By Maria Olivah Nakato

Photos courtesy of: Borderlands Art/Martin Kharumwa

The SEND ME Exhibition presents a compelling exploration of artistic freedom and insecurity within the context of East Africa, drawing upon both historical and contemporary perspectives. By tracing the eras of political repression in the region, the artworks not only shed light on past injustices but also acknowledge the ongoing displacement of people, highlighting the enduring relevance of these works.

Through various mediums and artistic approaches, the exhibition captures the multifaceted experiences of individuals affected by political repression and displacement. From paintings to multimedia installations, the diverse range of artworks provides a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between art, politics, and human rights.

Featured in the  exhibition, Elsadig Mohamed’s exploration of the loss of identity due to exile is profound and poignant. Through his work, he sheds light on the profound emotional and cultural toll that displacement takes on individuals and communities. The notion of treasures lost during migration speaks to the intangible heritage carried within individuals, often overlooked amidst the physical challenges of relocation.

The narrative of Maryam, captured in a photographic print on cotton canvas, serves as a powerful embodiment of this theme. Her journey spanning seven decades and multiple countries underscores the complexity and endurance of the exile experience. Despite traversing various landscapes and cultures, she carries with her the accumulated experiences and ideologies of each place, forming a rich tapestry of identity that transcends geographical boundaries.

Maryam’s story is emblematic of the resilience and adaptability inherent in many forced migrants. While the physical artifacts of home may be left behind or lost along the way, the enduring legacy lies in the memories, traditions, and values preserved within individuals like her. Through her journey, Mohamed invites us to contemplate the enduring human spirit amidst the upheaval of displacement and the transformative power of preserving one’s cultural heritage in the face of adversity.

Gloria Kiconco’s inclusion in the exhibition adds another layer of depth to the exploration of exile and displacement. By incorporating artworks that prompt viewers to ponder profound questions, she invites us to engage with the emotional and ethical complexities of the refugee experience. The titles of her works, which evoke memories of those left behind, those who have returned, and those still in exile, serve as poignant reminders of the human stories behind the statistics of displacement.

The materials Kiconco utilizes, such as bark cloth paper, ink, pressed paper, and tea bag paper, speak to the resourcefulness and resilience of refugees on their journey to find sanctuary and, perhaps, eventually return home. These materials, often humble and readily available, mirror the ingenuity and adaptability required to navigate the challenges of displacement.

Through Kiconco’s artworks, viewers are encouraged to empathize with the plight of refugees and consider the complexities of their journeys. By engaging with the themes of loss, longing, and hope, her pieces serve as catalysts for reflection and dialogue, ultimately fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience of exile and the universal yearning for belonging and stability.

Charity Atukunda’s installation offers a thought-provoking commentary on the silent resistance of women, particularly within the context of Ugandan culture. By depicting women posed in submissive positions yet dressed in camouflage Gomesi, Atukunda challenges traditional notions of gender roles and societal expectations.

The camouflage Gomesi serves as a powerful symbol of concealment, obscuring the true intentions and inner strength of the figures from casual observation. This juxtaposition between outward appearance and hidden resilience invites viewers to question assumptions about women’s roles and agency within patriarchal societies.

The illustrated prints accompanying the installations further deepen the narrative by posing questions and statements that hint at the women’s true intentions. Through these subtle cues, Atukunda prompts viewers to consider the complexities of female resistance and the ways in which women navigate and subvert societal constraints. Atukunda’s installation offers a nuanced exploration of gender dynamics and power struggles, highlighting the often overlooked forms of resistance enacted by women in the face of oppression.

By engaging with themes of visibility, perception, and agency, her work encourages viewers to reflect on the multifaceted nature of women’s experiences and the transformative potential of silent resistance. Through examining the themes of artistic freedom and insecurity, the exhibition prompts viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about the power dynamics at play within society. It challenges prevailing narratives and offers alternative perspectives that amplify the voices of marginalized communities and individuals.

Ultimately, the SEND ME Exhibition serves as a platform for dialogue, reflection, and advocacy, encouraging viewers to confront the legacy of political repression and displacement in East Africa while advocating for a just and equitable future.

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