A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
KLA ART is Kampala’s contemporary art festival produced by 32° East. At the heart of the festival is newly commissioned work and non-traditional arts audiences.
While the pandemic disrupted the original plans for the festival, it also provided an opportunity for the organises to reflect on the core ideals of the festival and in what way they wanted to response to the COVID-19 crisis. They explain: “For many artists, the pandemic merely exacerbated the disempowerment that characterises life for many in the country, something that resonates on a global level. So we started to question what actually is ours, what is it that we can lay claim to and what does the statement “This is Ours” invite? How do we think of our city and who is it built for? How do we think of our future, when we have betrayed our collective responsibility to the earth? Once we settled on our theme, we got curious about what the theme could mean about the construction of the festival itself. How could we create more collectivity in what is shown, and blur the division between artist and audience.”
This year KLA ART will takes the theme This is Ours. The theme invites artists and audience to reflect on their relationship to their ownership of identity, the city, past, and future. In the weeks leading up to the festival, 32° East invited the public to participate in an interactive photography project that blurs the boundaries between audience and artist. Titled It’s Open, and playing with the notion of an open call, the project invited all Kampala residents to submit photographs that respond to the festival theme. The submissions will be curated and exhibited at central locations in the city on the walls of a shipping container that houses 32° East’s library and resource centre. The mobile and public exhibition will take place in September 2021 and serves as a physical representation of collective ownership and expression of the core theme of KLA ART 21. A digital version of the exhibition distributed via Whatsapp will invite further levels of engagement, particularly with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.