Intuition is a sense of knowing how to act spontaneously, without needing to know why.
― Sylvia Clare
In this segment of the No Holds Barred: Pushing Boundaries series, I want to focus on the women behind 32° East Ugandan Arts Trust, and the Ugandan artists they’re impacting. Why? Because they show us how living intuitively has direct effects on others, including people located in all corners of our wide world.
Co-directors Rocca Gutteridge and Nicola Elphinstone, both originally from the UK, have made it their mission to create a “centre for the creation and exploration of contemporary Ugandan art.” Located in Uganda’s bustling capital city of Kampala, the arts trust — which opened this past March — “aims to provide the arts community with the information, resources, and exposure needed to raise the profile of Ugandan Art to a national and international level.” When I stayed there for several months during the summer, I saw first hand the effect they were having on Kampala’s contemporary art scene — and, likewise, the influence that the Ugandan artists and culture were having on them.
When I first heard about the trust and its young founders, I was in awe of the courage it must’ve taken to not only pack up everything and move to a country vastly different than your own, but to create an organization geared toward integrating different values and mindsets under one collaborative roof. Since relocating to Kampala, Rocca and Nicola have needed to make significant lifestyle changes: the laid-back, slow Ugandan vibe is far different than the rigid, fast-paced energy of the UK.
As Rocca emotively wrote in her previous blog, just as they were beginning:
“Nothing here is constant, nothing is settled, it feels like anything could happen at anytime. But Uganda’s also a contradiction of terms. In 1907 Winston Churchill visited Uganda and called it ‘a garden of sunshine and deadly nightshade.’ Life stumbles along leading you to believe the chaos will always remain and the mindsets are concrete. It’s not going to be easy but there’s hope and adventure bursting out of every artist and conversation I’ve had, so I know I’m in for an exciting ride.”
What I really valued about my personal experience there was seeing their total devotion to creating something that worked for the Ugandan artists, rather than trying to impose their own set of values in a new culture. While Kampala is a city rife with talent, it has previously lacked much of the contemporary, avant-garde conceptual work prevalent in, say, major European cities like London, or Berlin. As 32 East member and one of my favorite artists, SANE describes, Uganda is known for being conservative in what it will accept in terms of personal creativity. When it comes to using social change, there are strides yet to made:
“Social change always starts with a change of mindset… art offers a way for the community to see itself. In our case, however, Ugandans have tried to stifle the incredible power of art by ignoring its potential to effect change. They have not given art sanctity as a discipline, nor as a part of daily life. If we could get the society to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate visual art in particular, and art (creativity) in general, then that mindset change will be the springboard to using art to deal with other fundamental social issues.”
How did Rocca even begin to imagine that she, an academically-trained, practicing sculptor, could begin such a bold undertaking? By trusting in her passions and intuition.
While she was visiting Uganda several years ago, the Egyptian Revolution unexpectedly broke out on January 25, 2011, derailing her plans for traveling there. Deciding to hang out a bit longer in Uganda while waiting for the riots to subside, she began exploring Kampala’s arts scene more deeply. Finding inspiration in the city’s myriad talented artists and their desire to go further, she saw an opportunity to use her passions to create a unifying space for Kampala artists to congregate, learn, and develop their conceptual practices.
To create, for me, is to be part of a meaningful, useful human existence.
From the connection she felt with the Ugandan culture, her own interests and passions, and the help of her equally-knowledgeable co-director Nicola, the next few years were spent conducting in-depth research on Ugandan culture and more. When they felt they had prepared as much as possible, and after long nights of late phone calls, paperwork, and determination, 32 East was made a reality. Since then, it’s become a staple in Kampala, and I’ve no doubt that it will continue to flourish in the hands of the Ugandan artists, curators, and arts managers in future. Whether hosting international artists-in-residence, like David Bade, or helping to facilitate Ugandan musician-artist Xenson’s latest project, the impact of the trust is far-reaching, and widespread.
The combination of Rocca’s unstoppable energy, and Nicola’s tireless efforts to create a space that successfully — and thoughtfully — merges two wildly different cultures into a singular hub of creativity is inspiring: it reminds us that if we feel a strong pull toward something, no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem, we owe it to ourselves, and the world, to pursue our vision.
Like Mike del Ponte’s story with making the Soma water filter, true change is generated from everyday people choosing to listen to their inner voice. Summoning the courage to move forward with our personal dreams can create a wave of positive effects for everyone. What’s your dream?
The only safe thing is to take a chance.
– Mike Nichols