YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK
My father grew up in a very small village in the North of Uganda. He knew every tree, every hill and every valley on his land. And when he came to England in the 1970s I think he saw in this green and pleasant land his own green and pleasant land.
In December 2021 my father passed away and we buried him the following February. In April I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the first time and as we drove around in a Land Rover I was reminded of both how he had loved the English countryside, and of the last time I had been on safari with him in Uganda.
My father was born in 1953 in the Protectorate of Uganda, a country whose origins lay in Berlin in 1884, when European leaders sat around a map of Africa and drew new lines across it, deciding who would take what. So my father understood very well the ability of those in power to use language to reframe oppression as care. He was aware of the capacity for those in power to elevate their own beliefs and values and to subjugate and erase those of others.
This colonial tradition could be seen to have its roots in the English Enclosure Movement which occurred over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, and saw wealthy landowners encroach on common land by gradually fencing it off until there was nothing left for common people to graze their animals and grow their crops on. These landowners also made famous the ha-ha — a sunken fence dug into the ground used in 18th-century English landscape gardening to create a discreet boundary that would keep animals away from their gardens but create the illusion of openness, preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape.
The presence of the ha-has at Yorkshire Sculpture Park are a reminder of this colonial tradition, and an opportunity to consider its continuation in society today. The series of works in this show use the idea of the ha-ha to ask whether public speech in our society could be understood to be colonised.
I became an artist from a position of displacement. I considered myself to be an outsider in society and I sought to create my own narrative as a response to this. I can no longer describe myself as being on the margins of society. I am offered public walls to paint on, my voice is welcomed in our public spaces and institutions. But to what extent am I asserting my narrative on these shared spaces and how do I make space for the voices of others?
In a society where we are taught to question authority, but we, the culture makers, the educators, and the gatekeepers of our institutions hold significant power, are we in danger of simply swapping one orthodoxy for another? We may spout revolutionary rhetoric, be more discreet about our boundaries and more concerned with an appearance of liberality, but are we perhaps equally concerned with ‘re-educating’ the world? Have our lives become centred around proving our allegiance to the prevailing ideological orthodoxy through virtue signalling and the calling out of dissent?
I will continue to long for Paradise - that green and pleasant land where every sunken place will be lifted up. But for now, let this work be a suggestion that we might not be as free as we appear to be, and that even if at this moment we happen to be on the right side of the boundary lines, they may well move, and we may find ourselves on the wrong side of them, stuck in a ditch (HA-HA).
Lakwena means ‘Messenger of the chief’.
“The biggest weapon wielded by imperialism…is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment… and ultimately in themselves.” Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
It was upon my arrival from Ethiopia to mid-90s England that I was initiated into alienation.
The work began as an act of self-definition, putting back together things that had fallen apart, reclaiming broken pieces and finding new ones. I have not found all the pieces. The work is an ongoing form of resistance attempting to rebuild and restore what has been lost.
Viewed as a series of escape routes, the paintings serve as portals to an Afro-Futurist Utopia, their words chanting into spaces for the raising of spirits.
I have little faith in prevailing modes of decolonisation and the systems of salvation embedded in popular culture. My desire for emancipation extends beyond racist systems and oppression. I am in pursuit of the total liberation of the body, mind, soul and land from the subjugation of any and every form of enslavement. I am looking for Paradise.
If the possibility of total liberation is mythical, it requires a mythical intervention in order to be realised, a chief to take us to Paradise.