Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Kaddu Wasswa Archive | Andrea Stultiens, Kaddu Wasswa John, Arthur C. Kisitu

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Christmas tea party at KW's residency in Katwe, the start of Youth Day, 1957 (spread from The Kaddu Wasswa Archive)

The contested and, at times, controversial ‘discovery’ of the work of Malian photographer Seydou Keita in the 1990’s acutely highlighted some of the difficulties that can accompany the First World consumption of Third World imagery. The dislocation between his modest, functional and inexpensive contact prints, and the feted portraiture that graced the walls of New York’s Gagosian Gallery, could not help but obscure many of the works’ more telling conditions of production, and indeed their less exalted, more prosaic meanings. As one academicdescribed it, ‘During their journey around the world, Keita’s photographs have transformed their social, cultural and political meaning, according to the explicit and implicit intentions of some Western agents. Keita’s photographs have been transformed into market products and their symbolic value changed encountering new audiences.’

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Arthur C Kisitu and KW with part of the archive (spread from The Kaddu Wasswa Archive)

So far, so familiar. But the question remains - how might a (photographic) archive be best made accessible to audiences that are culturally, geographically, and - inevitably, it seems - economically remote? The fascinating Kaddu Wasswa Archive, co-authored by photographers Andrea Stultiens and Arthur Kisitu, and the eponymous Kaddu Wasswa John, provides many pointers. The Ugandan Kaddu Wasswa (the ‘John’ appears optional) is described in the book’s dustjacket as a ‘peasant farmer and anti HIV / AIDS activist,’ but he is much more besides. Born in 1933 he has worked as a civic leader, dramatist, critic and fundraiser; he founded the first youth club in the country; he invented the ‘revolutionary’ curry powder Ntula Spices; he served as an usher at a state wedding; he was employed by Esso Standard East Africa, and British American Insurance; messenger, apprentice, clerk, treasurer and shopkeeper... it might be easier to identify positions he has not held. Not the least of his achievements is to have assembled an idiosyncratic archive chronicling his own, and related, activities in the years following Uganda’s bid for independence from Britain. It is this archive - comprising boxes, collages, records, writings and a biographical record book - that Andrea Stultiens presents alongside portraits of its subject, and contemporary Ugandan photographs. 

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Spread from The Kaddu Wasswa Archive
The result is an energetic, multi-faceted and fragmentary account of a life and a time. Kaddu Wasswa’s fondness for Jamie Reid-style ransom note collages adds a bizarrely anarchic tenor to snipped headlines and slogans: This is the way of...Improving the ImageLEARN TO enterprete OUR Custom Logically; jUMPright out. An introductory autobiography describes him as ‘a frustrated Voluntary Social Worker with a unique record of “Firsts” in Uganda’s NGO activities.’ Thereafter he details a series of enterprises and initiatives - ranging from the import of Pepsi Cola umbrellas (to add ‘style’ to youth club events), to appearances on Japanese TV and radio (to promote his work in agriculture). Whatever the merits or significance of such events, the fact of their inclusion is indicative of the presence of Kaddu Wasswa amongst the book’s authorial voices. This is important; it bears on those issues raised by the treatment of Keita’s negatives. For as Kaddu writes elsewhere: ‘Usually people do not write their own history. Some people are given a history that is not really theirs. But who can oppose and prove otherwise?’

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Spread from The Kaddu Wasswa Archive

His is not the only voice here though. There are many contemporary photographs by Stultiens and Wasswa’s grandson, Arthur Kisitu, describing not only the Archive’s subject and author, but also, self-referentially, the process by which he and his work are being made into a new, marketable commodity - a photobook (intelligently designed throughout, by the way). So the African documents and pages from Wasswa’s archival boxes are frequently reproduced here in Stultiens’ white, First World hands. Wasswa himself is shown sifting through files, holding negatives to the light, working with his new collaborators. Nominally this is a book about one man, and Uganda's nascent independence, yet it succeeds in addressing broader, less local themes: the construction of archives, the handling of history, and the consumption of the past.

Guy Lane


The Kaddu Wasswa Archive, A Visual Biography
Andrea Stultiens, Kaddu Wasswa John, Arthur C. Kisitu
Publ Post Editions

1 comment:

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