Joe Bukenya on the Technocene.
“Born 1996 in Masaka Uganda, I graduated as a primary school teacher from Kyambogo University. But due to the irresistible talent and passion for art, I gave up my teaching career to explore art as a profession. I wanted to change my personal life through self-expression, document my community’s rich culture, traditions plus its diversity. therefore, I started painting and selling portraits to tourists in Masaka and Entebbe. But since I wanted to use my art and talent as a way of imagining life in another dimension, expressing my concern on social, political and economic issues of communities and in order to be recognized as a contemporary mixed media visual artist, I met Ugandan established mixed media artist Collin Sekajugo who mentored me and I started conceptualizing my artwork and experimenting with different materials like paper cartons, news prints, fabric, back cloth, ink and acrylic paint to enhance the visual language in my paintings and style. I was able to discover my unique style of drawing fused with painting. And it is inspired by circuit board patterns. My medium is acrylic on canvas and mixed media on canvas. I’ve been able to exhibit at one off contemporary art gallery Nairobi 2020 “covid 19 social distancing” Afriart gallery Kampala 2019 “gender identity rebellion” The village gallery ndegeya Masaka 2018 “life in the brush”. My work is inspired by the way how people live, behave, communicate and how they connect with their immediate surroundings.”
Joseph/Joe Bukenya has a fascination with knowledge which may stem from his background in education as a teacher or a natural curiosity that causes his interest in what constitutes knowledge and how it is disseminated, this desire is what formulates the core framework of his art practice. Joe aims to explore the relationship of the black body and technology; he explores technological symbiosis in an African context, technology the way we know it did not manifest organically here in pre-colonial Africa what was present were tools which may be also in some contexts be termed as technology, but it lacked the certain salient features we’d expect of what today we’d term as technology which are a level of autonomy, complexity of components and connectedness, that did not exist before colonialism, the only comparable thing to this level of material abstraction and sophistication was magic and witchcraft, when the people of pre-colonial Tanzania encountered the technology that was crafted to destroy the body during the Maji-Maji rebellion they in response crafted their own technologies to make them invincible, but their abstraction did not hold, this encounter is usually taught to history students to mostly lampoon the Maji-Maji adherents, but the underlying philosophy of this encounter was a clash of world views, the Tanzanian viewed technology as a foreign way of life and belief system which had to be eradicated through their own way of life, which was so close to divinity that it could not fail them, but technology proved to be an unstoppable abstraction of material that cut through the Tanzanian abstraction of reality through the divine, after the terror of technology came a jaded awe, one machine could work faster than ten ox, there was a machine for everything.
Then the surrender happened, the realization that a war with technology could not be won, proselytized major swaths of the populace to join the much feared godless epoch of limitless self determination an idea that could not be even thought about before the encounter with technology, the animism that was alive everywhere suddenly dissipated and the Tanzanian was confronted with the fact that their entire worldview was at best a childhood delusion, and this encounter is what happened for most African nation-tribes (mostly in the sub Saharan), the violence that technology wrecked on the cultural growth of these societies was irreparable, what Christian missionaries could not do with Christ they did with technologies.
A case study of that could be seen in Buganda, a highly sophisticated kingdom by the time missionaries and eventually colonizers arrived, the Baganda wagered their way of life and chose to collaborate with a foreign power with a vested interest in expropriating fellow native sovereign nation-tribes, they were not galvanized by the “universal” nature of the catholic church or by the message of eternal peace, the Baganda connected to the colonialists purely due to the power of the colonizers technology to secure the kingdoms’ position as a growing empire, and it is documented that the king received guns and in exchange offered land and legitimacy for the colonizers because through his correspondence to the Queen of England he invites the empire to come as collaborators (Ekitiibwa K’ya Buganda, 2021)*.
The events that ensued are recorded in historical archives of Uganda and I needn’t repeat them here, however the relationship between the Ugandan native and technology became more complex, more and more one’s level of civilization was tied to how much technology they owned and the skill they had in manipulating it, the usage of advanced technological tools made one “superior” in a sense that they were in control of what shaped the future, recently however due to the very rapid advancements in what is considered modern technology has found ways of propagating itself and technology has reached its “universal” in this era, the people who rely on technology have come to expect a similar level of sophistication and functionality of technology, so now the baseline has shifted and it is not merely a dominator of civility, it is now pushed and designated as a basic life skill but all this is exposition it is not Joe Bukenya’s main focus, his main point of departure is rooted in the present nature of technology, and the discourse surrounding it.
“The distinctive characteristic of contemporary humanity is to constantly traverse screens and be immersed in image machines that are at the same time dream machines. Most of these images are animated. They produce all kinds of illusions and fantasies, starting with the fantasy of self-generation. But above all they enable new forms of presence and circulation, incarnation, reincarnation, and even resurrection. Not only has technology become theology, it has become eschatology.” (Mbembe, 2021)
Joe Bukenya’s work grapples with the biggest side effect of the proliferation of technology: information. Various data points have been collected, stored and archived we have arrived at a point of instant access, Bukenya’s work is a fantasy of total integration, of the tech trifecta, perpetual evolution, limitless data gathering and instant recall.
Ekitiibwa K’ya Buganda. (2021, October 18th). Ekitiibwa K’ya Buganda. Retrieved from Ekitiibwa K’ya Buganda: https://ekitibwakyabuganda.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/mutesas-letter-to-queen-victoria/
Mbembe, A. (2021, Oct 18). e-flux. Retrieved from e-flux: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/114/364960/meditation-on-the-second-creation/
Wanambwa, E. W. (2014). Margaret Trowell’s School of Art. A Case Study in Colonial Subject Formation. Margaret Trowell’s School of Art. A Case Study in Colonial Subject Formation, 111.