Beyond the Gallery: Interactions between Audiences, Artists, and Their Art through the Kampala Art Tour 2007-2010

Article excerpt

When one walks into an art gallery in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, one sees a predominantly non-Ugandan audience. Visitors to homes of Ugandans, even those wealthy enough to afford art, find typically bare walls. This begs broader questions: What is it about the education and presentation of contemporary art that excludes local authences? How can it become more relevant to a broader range of viewers? In this article, I focus on the immediate context of spaces where art is exhibited, contrasting the experience of viewing art in a traditional gallery or museum setting versus an interactive group visit to artists' studios as an alternative means of experiencing contemporary art.

Compared to dedicated art museums and galleries, artists' studios have received very little attention as learning environments for art. The museum has been described as a carefully constructed ritual site where visitors go to perform the ritual of seeing art in a contemplative state (Duncan, 1995). According to Duncan, visitors to museums are expected to behave with certain decorum while treating the objects and the space with respect. Art historians, curators, artists, and sponsors carefully choreograph this rimai. The museum environment therefore becomes a 'scripted platform' (Enwezor & OkekeAgulu, 2009, 23). The museum acts as a filter, sheltering the visitor from the humdrum of the everyday. But how is this ritual reproduced and sustained in society? French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term habitus, which encompasses the idea of self-reinforcing practices structured through different forms of capital - knowledge, wealth, social connections, and networks (Bourdieu, 1984). Thus, the practice of undergoing the ritualized museum experience, sometimes starting from early childhood, justifies and reinforces the demand for art itself. Such self-sustaining mechanisms and the capital required to sustain them have yet to take root in Uganda. Art infrastructure is notably weak. Until recently, Uganda boasted only a handful of art galleries concentrated in the capital city, and one national museum housing an ethnographic collection. Formal education in art is Umited to wealthy secondary schools and some institutions of higher learning. Public and critical discourses on art are also limited as elsewhere in Africa (Nicodemus, 1999), reflected by the lack of public lectures, seminars, journals, libraries, and archives devoted to art. Public discourse on art is Umited to those with access to social and occasional print media articles. According to the Ugandan art historian Kivubiro Tabawebbula, the contemplative tradition of art gaUeries in developed art markets is incompatible with the more communal nature of appreciation in music, dance, architecture, and other forms of African artistic expression (personal communication, March 15, 2011).

By contrast, art studio tours are more consistent with the local values of communal appreciation and participation. They do this in a number of ways, including: providing direct interaction between artists and authences, and authences with each other; conducting a more personal interface with the art in the artists presence; taking an opportunity to touch as well as see the art, art materials, and work surfaces at various stages of development; and hearing stories about artists' daily routines as well as ideas behind artworks. In this way, visitors get rounded learning experiences while bypassing the aUen constraining rimais of the museum. This approach is consistent with constructivist learning theory, which encourages students to be active learners playing a central role in mediating and controlling the learning process (Jonassen, 1999), and learning in small groups where successful communication results into identifying peers as resources rather than competitors (Strommen & Lincoln, 1992).

This article examines the experience of the Kampala art tour from 2007 through 2010 in five aspects: the character of the art tour, the artists, the visitors, the museum, and studio spaces; and the sharing of reflections on the tour experience. …