Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa
Author: Andrea Stultiens
Format: Video Essay
Duration: 10′ 00″
Published: January 2020
This research is situated in the field of artistic research, which following Rancière (2004, p.13), can broadly be defined as research through “ways of doing and making that intervene in [and respond to other] generally distributed ways of doing and making as well as the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility.” As such, this research also contributes to other fields with a possible interest in the inquired object such as histories of Africa (more specifically Buganda), photography in (East-)Africa and wider ontological questions concerning photography as a medium.
While tracing the cultural biography of the portrait made by explorer H.M. Stanley of Kabaka (King) Muteesa I of Buganda, I tried to understand both its absence as a photograph, and its presence in terms of various historical interpretations, in present day Uganda. The enquiry is part of a larger research project on photographs in Uganda (Stultiens, 2018).
Interpretations of Stanley’s photograph are widely available in Uganda in the form of the engraving in Stanley’s travelogue (Tumusiime, 2007), as well as in a likeness of the Kabaka, isolated from the group portrait (Stultiens et al, 2017), used by the Buganda government as his official portrait. Kabaka Muteesa ruled over Buganda when Western explorers reached his kingdom in the 1860s and 70s. This period has been researched and described extensively. However, an inquiry into the visual culture that was present in this region in relation to the pictures brought by these explorers did, as far as I know, not yet exist.
Based on a definition by French philosopher Jacques Rancière, I work from the idea that my artistic practice consists of “‘ways of doing and making’ that intervene in generally distributed ways of doing and making as well as the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility” (Rancière, 2004, p.13). The interventions acknowledge the constant ebb and flow of mutual influence that result from encounters and correspondences with and around photographs in Uganda. A photograph is considered “the product of an encounter between several protagonists”, as proposed by scholar of comparative literature Ariella Azoulay (2010, 2012).
Anthropologist Tim Ingold uses the word correspondence to refer to “the dynamic of lives going along with one another. […] Correspondence is a joining with; it is not additive but contrapuntal, not ‘and…and…and’ but ‘with…with…with’” (Ingold, 2017). In my artistic practice correspondences unfold between non-human and human actors who share a connection with a particular narrative and history, in and with photographs as material. These correspondences are both experiments in and (material) outcomes of “Ebifananyi”, the research project of which “Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa” is a part.
The experiments and outcomes are the methods that build on the three methodological pillars just described. They range from hands-on work with photographs while digitising and categorising them, to informal interviews with their owners, to Collective Making in which producers of pictures respond to my request to existing documents that raised questions on photographs and pictures in Uganda. Archival research and Collective Making are the main method used in Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa. A wide variety of picture-producers was invited to respond to Stanley’s photograph and/or historical interpretations of it. These picture-producers range from early- to mid-career artists, designers and producers of crafts in Uganda, and art and design students in the Netherlands.
The outcomes of this collective making have, so far, been presented to wider audiences in the last volume in the Ebifananyi book series, in exhibitions taking place in Uganda (2017), Belgium (2017), Greece (2018) and the Netherlands (2018), as well as the film published here. I consider the latter to be the most comprehensive outcome of this part of Ebifananyi as a research project to date. While the doctoral research is finished, I do consider the project to be an ongoing venture.
Ebifananyi Kya Muteesa has produced a cultural biography of the photograph H.M. Stanley made. Interpreted as an engraving and accompanying Stanley’s writing, this picture is significant to the historiography of this part of the African continent (a.o. Koivunen, Low, Mukasa, Reid). It also suggests that a multi-vocal interpretation of the photograph and its historical interpretations bridges cultural and historical gaps and contributes to the understanding of historically and culturally defined medium specificity, as argued in my dissertation (Stultiens, 2018). Particularly the latter, however, needs further investigation to which I hope to contribute.
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(last accessed 09-06-2019)
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Stultiens, A. et al (2018), Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa, The King Pictured, By Many, HIPUgada, Paradox. Online accessible: https://www.andreastultiens.nl/ebifananyi-books/, last accessed 09-06-2019
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All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept submission for publication with no amendments.
This is a beautifully crafted meditation on the differing interpretations on a picture of Kabaka Muteesa drawn from a photograph taken by Henry Morton Stanley. It has high production values in its execution, using well various visual techniques (such as the jigsaw puzzle effect): these add much intrigue to the composition, while not distracting from the main theme of the differing interpretations of the image.
There is much work at the moment on African photographic archives and how they can be used in research as well as in heritage projects, and the use of photo elicitation as a tool in visual studies and anthropology is gaining further strength. Also, more visual collections are being used as the basis for ‘repatriation’ projects, linking to wider projects around museum collections. This work links well to such a context, showing how the same image can elicit very different responses indeed, interpretations which can be placed in fascinating conversation with each other.
The beginning of the work sets the scene nicely of the author’s attempts to recreate the original photograph with the current Kabaka, then switches to the main thrust of the video with different voices narrating their reactions to the original image. The different reactions to the image link very nicely to the written accompaniment to the film, which explains the conception of the work and its intellectual context within the work of the likes of Ingold on correspondence. Perhaps a little more on scholarly / artistic work being done on photographs in the African context would have been useful in the accompanying statement, although not necessary. (The work of Richard Vokes might be interesting to bring in here.)
The most powerful voice is the Ugandan voice at the end of the film, which is as it should be, but one that fits very well after the other European reactions to the film. It clearly underscores the multi-vocality necessary in interpreting such images, and how the same image can have so many different resonances.
The whole work is very intriguing, and I look forward in delving into more such work by the author. It certainly adds much novelty to work on working with photographs, providing a new template for how such work can be developed and presented.
Review 2: Accept submission for publication with no amendments.
The main claims and purposes of the work are clearly communicated. It is an intriguing multi-faceted narrative, and one wishes that some areas could be elaborated upon in a longer form. The work centres around the philosophical challenges of how a photograph is perceived, and the gaps of knowledge that is missing in the photograph. The inclusion of contemporary interviews works well, as other histories emerge in spoken voices relevant to present time. The work highlights the challenges of how little factual information one can perceive from a photograph, in this instance a historical photograph.
The strength of this research is the national historical significance for Uganda, and for a broader understanding of how a photograph can be perceived in multiple ways. This is not new knowledge, however the methodologies that have been employed are multifaceted. The work highlights the ambiguous nature of photography and how it can be perceived by different individuals. The film is multi layered in both presentation and content, which is clearly underpinned by the theoretical framework. The viewer is left with some questions regarding the content (remnants that ended up in the UK and Belgium). As the statement outlines, this work is part of a wider research practice that engages with Uganda.
One additional reference that this research could perhaps acknowledge is the seminal Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes in discussion on the essence of the photograph / ‘reading’ events in history. However, the submission is well focused throughout specifically on Uganda histories. The researcher may not find Barthes entirely relevant for this specific research area, however useful as philosophical underpinning. The bibliography shows a focus on a particular geographic area and some visual culture references that form the basis of the contextual framework.
Overall, the research and theoretical context is solid in the written statement. The research is also evident in the film itself and clearly supported by the theoretical framework. The author introduces the concepts of ‘encounter’ (Azoulay) and ‘correspondence’ (Ingold) in the theoretical underpinnings, which is clearly a significant approach in the artistic research practice. The practice-led approach is underpinned by Ranciere’s definition of ‘doing and making’. This appears evident in the film, where the artist presents various ‘doing and making’ approaches in this work. This eclectic form of constructing the narrative unravels by present-day travels, interviews, art works, use of ‘jigsaw’ presentation, and voiceovers.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.