80 years after publication the Buganda court historian’s book has finally been illustrated

During one of her quests through Ugandan family collections of photographs, books, manuscripts and other documents, Dutch curator and artist Andrea Stultiens made a remarkable discovery. Amid the papers left behind by Ham Mukasa (1868–1956), a chief and historian in the court of King Mutesa I of Buganda (in present day Uganda), was a list of descriptions for graphics meant to illustrate a trilogy he had written. The series of books, called Simuda Nyuma (‘Go Forward’), describe the life and rule of the three Buganda kings who had ruled the territory between the 1850’s and the 1930’s.

Mukasa’s notes were never made public. But a new exhibition, put together by Stultiens and fellow artist Robinah Nansubuga (Uganda) shows how much they speak to today’s imagination. The notes were the starting point for a trip back in time by both artists, at the invitation of the Amsterdam-based ‘FramerFramed’ collective.

It is a remarkable display of diverse works: drawings, paintings and video. And it stands to reason that it is precisely ‘FramerFramed’ hosting the exhibit, since the creations continuously invite the question from whose ‘framing’, or perception, they were born. How much, or how little, do they say about Mukasa’s motives? To what extent are they connected to a mind-set that the (Western) visitor presumes in the artist? Or alternatively, do they undermine said mind-set?

The result, emerging from a wide diversity in form, courage and cultures, is a whole that invokes great curiosity about the trilogy itself as well as eager interest in an emerging art scene in Uganda.

Simuda Nyuma - Forward Ever Backward Never is on display until September 6 at Framer Framed, Tolhuistuin, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Note: Stultiens’ quest is part of the much larger Ebifanany Project, which looks at historic photographs in Uganda and asks how these can contribute to both history itself as well as to the thinking about the processes that ‘make’ history. ZAM will pay more attention to the project, and to the first four books it has produced, later this year.