The Stray Bulletin

Arts and culture in East Africa and beyond

Words and Pictures November 27, 2009

Filed under: Events — Sophie Alal @ 1:32 pm
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Review by Sophie Alal

A shorter version of this article was published in The East African November 2nd, 2009.

Sylvester of the Sylvester and Abramz duo.

Sylvester of the Sylvester and Abramz duo.

Mainstream disregard for the unknown is often what keeps artists starving. To address the balance, Words And Pictures (WAPI), initiated by the British Council, is a series of events across several African countries for underground artists to showcase their music, fashion, poetry, art photography, graffiti, video, illustrations and painting.

The 9th WAPI event in Uganda took place in The People’s Space at Hotel Africana in Kampala. Mr. Patrick Muyonjo, the technical director of the firm managing the event, explained “we give the artists who are executing music performances the stage, and then we give an opportunity to the artists who are within the stalls. It is showcased by MCs going over there and questioning them about their forms of art, what they feel, and why they are here.”



Blackware, smoked pottery.

Filed under: Art reviews — Sophie Alal @ 1:17 pm
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Art Review by Sophie Alal

Published in The East African October 5th, 2009.

Elephant's Ears, by Tony Bukenya

Elephant's Ears, by Tony Bukenya

Smoked pottery has been made for centuries in East Africa, as any visitor to the Uganda Museum or British Museum can confirm. It is a subtle and unique style of making ceramics that has evolved into what contemporary practitioners have dubbed “blackware” in modern art.

This magnificent finish to ceramics is obtained by first coating the clay body of the piece in slip and burnishing it with smooth stones. It is then fired in an oxygen-rich kiln to harden. The unique step in blackware is that a second firing in an oxygen-poor atmosphere produces dark smoke patterns, which can be surprisingly expressive.




Filed under: Poetry — Sophie Alal @ 1:10 pm

With their energy

All who have come to seek their fortune,

Find the air thick with your presence. 


We who have walked your streets in our multitudes

our feet callused and broadened along your narrow streets

that nonetheless welcome our narrow lives,

so that we fit together, in this

small world sutured like the joints of our skulls



Dutch Masters Exhibition

Filed under: Art reviews — Sophie Alal @ 12:17 pm
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Boogschutter, by Rob Veening

Boogschutter, by Rob Veening

The curator of artworks from the Royalafrican Collection, David Oduki, is an infectiously enthusiastic raconteur with a big grin. He manages the largest collection of modern European art intended for display in Africa, which is now on exhibition at the Uganda National Museum. Sitting underneath a jacaranda tree in the grounds, he talks about the extraordinary measures it took the Brazilians to gather a major collection of European art in the São Paulo Museum of Art. Royalafrican aims to do something similar.

The exhibition, Dutch Masters Today, began with controversy as all the artists cancelled their trips due to lack of funds given the global financial downturn, also in fear of swine flu and rioting in Kampala. “It would have been nice to have the artists here to talk about their work and network with the local artists,” admitted Oduki. Nevertheless, all 55 valuable artworks are on display according to plan.



The Rebel Fell

Filed under: Poetry — Sophie Alal @ 12:13 pm
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Somewhere a bullet pierces a woman,

beyond the reaped edges of her clan’s farmland.

She gets caught in a thicket whose thorns she does not feel,

Limp feet drag on to a tree whose name the woman does not know.

With the sun at her back,

Here breaks the charm for luck .

Off her neck are the fetishes

from the sacrificial white hen, herb and hallowed water

To the bosom of the waiting earth.


The woman slumps, face down-

Watching her life drain away

Now the stained soil seeps from her lips.

heavily the grain is still in the sack-

drawn to the feast a fly lands on her lips.

The light dips lower as the last sounds

mute in the darkness, still she droops lower

into a night without mourning.


About her who fell unceremoniously

One day somebody shall write;

No rock or wood marks the grave

of these bleached broad bones

Save for a clump of wild sorghum

hailing her lost name.


This poem won third place in the first Annual Beverley Nambozo Poetry Prize, 2009.


A short history of women’s writing in Uganda.

Filed under: History — Sophie Alal @ 11:59 am
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In post independence Uganda, the literary and intellectual scene was crackling with ideas about challenging colonial bias, and “Transition” magazine, founded by Rajat Neogy and published independently, was the forum that brought them together. Launched at Makerere University in 1961, it became the heartbeat of the literary movement. It hosted some of Africa’s finest writers like Nuruddin Farrah, Ali Mazrui, David Rubadiri,  Okello Oculi, Ngugi wa’ Thiongo, John Ruganda, Peter Nazareth, and Okot p’Bitek, as well as internationally acclaimed authors such as Paul Theroux and V.S Naipaul who were then working at Makerere University.

While Makerere became a focal point for writers, it also eventually became the core of the women’s movement in Uganda as women scholars realised that the country had almost no visible creative literature written by women. As Goretti Kyomuhendo had put it, “the focus of literary activity remained masculine.”

Fired up on the gains of the women’s movement since 1986, it was inevitable that women writers started yearning for a platform of their own. Founder Member and current president, Honourable Mary Karooro Okurut simply termed it as, “the need for women in Uganda to have space of their own, to encourage one another and be able to shed their inhibitions in order to be able to write their stories.”

The first FEMRITE meeting took place in 1995 the office of Mary Karooro Okurut, then a lecturer in the Literature Department of the Faculty of Arts at Makerere University, who had already published two books. Also present were the published authors Rose Rwakasisi, Lillian Tindyebwa and the late Prof. Rose Mbowa. Some students such as Hilda Twongyeirwe also tagged along. Other founder members like Hope Keshubi, Ayeta Wangusa, Susan Kiguli and Goretti Kyomuhendo were then still stuck with their unpublished manuscripts. Other writers like Regina Amollo, were looking for editors to critically appraise their manuscripts before publication.

From FEMRITE’s inception in 1996, the Green Room of the National Theatre was a meeting place in the interim until they found a single room office on Shimoni Road in 1997.

Only a year after FEMRITE was founded, Violet Barungi’s play, “Over My Dead Body” won the British Council International New Play Writing Award for Africa and the Middle East. This inspired the younger members and set in motion a spate of national and international awards that placed FEMRITE in a position of honour.

It follows that a string of brilliant young nobodies took Africa by surprise. Most remarkable was the rise of Monica Arac de Nyeko, whose essay “In the Stars” won the first prize in the Women’s World essay writing competition in 2004. In the same year, her short story “Strange Fruit” was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing. In July 2007 “Jambula Tree” went on to win the 8th Caine Prize for African writing.

In 2004 Doreen Baingana’s debut fiction, “Tropical Fish” won the Washington Independent Writers Fiction Prize and got shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing the following year.

Glaydah Namukasa’ s first novel “Voice of a Dream” won the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa, Senior Category in 2005.

Behind the fine writing and rosy outlook, tears and sweat always flowed from the writers’ pens as the young and underfunded organisation suffered a scarcity of resources. They published two foundering magazines and relied on subsidies from funders. But with a timely intervention by the Dutch Embassy in Kampala, FEMRITE Publications Limited was established in 1998. Subsequently it became the publishing division of the organisation.

From July 1997 to 2002, New Era magazine was published by FEMRITE. However all that’s left of it now is an artist’s painting on the wall enclosing the current offices on Plot 147, Kira Road, Kampala. Out of its ashes rose a print journal Wordwrite, which fared no better and had its last copy in print circulated in 2004. In 2010 a digital uprising saw the resurrection of Wordwrite as an e-journal.

“FEMRITE is not as it used to be,” says Regina Amollo, the author of “A Season of Mirth”. A bizarre string of events has plagued the work of FEMRITE, and when examined closely present the picture of a membership grappling with diverse issues that unfold from uncanny interpretations of Intellectual Property Rights to miscommunication and a noticeable lag in the body of new work. One of the curiosities was the current president making a break from publishing with FEMRITE, when her book “The Official Wife” was published by Fountain Publishers in 2003. Heavy reliance on funding from external sources for the support of creative projects also entail that writers are forced to continuously pander to the thematic and structural constraints imposed by the funding partner. This is perhaps illustrative of the current popularity of anthologies, whereas books singularly authored have been far less in number.

In the members’ conscience was the obscure outlook that writing carried. Burdened with school, professional careers and or domestic responsibilities, many members neither saw nor believed themselves to be writers. For it was regarded as a solitary, time consuming leisure activity that was so often misunderstood by the general public. Davina Kawuuma, a young member recalls that on considering taking up writing full time, a friend assured, “Why are you wasting your time?”

FEMRITE has raised its profile by continuously engaging in networking activities like reading tents, book fairs, public readings and the Annual Literary Week, which in the year 2000 was graced by the distinguished Ghanaian author and playwright Ama Ata Aidoo.

Reluctant writers have had numerous training workshops to put them back into shape. The boldest came with the regional women writer’s residency from 15th to 23rd November 2008, which brought together a cross section of women writers from all over Africa. It lived up to its theme of “Shared Lives: Strengthening the Women Writers Movement Across Africa,” and its success paved the way for the first Ugandan women writer’s residence facilitated by the American novelist Tayari Jones from 12th to16th January 2009.

Another remarkable achievement is the annual Poster Poetry Project, which is currently in its third year and has two poetry anthologies. With its target of secondary school students, it has kept fanning the flames of the growth of a robust reading culture. Volunteers on this project regularly undertake trips to far flung schools holding creative writing workshops and for the students as well as distributing free copies of books.

FEMRITE is also a social club that shares some writing opportunities with male writers, by hosting members of the public, published authors, and upcoming writers. Every Monday, the Readers’ Writers’ Club meets to discuss works of poetry, fiction, drama and occasionally non-fiction, interrupted only by a tea break which heralds the end of each session.

Recently FEMRITE experienced another pleasant first of its kind in Uganda, with the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award for Women. On Friday 21st August at the Prize giving ceremony at Fang Fang Restaurant, Beverley Nambozo-Nsengiyunva who recently quit her job to raise her daughter and work on her writing could only look back in amazement:

“Deep down inside of me that December in 2008 I knew that something had to happen and I was not sure what. Questions like, Will anyone believe me if I say I’m starting an award? When I send a call out for submissions for a poetry award, will anyone in their right mind respond? If I walk up to FEMRITE and tell them that I need 2 judges to look through the submissions, will they just dismiss me as someone with dead ambitions?”


The Thing Around Your Neck

Filed under: Book reviews — Sophie Alal @ 11:54 am
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The short story is making a comeback. Publishers have recently taken to giving them the status once accorded to novels, and Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi who is best known for her novels “Purple Hibiscus” and “Half of a Yellow Sun”, returns with an anthology of short fiction, The “Thing Around Your Neck”, published by Fourth Estate.

Miss Ngozi moved to the United States at the age of 19 and is still spiritually close to Nigeria with its murkiness and dangerous turns of fortune. Her twelve short stories hold a suspended state of curiosity and repression as most of the characters are dissatisfied, unhappy and frustrated regardless of their economic status. In Nigeria outbreaks of violence, palpable crime and macabre rituals are propped up by the added appeal of carjacking, pugnacious policemen and youth involved in cults. (more…)