A Fake Empire, the questions of bamboo, the belly of the beast, people dancing in lines, “Bonfire” –
How a single street leads us back to the future.

A usual street in Kampala: Rough asphalt, passing vehicles, company buildings with huge colored signs, the steps and voices of the passengers, traffic jam in the afternoon. It’s a day like any other, but suddenly something changes. Workers appear, tents and big lights are growing out of the ground. Stages with heavy speakers get installed. In the early morning every single corner and every wall gets filled with art pieces, installations, sculptures, paintings and photography.The street becomes more and more energetic and crowded. Around midday of Saturday 13th June 2015 it’s visible everywhere: The LaBa! Arts Festival is back where it started – on Bukoto Street.

This year’s LaBa! celebrating its 9th year aimed to create visions for the future reflecting on the past and the present. Can such a complex process of creation be done during a festival?

Dynamic performances, interactive installations, workshops, crafts, graffiti and live painting, literature at the bonfire. A multifaceted festival was formed by giving space to many young and upcoming artists with different approaches. Engaging audiences in creativity, joy and energy. The ‘Art is for Everyone’ ethos was definitely achieved. Especially the collaboration projects developed a big potential.

‘The Fake Empire’ was one of those bright collaboration highlights. The three day workshop and dance performance with choreographer Yolanda Gutiérrez and musician Tom Strauch from Germany together with Ugandan Dancers asked questions like: ‘ What are the mechanisms of oppression and power? How can these develop in a body language? And how can a mass choreography of bodies influence, intimidate or even destroy systems of power? ‘ A dynamic performance, created with collective and also very individual moves, with sculptural elements and hard powerful expressions on their faces, the dancers impressed the audience at LaBa! During the choreography they were using the whole space, moving on the stage as well as on the ground and even through the crowd. Walking in a line, cutting the audience several times into pieces. The dancers made visible, how individuals and a crowd develop power to create changes – a political dimension of the LaBa! that shows how to create a future with consideration of the past.

In other performances at LaBa! the audience got involved. Hundreds found themselves dancing in lines on the street, following the drums and moves of Batalo East or watching the astonishing trapeze artists from Butterfly Uganda. Also the music performances captured the variety of sounds and styles of Ugandans musicians like Giovanni Kremer, Kiracho, BaAfrique Sounds or the Kenyan guests Checkmate Mido and Alai K.

A big black and white four legged monster, with a blonde hair, was ready to attack. The sculpture titled ‘the belly of the beast’ by Eric Mukalazi was placed in the middle of the street. The people had no choice but to face and question its meaning. The sculpture proves that installations capture the visitor’s eye and imagination.

Another more interactive work was the sculpture of Mirembe Musisi: Bamboo sticks forming a winding structure, clothed by different sorts of fabrics and pieces of paper. These papers included the handwritten responses of visitors, to the question ‘how a future could look like… ’

Photography – a medium, which combines the past, present and the future was visible in the project ‘History in Progress’, which worked with pictures taken and collected by a single photographer of Ugandan’s past. Those were re-found, improved and composed to an old and at the same time new story, told by a present viewer. The photographs are assembled in a book joined by a present viewer’s stories.

Alongside the visual arts, design featured greatly regarding the vision for the future. Under the slogan “Water is life” the project Jerrybag Design Lab offered a workshop to teach people to make simple pouches/rack sacks from ideation, sketching and prototyping. Their aim is to help children to carry a jerry can and water bottles by back packing them.

A Bonfire is a place of rituals: You sit together in a community, enjoying the warmth and light, telling stories, singing to each other. In connection with brand new written contemporary literature it becomes an interesting mixture regarding the theme of LaBa! ´Back to the Future’. In the evening the Bonfire, organized by Writivism, was the right place to calm down and listen to self-written poems and other short stories. Each performance got finished by using a special ritual, done by the crowd, shouting: ‘More Bonfire! Bonfire!’

By the end of the day, if people had any energy left, the after-show party in the basement of the GZK/UGCS had people dancing until to the morning light.
And when they stepped out of the building, there was the street, looking almost lonely and empty. The crowd had disappeared; the tents and lights had already been removed. In this moment only the rubbish covered floor referred to what had happened for one day.

But what about all the ideas and brainstorming processes of how to create a future? And what about all the collected impressions and reflections on the arts? Maybe these questions and possible answers will continue working in people’s minds even after LaBa!, to be visualized and realized sometime in our lifetime.

© Stefanie Kösling