Nudity and Protest: A Conversation with Jess Atieno

Jess Atieno is both a fine and graphic artist having graduated with a degree in Graphic Arts from the Technical University of Kenya. Much of her work explores the layers within human interaction as it references to her space, memories of her past and culture through mixed media and installation. Her recent work has especially explored how these interactions between self and other have manifested in the subject of feminism and femininity. Jessica has shown in various exhibitions across Kenya as well as within the East Africa Region, most recently her series Full Frontal. She discusses her work here with curator and researcher Moses Serubiri in the context of renewed interest in nudity as protest by contemporary African women activists.

Moses Serubiri:  Recently, you installed a series of nude black women figures. What was the context, and what were some of the reactions, responses?

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Jess Atieno. Caged Birds (2015)

Jess Atieno: Yes. #FullFrontal (Kuona Trust, 2015) particularly looked at the body as burden with special focus on how women have responded to the stereotypical trappings of femininity such as weakness, and submission. Aside from the installation, I have also applied the female body in my work to subvert these narratives that have through time informed society’s perception on femininity and feminism.

M.S: Margaretta wa Gacheru in the Business Daily wrote about your installation at Kuona:

“I know I have shocked and upset some people although no one has said so to my face,” Atieno told BDLife. Even at Kuona, she felt that some people questioned her motivation for painting nudes, especially one of two nudes gracefully standing together. The implications of that one especially make some of her critics quite uncomfortable. What is a bit disturbing about her nudes is that they all don’t have heads.”

JA: I must admit that the work received mixed reactions. More importantly toward the idea of feminism but I am glad because this forced me to unlearn and to reinvent the idea of feminism to — and for — myself. This process of unlearning and reinvention continues to inform my current practice.

MS: How have you reinvented feminism (or narratives of feminism) for yourself?

JA: I first engaged with the idea of feminism through the lenses of Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir and Rebecca Brown. I like to think of it as an “imported version of feminism”. While I greatly appreciate their guiding voices, I have continuously worked to bring the idea closer home by drawing its meaning from my own experiences and daily realities.

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Jess Atieno. Caged Birds (2015)

MS: Regarding the Stella Nyanzi protest, Angelo Kakande’s analysis of the episode points towards the response from Collin Sekajugo, and indeed society at large, as being largely against her nudity. What are your thoughts on the artist’s reaction? Should artists be reacting to political protest? And do you agree with Kakande’s analysis?

JA:  First, YES! Why should artists not create work as social and political commentary?

The fist of Stella Nyanzi was a bold and timely contribution and Dr. Kakande’s analysis was comprehensive and shed light on relevant issues raised by Sekajugo in relation to particular pieces…. surely the conversation extends beyond Nyanzi’s actions and into the larger discourse of nude protest in light of a patriarchal society.

MS: I agree.  

JA: However, I disagree with Dr. Kakande when he states that Sekajugo might have been elusive of Nyanzi’s nudity and vulgarity.

A nude protest relies solely on its conduit, the nude body. In its rawness, vulnerability and at the same time, its power. Yes. However, as I have just mentioned, the conversation goes beyond the nudity. We now start to question why and not how. An artist does not have to be literal to make a point and the point here is neither the obscenity of Nyanzi’s body nor her vulgarity. But WHY?  

M.S:  It seems that there is a difference between pre-colonial social moral value and recent nationalist morality. What do either say about nudity?

JA: Well, in my opinion, “the recent” nationalist morality borrows from pre-colonial social, moral values. Without doubt, African nationalism predates colonialism. However, we cannot disregard the role of colonial oppression and the struggle for independence in shaping perspectives on African nationalism today. I think the question on morality reflects on decolonizing knowledge and what we have come to know as morality and finding alternate ways to produce this knowledge.

MS: What are some of the alternative ways to produce knowledge?

JA: There are endless possibilities in art, both visual and performance, in literature and in electronic media. Look at artists, writers and curators who are continuously creating work and spaces that push boundaries and reclaim African perspectives on identity, power, sexuality and many more pertinent matters on the continent.

MS: And you point out colonial oppression and the struggle for independence but there is a strong criticism of that struggle by the women’s movement under which some have stated the outright misogyny of postcolonial African leaders. I have had conversations with Rebecca Rwakabukoza in which we talk about the slut shaming of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elizabeth Bagaya, who denied the sexual advances of Idi Amin. If we are talking about Idi Amin’s nationalism, then it’s feminism or its interest in women’s liberation in places of power is certainly only ceremonial, and symbolic.

JA: Well, misogyny within post-colonial African leadership, again, predates colonialism. Many if not most African traditions, beliefs and practices have through history, sidelined, prejudiced and even traumatized women. It is a tragedy that misogyny still plagues our systems but on the other hand, the rules of the game are changing. The Nyanzis, Bagayas and other phenomenal women out there are taking back the power and are putting up a united front to subvert these narratives. That’s feminism!

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Jess Atieno. Caged Birds. 2015
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Imagine Uganda

If money was no object, what would you be doing with your life? If you did not have to worry about how your hypothetical future children would eat, or what your Aunty would say, or how you were going to pay the rent, what would be your reason to get up in the morning? If failure was not a possibility, how would you expend your passion? If there were no limits, what would you do with your life?

When my little sister was a kid, she wanted to be a marine biologist, hairdresser and makeup artist, all AT THE SAME TIME. Today she is about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and we are all very proud of her. At the same time I kind of miss the naïveté and optimism that would allow a little African girl, living in a landlocked country to want to be a marine biologist. When you are a kid, anything is possible. Never mind that you hate science, never mind that you have only ever seen dolphins in books and on TV, the world is your fucking oyster!

toomuchnews.com

My very first ambition in life was to be a dancer for Madonna. We had a little blue tape, a pirated copy of her album “Like a Virgin” that Dad would play in the car and I knew all the words, (though not what “virgin” meant). Now I look back and I am like damn, I could have done that! Madonna is 50-something years old but she is still dancing! Instead of touring the world and popping Cristal in the club, I sit in my little office typing proposals and reports like a trained monkey.

What happens as you grow up? I ask, but I know, I know because it happened to me. You tell someone on the playground you want to be Madonna’s dancer and they laugh in your face. You ask your mom for chocolate at the supermarket and she tells you “do you know how hard I work for this money? It doesn’t grow on trees you know.”

You tell your parents you want to study art as one of your A levels, instead of biology, which you are failing anyway and are told “you’re not going to spend my school fees finger painting with your hippy drug addict teacher, you will study Biology, and you will do it well!”

You decide you’re going to break free, live your dreams and study photography and they hold an intervention on your behalf. (On TV interventions the nice mzungu family sit you down and read you letters of how much they love you, in Africa they lock you in a room and beat you until you come to your senses).

How many of us ended up studying law, accounting, business, engineering RATHER than our passion? How many of us get a little buzz in our down-belows when we read torts or write proposals?

As a working man, you finally get fed up kissing your boss’ ass and hoping to get in a car accident every weekday morning. You decide that you’re going to do it now, quit your job, go into business and selling sand to the Arabs. You write an award-winning business plan, make an appointment with the bank for a loan, and hit up all your benevolent relatives for support. Then your girlfriend misses her period and your dream flies out the window.

Chris Devers flickr

I have heard it suggested that imagination and creativity a privilege; that when you are worrying about your next meal you don’t have time to create the next Mona Lisa.

I say, screw that.

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Why Mubarak should (have) stay(ed)

Why Mubarak Should Stay…for now….

First allow me to start with the usually concluding disclaimer that the views in this piece do not reflect the thoughts of Vuga, hell in a week they might not even reflect the views of the author. But for now, they do. So let us begin.

Hosni Mubarak should stay NOT for the sake of stability (he and his state police are the reason for instability in the first place), I’m not one of those stability over democracy because really I’m worried about national interest’s folks. No, Mubarak should stay, for now, for the sake of history not repeating itself. As the world watches the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura and as of a few hours
ago Suez; Obama, Netanyahu, Peres, and Mubarak are doing what keepers of the establishment do best. Figuring out a way of making little to no change at all, look like leaps and bounds for society.

If the current rumors of Mubarak stepping down are realized now it looks like Suleiman (who was appointed Vice President literally a week ago in a pathetic an attempt to appease protesters) will replace him. With his training in US Intelligence, and running of torture
programs on behalf of the Bush and now Obama administrations, the military man does not look like much change at all. Oh and to top it off, Israel likes him, so you can expect Egypt to continue to stand by and even encourage the Israel military’s extermination of Arabs more specifically Palestinians.

But I digress….

So if not Suleiman what options do the Egyptian people have at the moment? It’s either him, the Google guy on behalf of the youth someone from the unions and the Muslim Brotherhood. We already know the US and Israel are not letting the ‘brotherhood anywhere near a position of power (and frankly it doesn’t seem like the people would either). In a testimony of a protester a man described how “the longer Mubarak stays the stronger and more creative we become”. In places like Tahrir Square it’s a great time to have political discussions about what the future could look like, and less about how grim the past has been. After the Google exec, who was detained’s interview, (very emotional stuff) protesters gained momentum, and it led to the biggest protests in Cairo and to the most recent strikes in Suez. So it’s obvious Mubarak doesn’t control the country anymore. His power and I’d like to hope the violence along with it has ‘left the building’. But if he officially left and that void was created who or what would fill it, either in the meantime or permanently? The military? They get a billion a year in allowance from the US, how long can they be trusted?

Maybe it’s not possible, maybe the capacity of the Egyptian people to conceive the future is subject to a clean ‘official’ break from the past, but I feel it’s in their best interest to use the energy they are expending on chants in a street, to evolve into some sort of transition committee for whoever is picked to succeed him.

I’ve never even been to Egypt, and most the stuff I know about the country is during a time it was called Kemet, so really what DO I know? I know as much as I hate consolidation of power the protesters need to find a leader, or he (or possibly but probably not, ‘she’) will be picked for them; and what better time then now?

This post was submitted by Ignorant American. He will probably be lurking in the comments if you have any questions for him

Submit your political musings, stories, videos and pictures to vugaafrica@gmail.com

 

 

MP utters sense, shocks nation

By our reporter

Journalists were yesterday shocked during a parliament session when an otherwise harmless member of parliament uttered a statement that haboured traces of intelligence. According to several reliable sources the incident happened at exactly 0807hours GMT.

The scene of the dreadful incident

The unprecedented incident caused mayhem for several hours before joint CIA and Uganda police forces were called in to restore calm and order. Because of the shock, one of the witnesses was rushed to Mulago hospital after suffering a near-fatal stroke.

“I’ve been a journalist for twenty years now I tell you but I’ve never seen anything like this. Me am telling you,” a journalist was heard saying. Other witnesses claimed it was only a prank and there was nothing to be afraid of while others thought it was a sign that the world was ending soon. “I think he has a demon. This nation needs prayers,” another MP was quoted.

Reactions about the MP in question were mixed though several of his fellow MPs were mostly negative about the incident.

“It is very unconstitutional. That man has been my friend for many years now but I’ve never seen him acting like this. That was very unethical of him and I think this nation deserves a public apology,” said the representative for Sibafaako North, Hon. John-Bosco Pilawo.

Another MP who preferred anonymity but told us his name was Slumber Yebase also expressed bitterness. “Very bad I tell you. Such things will ruin this country’s political future if they are not curbed early enough. He never said anything, he always dozed with admirable dedication and with that kind of attitude to his work, we even thought he would become the next speaker of this honourable house. He should be suspended immediately.”

However, Chogam Fandizi, Youth MP for Nalyasente East was of a different opinion. “I think this will be good for our economy. I don’t know how but I know it will be good,” he said adding that the said MP would be thrown out and the salaries of those left will consequently be increased. “Which is good,” he added. “Very good for us and for this country but mostly for us.”

CIA analyst Names McGood was baffled saying that it was a major science breakthrough. We’ve excavated and studied remains of previous forms of this kind of thing…person, sorry, without much success. This marks the first form of intelligence in a Ugandan parliament. We’ll continue studying it…him until we know for sure that there’s some intellect in that house.

Waaa: The president refuses to believe any such thing happened in his country

submitted by (or hijacked from) Erique

You can read more of his searing insights and bollockry here

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“Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here”

By our reporter

Journalists were yesterday shocked during a parliament session when an otherwise harmless member of parliament uttered a statement that haboured traces of intelligence. According to several reliable sources the incident happened at exactly 0807hours GMT.

The unprecedented incident caused mayhem for several hours before joint CIA and Uganda police forces were called in to restore calm and order. Because of the shock, one of the witnesses was rushed to Mulago hospital after suffering a near-fatal stroke.

“I’ve been a journalist for twenty years now I tell you but I’ve never seen anything like this. Me am telling you,” a journalist was heard saying. Other witnesses claimed it was only a prank and there was nothing to be afraid of while others thought it was a sign that the world was ending soon. “I think he has a demon. This nation needs prayers,” another MP was quoted.

Reactions about the MP in question were mixed though several of his fellow MPs were mostly negative about the incident.

“It is very unconstitutional. That man has been my friend for many years now but I’ve never seen him acting like this. That was very unethical of him and I think this nation deserves a public apology,” said the representative for Sibafaako North, Hon. John-Bosco Pilawo.

Another MP who preferred anonymity but told us his name was Slumber Yebase also expressed bitterness. “Very bad I tell you. Such things will ruin this country’s political future if they are not curbed early enough. He never said anything, he always dozed with admirable dedication and with that kind of attitude to his work, we even thought he would become the next speaker of this honourable house. He should be suspended immediately.”

However, Chogam Fandizi, Youth MP for Nalyasente East was of a different opinion. “I think this will be good for our economy. I don’t know how but I know it will be good,” he said adding that the said MP would be thrown out and the salaries of those left will consequently be increased. “Which is good,” he added. “Very good for us and for this country but mostly for us.”

CIA analyst Names McGood was baffled saying that it was a major science breakthrough. We’ve excavated and studied remains of previous forms of this kind of thing…person, sorry, without much success. This marks the first form of intelligence in a Ugandan parliament. We’ll continue studying it…him until we know for sure that there’s some intellect in that house.

submitted by (or hijacked from) Erique

You can read more of his searing insights and bollockry here

You might also like:

The cocacola-isation of Waving Flag

eh eh eh eh!

“Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here”

Almost…

People in this city have a lot of nerve! I was busy ‘facebooking’ one evening in a taxi, at a window seat when I felt some forceful hand grab at me, right around the wrist. I turned to see what the perpetrator of such a brave attempt on theft looked like, but all I could see was the back of his head. He was nearly crushed between two taxis in the process, both of them with those intimidating bush guards at the front. As the fellow scampered to safety, I couldn’t help but notice the bemused took on the passengers’ faces, those that were next to me. They’re the ones that had an idea of what had almost just happened.

That guy must have followed our taxi thinking he was in for some easy fix. Had he known that I’d sat at the right-hand-side back window, with it barely open, was intentional, he would have thought twice.

Had he known that I was aware that it was common for passengers in that seat to have their phones grabbed from them, he might have thought twice.

Had he known that I’d purposely lifted my right knee and held the phone in my right hand resting on my left thigh, he would have known that my phone was well out of reach.
I knew the risk of browsing the net in the city centre, in a taxi leaving the park, so I had taken simple measures to ensure its safety while I was at it. I must thank God he didn’t rob me. I also thank God I had the presence of mind to ensure my safety before embarking on such a perilous quest. Facebook would have cost me much had things gone according to the crook’s plan. The only regret I have is that I didn’t get the chance to hold his hand while he tried to grab the phone, otherwise I would have had the taxi drag him a good distance before I let go, just to teach him. But thank God I didn’t.

This post was submitted by Safyre

You can find more of his musings here

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Afropsychedelicfunkrock

Any followers of my 1 x 43 blog have probably read my blog about funk and its importance as an inescapable part of modern music. Now Africa is undeniably the birthplace of the blue note or the flattened third, fifth or seventh notes. Yet old African vintage records are often ignored by the younger generation of Africans, but revered and venerated in the west. I had to be in the United States to find my valuable $45 copy of Zambian afrorock band The Witch’s’ debut album Introduction. Secondly it took the genius of hip hop producer Madlib to actually use a song by The Witch as sample fodder, for a song in his Beat Konducta series of beat tapes. Yet we the African youth of today ignore the golden era of African funk/rock. So I will give a small history of the movement but also try to explain why in God’s name people are going to such great lengths to dig up old strange sounding music from bygone eras and far-flung places.

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