Xenson’s solo exhibition Kaddugala Mukatale, presents an interesting premise, the exhibition title translates to ‘’black person on/in the market’’ the distinctions are important in the understanding of this work, through portraiture and installation he explores the concept of the subjugation and subsequent precarity of black bodies that is as a result of differing concepts of market. When I saw the installation of the boat at this exhibition, I immediately associated it with the Trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trade, because of the symbol of the boat and black bodies crouched on it, I had the chance to discuss with Xenson the ideas around this installation, and our discussion helped me understand the quality of the local, of untold contemporary resistances of people whose lives and culture now hang in precarity because of the changing concept of markets.
The boat in this installation is reclaimed from a fishing community on one of the lake Victoria islands, due to competition for fish amongst fish processing industries and the people indigenous to these islands conflict has arisen, the fishermen are being pushed off the lake so to as enable these aggregate catches and farm fish, this exclusion is done through the fisheries and aquaculture bill passed in 2021 it seeks to ‘’ the control and regulation of all fisheries and aquaculture production activities and practices in an integrated manner to achieve conservation and sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits for the present and future generations;’’1
And to achieve this aim the fishing body vests the Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit with these powers;
to demand name and address of offender or to arrest offender
Powers of inspection
Power to enter and search
Powers of hot pursuit
Authorised affairs to have powers of public prosecutor
Use of force
Identification of member of surveillance Unit
There are already numerous reports of unsanctioned detentions and even killings 2 of fishermen by the national army, the fishermen say the requirements for acquiring licenses prohibit them from meeting the regulations, and the army bundles up and burns en-masse boats and nets, they are however resilient, they reclaim wood and rebuild boats, they repurpose nets.
This bill claims to solve for sustainable fishing, food value chain systems and hygiene, and it is not unfounded there is always room for improvement, however when one studies the impact before and after it was passed one sees the underlying aspect of violent control by the state an article by FIAN international 3 show testimonies from fishermen on the extent of this.
One may ask that even in principle how does this tie into markets and blackbodies, how has this manifested in this niche situation? In October 2021 the Uganda Fish Processors Exporters Association got local attention because of this;
‘’Through their chairperson, Mr Sujal Goswami, the exporters say the law will also guarantee that the exporters have enough Nile Perch stock to feed into their businesses and ensure there is constant supply of the fish species to satisfy the tastes of foreign consumers of the widely sought-after delicacy.’’4
“The business that we do right now is on the verge of total loss for the past months. We are in a perishable industry and have created a niche market in the European Union (EU), and we don’t want to lose that, but we are likely to get out of the market because in European Union, they prefer and import only Nile Perch. Why don’t you leave Nile Perch for exports and tilapia for local consumption and for equality and equity?” Mr Goswami argued.
“Not everything but with art mostly contemporary abamutegela ela abamugula bazungu kuba banaffe e Uganda oba mu Africa tebabitegela ela tebabilamu mugaso. So munange if you want to sell your work or your art you have to learn the international way. There is only 1% of Ugandans that can invest there money in sucha Business just for decoration purposes. So tekka sebbo tulina okuyiga nokukopa abazungu to be on their market.
Why do you guys compare everything to whiteness?
Nekigambo Whiteness eno jetuwangalila kivumo ela nga gwe atanatambula nyooo
ojakuyinga ela oyina okuyiga bwebakozeza ebigambo ebimu ebyolulimi olugwila.” 5
This trend of the interests of the black body differing to markets is not new and it has also grown with intensity in the arena Xenson works in; contemporary art. The markets in contemporary art have the potential to harm and disenfranchise the black bodies, and when we fully understand Xenson’s installation such a comment to a Ugandan retrospective exhibition is not surprising, it is in merely in response to the very real market forces and these are pervasive, they are and have always been physical but they are also cultural and this is the metaphor; resilience, resistance and a call to remember that an unguided global perspective blurs the local.
1 – THE FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE BILL, 2020 (Uganda)
5 – Comment on exhibition by Ugandan artist by another Ugandan artist