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Eroticism and Intimacy: Faces, Places, and Paths: An interview with curator Violet Nantume

“The exhibition Eroticism and Intimacy: Faces, Places, and Paths seeks to confront the gap in the discourse on African women on the historic worldwide celebration. Co-curated by Violet Nantume, Peter Genza, and Serubiri Moses, the show opened on 8th March in Kampala, comprising 20 artists from 5 countries, and
explores the question of intimacy and erotic desire. Further, the exhibition proposes that African women can be emancipated, not only on world stages, but in sexual relations and intimate encounters.”



Nancy Onyango: What is the impetus of this show?

Violet Nantume: I had a conversation on Facebook about self satisfaction and sex, a day later it was put down by Facebook as someone had flagged it pornography. We wanted to have a space to think about sex. Personally I felt I had a lot to learn about sexuality, gender and desire. It was important to know what people think about these topics, package it into concept artists could work with as a starting point.

Read: On Sex, Nudity and Pious Morocco

Passion by Habeeb Mukasa

Passion by Habeeb Mukasa

Read: Male Pleasure and Masturbation

Nancy Onyango: Why did you decide to host the exhibition in Kampala?


Violet Nantume: The exhibition is happening in Kampala but representing a number of perspectives for the East African region – Kigali, Kinshasa, Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Particularly, Uganda has limited show spaces for art and is not sufficient to serve the growing number of practicing artists. Under Ground Contemporary Art Space is a new alternative space to directly work with artists and present their work. The onus is on us to create alternative spaces to engage and showcase artworks. Under Ground is a space we felt comfortable to organically work with a topic dealing with sex, pleasure and desire. And we hope we can do more projects with it in the next five years.

Nancy Onyango: As Africans, we are always trapped in the closet. Sex has always been a taboo subject. How do you intend to break this barrier with this project?

Violet Nantume: Basically it is to encourage dialogue in public forum. We hope that the exhibition creates a platform where we can interact and exchange ideas. Many that saw the exhibition were open to the various notions of intimacy, eroticism and sexual desire in the gallery space. The workshop created debate and interrogated the norms on who controls and owns the one’s body and sexual desire thereof.

While sex is a taboo subject, we need more openness regarding intimacy to avoid the rampant violence going on. The ownership of our bodies by patriarchal authorities forces us into closets, but also creates a situation in which rape- as opposed to intimacy – is encouraged. If we are to go beyond sex as a taboo, we need to discuss the freedoms of our bodies beyond the control of the institutions that legitimize our participation in society, particularly the schools. We also need to own our sexuality and reclaim it from the tabloids. The exhibition is an attempt at constructively discussing about and presenting issues of sex in the public space.

Rose’s crown, Spiked’s crown by Ange Swana

Rose’s crown, Spiked’s crown by Ange Swana

Nancy Onyango: The sexual rights and sexual well-being of women and of homosexuals has been the subject of much disputation in the past decades, and continues to be so in many African countries. Uganda recently passed the homosexuality bill, the marriage and divorce bill, the HIV&AIDS prevention bill and the miniskirt ban. How have these been internalized by Ugandans?

Violet Nantume: East Africa and its leaders need to stop seeing difference as a threat. Be it gender or, sexual orientation…then they will start to see people as human beings and what they contribute to society. The exhibition tackles double standards on the matter of sexual morality. Many times culture has condemned certain sexual activities by women while permitting the identical actions for men. In some cases, surgical procedures have been used to prevent women from enjoying sex. We hope that the exhibition and workshop reflects together with the public on effects of silence… and the need for every human being to express themselves.


We also hope that some works reflect on how hostility to the people creates an identity crisis, a factor that deters creativity and imagination, therefore stunting development.

Nancy Onyango: Why does Uganda seem to be suddenly taken aback by sex, morality and homosexuality when it is alleged that Kabaka Mwanga was gay?

Violet Nantume: The Uganda 2002 census had 85.2% of its population Christian but was on top of African countries with highest numbers of corruption. It is easy to preach and set moral standards but practice is altogether different. I do not think being moral strips people of their right to enjoy or have good sex. Has sex become a yardstick for decency? As this nation struggles to streamline its values more freedom of speech and expression is needed for the leaders to know what the masses are thinking.

Uganda for this case, is very intolerant to difference, it cuts across in government, religion and social groups. Yes, homosexuality has only become a problem when it surfaced in the media but many of us had family and friends who had different sexual orientation but we saw them nothing less than human beings. The coming and preaching of Christianity, which many Ugandans saw converted preached same sex relationships to be a sin.

Kabaka Mwanga, was a late 19th century Buganda king, who took the throne, during a very tumultuous period in East African history. Subsequently, the powers of religion: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, alongside the colonial forces, led to the division of his people, and his being overthrown. When you ask about Kabaka Mwanga as the man who persecuted Christian pupils, I also think about his sexuality, which became a focus and a lynch-pin for the religio-political crisis of the 1890s.


Baganda people loved and still love, honor and pledge allegiance to the King no matter how he looked, behaved or his sexual orientation.

Loving is to understand but also tolerate without necessarily agreeing in all things. We need more of that in the world.

Nancy Onyango: What are some of the highlights during the exhibition?

Violet Nantume: The reaction of the public. It was one morning before opening, we had installed some paintings the night before. Part of the show space is a sales office for SBT Auto view. By 11am, I got a call from one of the directors that a number of clients had called to warn us about displaying pornography in the office and cautioned we could attract the police. This was a big shock to all of us. As an immediate response, we thought of a way to negotiate the showing of these paintings without removing any of them from view. On the opening night, we had a performance by Pasco Losanganya Kikunguru and Samuel Tebandeke, “Couleur de Pomme”. Half the number of people who attended had not seen an art performance. The duo used the body as a social construction of space to give an audience a new art experience.