out from speech bubbles; cartoon clips and Sharukh Khan appear in broken eye-glasses; two pairs of conjoined, attired legs engage in yoga positions; a headless zebra stands on a wavy checkered floor; a shadow/silhouette.. [..more]

Being Modern

“Being Modern”: Identity Debates and Makerere’s Art School in the 1960s
Ulrich Middeldorf was a historian of Renaissance art. A student of the legendary Heinrich Wölfflin, he headed the Art Department of the University of Chicago. On 16 May 1950, he wrote a letter to his contact at Uganda’s Makerere.. [..more]

Amrit: A Poetic Meta-Exhibition

Four white horses stand atop tall columns, surveilled by a series of watchful painted eyes; two bowl-like objects rest on a padded bench; a two-part slab with its own ocular sits on a tall wooden stool; seven white horses, standing in a row on a horizontal metal beam, confront a dark painted surface; dense, .. [..more]

Critiquing the Critique

Critiquing the Critique: El Anatsui and the Politics of Inclusion
Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) was a Cuban artist of mixed race. In the 1980s, his painting Jungle (1943) hung near the coatroom in the first floor lobby of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, prompting the poet and critic John Yau to sharply criticize the museum’s influential curator William Rubin (Yau 1990). As a custodian of modernism, .. [..more]

‘Global’: A View from..

 ‘Global’: A View from the Margin
There is no question that for contemporary artists of non-Western origin, the doors to international art scenes, barely ajar in the late 1980s, have opened wider, with increasing access to an inter-continental art market and blockbuster exhibitions. What is more, in the absence of any dominant paradigm in the contemporary discourse of art, critics like Terry Smith, .. [..more]

Teaching
Art History

Teaching Art History at an Art School: Making Sense from the Margin
What made me decide to contribute to this volume of essays was a feeling of exclusion, so to speak. While the literature on the scholarship of pedagogy and the NECIT seminars indeed resonate with many of my concerns as a person of foreign origin in American academe, none of the speakers.. [..more]

Picturing Maladies   The Art of Subhadarshini Singh
Subhadarshini Singh’s art is deeply involved with the subject of medicine, both modern and ancient, Indian and Western. A legacy of her experience as a medical journalist, it is unambiguously central to her creative enterprise. What interests me, however, is not so much the subject itself, nor the artist’s strong passion for it, but the larger question – ..[..more]

Critical Perspectives on Photograph(y)
Back in the 1980s, the photo historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau concluded her insightful essay on art photography with a poignant observation that left many photographers uncomfortable, even irate. Art photography, she wrote, “has systematically engineered its own irrelevance and triviality...        [..more]

Look in the Mirror

Kolkata’s Contemporary Art : A Look in the Mirror
A couple of years ago, during one of my frequent visits to Kolkata, a well-known artists’ group in the city invited me to one of its weekly meetings. I was requested to propose a topic for discussion, so I suggested a conversation about the lack of experimental drive in Kolkata’s contemporary art...               [..more]

Scandalous Art and the “Global” Factor

Scandalous Art and the “Global” Factor
One often hears these days that Indian art has “gone global”. Indeed, for those of us who were adults in India during the 1970s and 1980s, living with dead telephones, state-run television and neighborhood mom-and-pop stores is now..       [..more]

From Object to Experience: Notes on American Sculptur
To put it rather bluntly, it is impossible to write an exclusive history of modern sculpture... sculpture of the last century has been more consistently engaged in self-deconstruction, ... [..more]

An Unexplored Discourse in Kolkata’s Visual Culture
In its vibrancy, variety, and opulence, Durga Pujo is indeed comparable to such grand spectacles as the Carnival of Brazil. Yet unlike the Brazilian event, which has been closely examined by chroniclers of visual culture, ... [..more]

Sex, Culture and Otherness  Two (W)edges in Kolkata’s Art
“Avant-garde” is the name attributed to a progressive leadership in the history of modern art. Taken from French military terminology, it was understood for a century to signify the creative pursuits of several generations of Western artists --typically from Manet and Courbet in France to Pollock and Rothko in America-- that broke with the Renaissance legacy.. [..more]

 
 
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about
Adda is arguably a crucial component of Bengali cultural discourse. It loosely translates as a kind of informal chit-chat. A thek is a recognized venue for adda..this site is a virtualthek. One part of the site has Sunanda K Sanyal’s personal stuff: essays, images, and blog..

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