By Opolot Nicholas Akwang (Programme Officer, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Uganda and South Sudan)
In recent times, artists have had a profound effect on Uganda’s politics. Either by a brushstroke, songs or poems – the arts have ushered in a new era for political dispensation across the country. Amidst the interwoven chaos of political posters, acclaimed artist R. Canon Griffin unveils his maiden exhibition, #PoliticianEyes (Let ME Help you Lead you), a powerful photographic series that transcends the mundane and delves into the very soul of Ugandan democracy.
This captivating exhibition in collaboration with the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/Ugandan German Cultural Society captures the complexities, contradictions, and, at times, comic absurdities of the democratic process in Uganda. My artistic dialogue, in conversation with Canon carries forward a poignant truth and message about re-imagining society and politics in Uganda.
Canon’s curated photography series offers a compelling political commentary on Uganda’s socio-political landscape, conveyed through the eyes of the leaders depicted on election posters.
During the dialogue, we delved into the captivating designs of the posters and the complex interplay of reactions from the populace and environmental elements. These images unveiled profound insights into our political realities, speaking volumes beyond the words of speeches or reports.
Through Canon’s lens, the posters come alive, each one proclaiming, “Look at ME, I am the capable one, now trust ME to HELP you LEAD you.” These posters, plastered across the country, are not just ephemeral visuals; they represent the aspirations, struggles, and challenges faced by a nation striving for political expression and social change.
Beyond the striking designs and chaotic placement, these photographs capture the reactions of the Ugandan populace, their hopes, frustrations, and unspoken dreams. In a country where every five years, elections symbolise a legitimization of political dissent, ‘PoliticianEyes’ serves as a mirror reflecting the modern dilemma faced by Ugandans.
The exhibition becomes a bridge, connecting the viewers with the raw, unfiltered reality of their political landscape. It invites us to ponder upon the fundamental nature of the state, an entity that monopolizes violence to ensure civil order. Yet, in the face of this monopoly, there exists a vibrant, evolving society yearning for something more—a society seeking answers, justice, and a voice that resonates beyond the cacophony of political slogans.
In this ‘festival’ of Uganda’s nascent democracy, Canon emerges not just as an artist but as a witness and an agent of change. His lens captures the harsh undertow of Ugandan struggles, from disease and poverty to unanswered questions and unspoken fears.
The exhibition serves as a testament to his commitment, offering an open dialogue that transcends the traditional boundaries of art and politics.
Canon’s photographic documentation, dating back to 2016, categorically depicts the faults and realities of our political landscape. By assuming the role of a witness and agent within the spectrum of our evolving democracy, Canon contributes valiantly to this ‘festival’ of democracy despite the underlying challenges faced by a significant portion of the Ugandan population.
‘PoliticianEyes’ urges us to embrace a new form of dialogue, one that marries art and politics, inviting us to confront the contradictions and dance amidst the jarring booms of the political rave. It challenges us to be sceptical realists, confronting the gaps between our ideals and the realities of Ugandan society. Through these evocative images, Rumanzi invites us to contemplate, question, and strive for a better future.
As we explored the complex and ever-changing dynamics of Uganda’s democratic process and the cyclical legitimization of political dissent through elections, we recognized the transformative power of contemporary revolutionary ideas. It prompted reflection on our society’s alignment with the lofty aspirations of humanity, prompting a balance between political pragmatism and the desire for a better future.
In a world where harmony often feels elusive, ‘PoliticianEyes’ illuminates a path forward. By engaging in open conversations about art and politics, we dismantle barriers, fostering understanding, empathy, and, ultimately, harmony. Let these photographs be more than mere images; let them be catalysts for change, encouraging us to lead and follow, to question and listen, and most importantly, to believe in the power of collective action.
As you immerse yourself in the world of ‘PoliticianEyes,’ may you find inspiration, provoke thought, and become part of a transformative conversation—one that not only celebrates the artistic brilliance of Canon but also paves the way for a more enlightened and harmonious society.
In times of uncertainty and struggle, we find solace and gratitude in the simple blessings of life—rain, friendly neighbours, good health, and resilience. Thank you for shedding light on these complexities and for your dedication to the arts, enriching our understanding of our society and its democratic journey.
I’d recommend a tour of Canon’s exhibition if you’re interested in unlocking and exploring a new level of political consciousness and how to join this growing constellation of voices determined to shape the future of Uganda. The exhibition is open until 20th October 2023.
This commentary, a reflection of my thoughts, attempts to unpack bold political ideas proposed over a thought-provoking dialogue with the mythical genius, R. Canon Griffin at the onset of his maiden exhibition ‘Politician’s eyes’. A true honour to be part of this conversation!