In February 2014 the famous “Anti-Gay Bill” was introduced in Uganda. Even though it didn’t turn into a law by that time, the situation for LGBT Ugandans has gotten worse ever since. There has been an increase in cases of attacks against LGBT persons, including violence, sexual assaults, murders, evictions, loss of jobs, as well as a spike in mental health issues and increased number of refugees.
After five years instead of seeing improvements, in October 2019 LGBT Ugandans were shocked with the introduction of a new bill, which called for the death penalty of persons found guilty of engaging in same sex relations. The bill would also criminalize anyone who is involved in what government consistently referred to as recruitment and promotion. After the statement was made, the brutal violence attacks and arrests against LGBT persons have escalated enormously. Countless community members have fled, since they feared it would only get worse. Lawmakers backing the bill wanted to see it becoming law by the end of 2019.
Around that time in 2019 I was already drowning in meticulous preparations for my journey of making this project happen. The project I had been contemplating ever since I visited East Africa for the first time in 2013 and heard so many LGBT stories from the first lips around Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. The desire to find the best way to share those stories has been hunting me and burning inside of me ever since. I kept on thinking of how I could bring those stories with me and communicate them in the most reachable way, raising awareness about the horrible situation of the LGBT community in Uganda. My whole idea to do this project finally crystallized into a clear vision in early 2019. The tensed situation in Uganda after the government’s statement in October 2019 made all my concept even more relevant.
As planned, I went to Uganda in the beginning of January 2020 preparing to stay there for about 3 months or more, and to meet people not only in Uganda, but also to travel to Kenya and Tanzania. I was attempting to meet as many community members as I could, especially the most unprivileged and invisible, whose voices are often heard last or maybe not even heard at all. My goal was to show the problem in Uganda not as a statistical data, the way we normally hear about in media, but from an individual person’s perspective – how it influences their lives every day, what they go through and what they deal with, with the biggest focus on how they manage to find strength and optimism while fighting with injustice, how they still find a way to love and care for each other under extremely stressful circumstances. I wanted to spend time with them, get to know them, interview them. I was planning to document their stories, to sketch them hoping to turn them into amazing artworks.
My goal was to make series of stylized portraits, representing a real person with their story behind each picture. The goal of the drawings would be to show and present criminalized and repressed LGBT Ugandans in the most beautiful way, expressing their spirit, showing them as bright, strong, unbreakable, proud, brave and inspiring humans. Another idea behind the stylized and very decorative portraits was that they will not be easily recognized, while still expressing all the best of them. I drew all the 7 designs by hand and later reworked them digitally, with the goal to get out all the potential of the design.
All I was thinking and hoping with this project was to reach and impact as many people as possible using my art to raise awareness not only about the situation in Uganda but also in all other parts of the world where same sex relationships are criminalized. I was connected stronger than ever with my sense of purpose and my mission to use my artistic voice to contribute in making this world a better place. I have been planning this project for a long time and was really excited to finally start working on it. Unfortunately things were not as smooth as I hoped from the very beginning as soon as I arrived there. I lost a lot of time while looking for a stable and safe place to stay where I could focus and work. Lots of challenges were sabotaging my productivity, like constant interruptions of electricity power and difficulties relying on a list of other services. Right after 1,5 month the Covid-19 pandemics started occupying the whole picture, which brutally interrupted my whole stay in Uganda and painfully corrected all my plans.
However during that little time that I was lucky to have, I met all the most incredible people, experienced numerous life changing situations, learned extraordinary lessons and done the unbelievable. This experience transformed me in unimaginable ways. I also had the deepest confrontations with myself, contemplating and exploring my role as an artist and as a human. I felt more certain then ever that I really want to dedicate my creative work to articulate and debate similar questions. I want to identify at it’s best how my art could contribute in educating and in promoting human rights, in dismantling stereotypes, in asking questions about what is humanity, identity, dignity. What is the vision of our future, what is the mission of mankind. What each of us can do to make this world a better place and finish this endless suffer of humanity.
Artistic activism is one of the most powerful forms of act in changing and challenging power relations. Art has always had a very important function in shaping our society. Art encourages changing the perception, raises consciousness, encourages to break boundaries, promotes understanding and diversity. Art provides new ways to envision our world and gives a critical perspective, which inspires to take an action. The more people will take action, the bigger chance the change will happen. The more light will be put on the problem, the less dark there will be for injustice and basic human rights violations because of greed, populism and power.
I was born and raised in a very homophobic country myself. My youth years were spent in fear and depression sitting in the closet, before I moved to Norway. I’m still not open in the country I’m from and that affects me very much.
In the fight for LGBT rights, visibility and equality I want to use my art as my voice and my weapon. In the fight which is not yet finished, which in some places of the world is only starting or restarting. It is very important for us to understand that even in the freest countries of the world, none of us will be completely free, until all of us are free.
The ultimate goal of my project “Artistic Solidarity for LGBT Uganda – The Seven Stories” is to reinforce the human rights message, to raise awareness and to open up possibilities for new thinking about this issue. I use my art to object and to protest the human rights abuses. And I am inviting You to consider, to reflect, to participate, and to respond.
The artworks were originally planned to be presented at the group exhibition at the Oslo Pride 2020. The theme of the Pride was supposed to be “International Solidarity”. Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemics restrictions, all the official Oslo Pride 2020 events were canceled, with the Pride Art taking a huge space in the Design an Architecture Center of Norway in October same year. That’s where I showed The Seven Stories for the first time. After that they were presented in some few other places during 2021 and 2022. Eventually I will look for ways to promote this project more places offline and online. All the idea and collaboration proposals are warmly welcome! I also video-documented my journey and hopefully eventually there will be more videos next to the artworks and the stories.
In the meantime the tension in Uganda unfortunately continues. Sad news reached us on the 3rd of May 2021. The Parliament of Uganda have passed the bill, criminalizing the private lives of adult and consenting same-sex loving persons of Uganda. It raises a lot of worries, that situation in the country might get much worse than it already is, resulting in unimaginable violence cases against LGBT people.
Hopefully all different types of action will be taken all around the globe in reaction to this, and to all the other injustices.
Check out my past donation campaign in 2019, which is already closed. Make sure to scroll down for English!!!
If You have questions or if you would like to give me feedback, always feel free to contact me in the contact page. Make sure to subscribe for all the future updates!