BULLET ConCerning nuditude | Awuor Onyango .edu

September 5, 2016 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Documents
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Does it make sense to legislate morality and should immoral conduct be criminalized? As a feminist, the concepts public ...


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• Concerning Nuditude


• Concerning Nuditude

Come sit at this rich table and ruminate on a feast of provocations by academics, artists, curators and poets on the uses and abuses of the Black African female body: alive, resistant, resilient, nude. Here are “naked truths” that we cannot but swallow for our survival as humane beings.

~Doreen Baingana, author of Tropical Fish.


• Concerning Nuditude

Table of Contents



PART I 2. 3. 4.

Sylvia Tamale - Nudity, Protest, and the Law in Uganda Angelo Kakande - The Fist of Stella Nyanzi Awuor Onyango - 1992 Freedom Corner Protest

PART II 5. 6. 7.

F  adzai Veronica Muchemwa - Nudity as Protest: Exploring the Carnival Nature of Nancy Mteki’s Honai W  airimu Muriithi - Ndakunik’ Amabele: African Women Un/dressed Martha Haile - ‘Fighting to Fit’

PART III T  homas Michael Blaser - On Eroticism and Intimacy: Interview with Violet Nantume, Peter Genza, Moses Serubiri 9. Moses Serubiri - Dinka Woman With Baby 10. Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi - Artist Portfolio 8.

PART IV 11. Susanne Anique - ‘Woman Be’ 12. P  aula Akugizibwe - ‘And they were both naked, and they were not ashamed’ 13. Ife Piankhi - Nudity and Nature 14. Contributors 15. Credits


• Concerning Nuditude


This publication is an extension of a March 2016 theory workshop staged in Kampala titled Body Pedagogy, a term that I borrowed from Dr. Wambui Mwangi. In Silence Is A Woman, an essay that participants of the workshop discussed, Dr. Mwangi describes pedagogy or learning from the spectre of violence. She describes how “the violent masculinism acting

by Moses Serubiri

in the name of public “decency” has launched a pedagogy of violence and terror against Kenyan women using women’s bodies as its teaching instrument.” Dr. Wambui here refers to the phenomenological body that experiences physically oppressive obstacles. During the workshop, I lectured on unlearning, teasing out definitions of the term. In relation to the phenomenological body described in Silence Is a Woman, I wrote about body study as consisting of legal definitions of bodies in the act of protest, women’s clothing, and queer bodies. Concerning Nuditude emerged from themes in workshop discussions such as rape, the male gaze, and customary laws on women and property. Participants engaged the interconnectedness of these themes within a patriarchal, nationalist, and militant sphere. Thus, this publication is an exploration of the body and body study. The events of April 2016 at Uganda’s Makerere University involving Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a medical anthropologist, stripping down to her knickers protesting the closure of her office, evoked fervent discussion on women’s bodies in the act of protest.

In Part I, this theme is explored by Prof. Sylvia Tamale in her October 2016 inaugural lecture at Makerere University. Her notion of legal pluralism is a nuanced reading of the laws - written and customary - regarding women’s bodies. The art historian Angelo Kakande reviews Collin Sekajugo’s art exhibition The Fist of Stella Nyanzi, produced in the wake of Dr. Nyanzi’s protest, and makes a careful judgement about Sekajugo’s aversion to the erotic body. Awuor Onyango, media artist and writer, considers the facts of the 1992 Freedom Corner Protest in Nairobi, Kenya. In this protest, elder women stripped when confronted by riot police, in order to free political prisoners. In Part II, Zimbabwean scholar and curator, Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa, considers Honai the photographic series by artist Nancy Mteki weaving a reading of Audre Lorde and Roland Barthes. Wairimu Muriithi gives an account of the student movement in South Africa, questioning why it has underplayed the role of women


• Concerning Nuditude

in strikes. Ethiopian artist Martha Haile writes about her series Fighting to Fit, exploring intersections of body politics, fashion, and global capitalism. In Part III, Thomas Blaser interviews the curators of Eroticism and Intimacy, an exhibition on a taboo subject. Serubiri Moses writes about the trope of the Black Venus in the work of South Sudanese painter Akot Deng. Ghanaian performance artist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi’s series Frozen engages with notions of public and private in regard to clothing and the naked body. In Part IV, Susanne Anique offers a slightly conservative view of nudity, while Paula Akugizibwe writes creative non-fiction based on Biblical nudity, and Ife Piankhi offers a short meditation on nudity and nature.


• Concerning Nuditude



• Concerning Nuditude

NUDITY, PROTEST AND THE LAW IN UGANDA Professor Sylvia Tamale School of Law, Makerere University Inaugural Professorial Lecture October 28, 2016


• Concerning Nuditude

Illustration by Collin Sekajugo


The past few years in Uganda have witnessed several incidents of women stripping naked as a way of protesting what they perceive as gross injustice. This lecture attempts to analyze this age-old strategy from the perspectives of law, gender and power. In so doing, the institution of the law is understood broadly to include written legislation, unwritten customary law and the religious principles which underlie our legal jurisprudence. I step back in history to retrace naked protests in Africa before analyzing the local phenomenon. The analysis is guided by poststructural feminist understandings of the human body as a site of both power and control. This approach uses the imagery of bodies marked by written scripts which can be “read” and interpreted by society. Of major concern to the analysis is the role played by the law in “inscribing” the scripts of power and domination on men’s bodies, while simultaneously inscribing subordination, passivity and sexuality on the bodies of women. I also examine how the law responds to naked protests. My conclusion is that, through the spectacle of naked protests, women are attempting to re-write the script on their bodies by using nakedness as an instrument of power and to subvert the law in order to effect justice.

The human body is itself a politically inscribed entity, its physiology and morphology shaped by histories and practices of containment and control.

Susan Bordo (1993: 21)

I view law(s) as an authorized discourse—as a language constituted by a series of symbols that is located in not merely the realm of the ‘ideal’ or the ‘real’ but a place somewhere in between… as an authorized language of the state.

Where there is power, there is resistance.


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

Zillah Eisenstein (1988: 4, 20)

Michel Foucault (1978: 1)

I. Introduction: “Reading” the Political Body

Naked protests may seem like the most unlikely topic imaginable for a professorial inaugural lecture in law. But as you well know, the law touches on literally every aspect of our dayto-day lives. Secondly, it is quite surprising that even though such protests have taken place at many different times and places in African history, there is very little historical, anthropological or sociological analysis of the phenomenon, especially with respect to the case of Uganda. As academics, we have left comment to the journalists, the political pundits and the radio talk-show hosts and hostesses. Finally, although approaching this topic from the perspective of the law, there is no doubt of its resonance across the intellectual landscape. Allow me to begin with the story that inspired my choice of topic. Around 8.15 on the morning of Monday April 18, 2016, I was just leaving home to go to work when my cell phone rang. On the line was a friend whose words sounded frantic and desperate: “Sylvia you’re the nearest one; you’ve got to help… Oh my god! It’s on Facebook… Stella has stripped naked at MISR!” Later, she calmed down and explained that a mutual friend—Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR)—was staging a naked protest against what she considered gross maltreatment by her boss. It took me less than five minutes to get to the scene of the remonstration. By that time, Stella had put her clothes back on. But as soon as she saw me she stripped again: “Sylvia I didn’t want to burden you with my problems, but I’ve had enough. I’ve complained to the authorities, written several letters but no action has been taken. They have left me with no choice; I’ve had enough of my boss’s tyranny at this place.” I begged Stella to cover her naked body. I shouted at the reporters to put their video recorders away. She was yelling profanities, obscenities and vulgarities, waving her defiant fists in the air. But what I remember most of all were Nyanzi’s eyes as she yelled and shook her naked body in vigorous protest. It is difficult to describe the look in Nyanzi’s eyes at the time; they were ignited by some kind of wild emotion, bulging out of their sockets. There have been numerous reactions to Nyanzi’s actions of that day—both specific to her individually and to the wider issues that she raised. It is not my intention to engage in that debate. Instead, I want to briefly reflect on my own reactions to her stripping as a


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

precursor to my analysis. I was shocked and horrified; embarrassed and ashamed. I thought my friend had completely lost it and must confess that I was left traumatized by the incident for several days. With hindsight, however, I now realize that my emotive response to Nyanzi’s protest was in keeping with societal attitudes that associate nakedness—especially the nakedness of a grown woman—with shame, perversity and taboo. When I rushed to MISR to try and remove Stella, I was responding to the impulse of my socialized brain and habits. Society constructs the female naked body as profane, indecent, shameful and sexual, never to be displayed in public. Women must therefore cover their bodies, particularly the areola, nipples Dr. Stella Nyanzi (Still from NBS TV)

and curves of their breasts, their butts and especially the mons pubis. Much of the discourse that attended the Nyanzi incident was both sexualized and sensationalized. It provided considerable cannon-fodder for the tabloid press and of course— in this era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—became one of the highest trending stories on social media this year. Instead of looking at the more dramatic aspects of the incident, and indeed leaving out the reaction of the university and the wider society to what Nyanzi did, I want to use today’s lecture to address a number of larger questions, viz.: Have African women’s bodies always been viewed as shameful and a source of sin? Historically, what power, if any, did women’s naked bodies hold? Have naked bodies been used as a tool of protest in the past? What does women’s fecundity and maternal power signify in patriarchalcapitalist societies? What is the role of the law in the negative construction of women’s bodies and in maintaining their subordinate status? Most people are shocked when they learn that there is absolutely no written law in Uganda that prohibits public nudity per se; there is no bar against displaying the naked body. When Nyanzi stripped to her knickers, she did not breach any written law.1 She may have run the risk of crossing established social and religious norms, but she certainly committed no penal offence. Nevertheless, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Father Simon Lokodo’s first reaction was to order for Nyanzi’s arrest. In the end, the police did not proffer any charge


1 • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

 he offence of “Indecent Practices” found in section 148 of the Penal Code (Cap 120) only criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” committed with T another person in public or private places.

probably because they had no law to back it up. Nyanzi’s lawyer also told Lokodo to “zip [up] his mouth.”2 But in a legally pluralistic society like ours, where the written law operates side-by-side with customary law and where the principles of religion are deeply embedded in our statutory laws, when does public nakedness become unacceptable and why? How do we reconcile the fact that Lokodo’s own people, the men and women of Karamoja even today move around naked or semi-naked in public and without sanction, with the fact that Lokodo is the same man attempting to impose punishment for public nakedness? The written law may not prohibit public nakedness but the “living law” of most Ugandans—including law enforcement agencies—renders it not only “illegal” but also immoral and unethical to exhibit our bodies in this manner. Therefore, any reference to “law” in this lecture should be understood broadly to include codified or written law as well as the unscripted customary and religious laws. Nyanzi’s protest might have appeared to be personal; what I want to explore today is whether, and the extent to which, it was also political. To help in this exploration the lecture draws on poststructural feminist theories of gender and embodiment and their application of discourse analysis oriented to the work of the French philosopher, Michel Foucault.3 In particular, I am guided by the post-structural feminist understanding of the human body as a locus of power and control. I find their approach to the body as an inscriptive surface marked by culture and law quite compelling. For instance, the fact that women’s bodies are “read” through the discourse or narrative of sexuality will have significant implications for how society reacts to naked or semi-clothed protests. The post-structural feminist take on power, derived from Foucault, as both a disabling and enabling force is also useful in my exploration of the relationship between subjectivity and power relations as manifested through naked protests. This lecture focuses on the tripartite issues of nakedness, law and protest. I am mainly concerned with what we can refer to as the physical or cultural body bounded by the surface of our skins. I am also concerned with how that body relates to the law, particularly



3 • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

 ee “Nyanzi Lawyer tells Lokodo to zip his mouth,” The Insider.ug, April 29, 2016 available at: http://www.ugfix.com/blogs/p/77587/nyanzi-lawS yer-tells-lokodo-to-zip-his-mouth [last accessed July 26, 2016]. Feminism is both an ideology and political movement that espouses gender equality, paying particular attention to the workings of power structures that privilege men. Feminism has multiple theories, including liberal, Marxist, post-colonial and post-structural.

when it is deployed as a tool of protest. I seek to examine the ways in which women use their nakedness as an instrument of power in their everyday lives and how the intersecting narratives are interpreted by society, by the law and by the protesters. Following this introduction, I set the stage for a feminist analysis of naked protests by looking back at the historical trajectory of naked protests globally in order to understand the context of activism in today’s world. The third section discusses the theoretical underpinnings of gender, power and the human body. The conceptual tools for analyzing naked protests within the realm of the powerful institution of the law are exposed. I also briefly revisit the place of women’s gendered and sexed bodies in nation-building and its implication for naked resistance. Section four then explores the intersections of the law (broadly understood to include legislation, culture and religion) and nudity, critically analyzing how relations of power shape and define our bodies, particularly naked protesting bodies. The lecture ends with some brief concluding remarks.



• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

II. Publicly Naked Bodies and Protests: A Historical Overview

Historically, the largely consistent warm weather in Sub-Saharan Africa did not require a lot of clothing. Prior to colonization, different cultures on the continent used various simple garments made of bark cloth, animal skin, bird feathers, grass or plant fibre to make aprons for covering the genitals or to be wrapped around their bodies. While external influence has completely changed dress patterns in most of Africa, a few communities have maintained their traditional ways of dressing to-date. Examples from Uganda include the Karamojong, the Batwa and the Bambuti (Otiso 2006). The drastic change of stance to the naked or partially-naked body in public throughout tropical Africa coincided with “the civilizing mission” which the colonialists from Victorian Europe employed to legitimize their subjugation of non-European people. Even partial nakedness for them was inimical to “modernization” and everything that the “superior” Western culture stood for. In Uganda, the colonialists did not waste time in imposing a new dress code: Embarrassed by what they considered to be scanty native dressing, European Christian missionaries set out to change that, starting with Buganda, where contact between Western and Ugandan culture commenced in the mid-1800s. The missionaries designed an ankle-length Victorian dress (gomesi or busuti) for women and a similarly long tunic for men. Over time, the gomesi has become a popular national dress, made of bright multicolored cloth with padded shoulders and an equally elaborate sash for tying it around the waist. (Otiso 2006: 76)

Colonialists employed various methods to acculturate African people to Western beliefs, including religious proselytizing, the formal education system and criminalizing “immorality.” Hence, slowly but surely, where nakedness or half-nakedness had been part of the normal lifestyle of colonized people, they began to completely cover their bodies and to view such act as a symbol of progress or “modernization.” To-date, those African societies that have resisted the Western dress code such as the Karamojong or the San people of the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa, are viewed as “backward” and “primitive.” Aileen


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

Goodson reports that “naked societies persist as primitive tribes whose members do not wear

clothes” (Goodson 1991: 155). The value judgment implicit in describing naked societies as “primitive” corresponds to the trajectory of the attitudes and influence of dominant societies to nakedness. Several scholars have written about the spiritual and philosophical foundations of nudism in ancient societies including such practices among the Greek, Egyptians, Indians and Ethiopians (Goodson 1991; LeValley 2007). Space does not allow us here to go into the details of gymnosophy4 and religious nakedness but suffice to note that this philosophy was adopted by the nudist, naturalist movements of 20th century Europe and North America (Jirasek & Hlavinka 2010). The strict, uncompromising beliefs about public nudity have their seeds in the European Protestant Reformation Movement of the 16th century led by Martin Luther and John Calvin. After breaking off from the Catholic Church for what they perceived as overindulgent opulence and moral laxity, they created doctrines that had a powerful impact on, inter alia, how society viewed the naked body (Goodson 1991). In particular, their efforts to “purify” the church reinforced the “puritan ethic” of covering up and associating sex and sexuality with shame and embarrassment. Puritanism associated women’s bodies with sin, the devil and witchcraft much more than it did the bodies of men (Reis 1997). The Reformation reinforced the guilt and shame associated with the naked body in religion and set the patterns of morality in Europe and North America. As Goodson noted: With the advent of Protestantism came biblical interpretations which stressed, as never before, the impurity and sin inherent in the human body. Also emphasized was devil-fear. While God was mind and spirit, the Devil represented evil and tantalizing body sensuality… Shame regarding sexual desires and activities reached such extremes that a woman in the mid-1800s minimized and hid all body parts except her face. She wore layers of petticoats and was enveloped in clothing from high-collared blouse to floor-length bustled skirt, a bonnet completely covering her head and a shawl drawn around the body. (Goodson 1991: 165)


4 • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

G  ymnosophy is a philosophy and lifestyle based on the belief that nudity is a natural condition that should be embraced by all human beings (Jirasek & Hlavinka 2010).

The Catholic Church later launched a counter-Reformation with new religious orders that were more rigorous and strict in their spirituality (Dickens 1968). It is this brand of Christianity that was imported to Africa as part of the project of colonisation in the 19th Century. Prior to that, in the 7th century, Islam had spread to many parts of the northern half of Africa, particularly along the trade routes from the Arabian peninsula. Although this version of Islam was quite different from the “political Islam” of the veiled woman that we know today, Shari’ah laws dictated modesty and non-exposure of the aurat5 and gender segregation at public events (Othman 2006; Mernissi 1996). Patriarchal conceptions of gender roles and the female body filtered through the interpretations of religious teachings, further altering the discourse relating to the body. The paradoxes and contradictions created by religions that construct taboos on the ‘natural’ body created an opening for the protesting body (Tamale 2015). Given the historical “reading” of the African body, how can we relate it to the naked protesting body? Today, in the “civilized”’ world of clothed bodies, stripping naked in public is guaranteed to draw immediate attention. The naked body “speaks” the language of spectacle, of rebellion, of subversion. It is a strategy that has been used effectively all over the world where covered bodies are the norm. From Lady Godiva of 13th Century England to the Doukhobors (Russian pacifists) of early 20th Century Canada to the present-day naked environmental protesters, they always succeed in casting a global spotlight on their issues. In Africa, women have used their bodies to protest extremities; it is usually a weapon of last resort when they find themselves pushed to the edge of the cliff. It is very powerful and always effective in that it draws attention to the issue under dispute. The act of public stripping is even more potent if the women are married and/or mothers. Cultural beliefs about stripping mothers of twins signify double trouble, and Nyanzi—who is a mother of twins (Nnalongo)—capitalized on this issue throughout her stunt. The shocking primordial exposure of women’s nakedness in public acts of irreverence and parody has proved quite effective.


5 • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

A  urat is an Arabic term that refers to those parts of the body that are not supposed to be seen by the public. The male aurat includes the area between the navel and the knees and the female aurat involves the entire body except for the face and hands.

Desiree Lewis (2009) explains that subversion of power through spectacle such as women enlisting their naked bodies in resistance signals a form of “politics” beyond formal politics. Such politics undermines the foundations of the hegemony of repressive regimes. African women’s embodied protests predate colonialism and have been effectively deployed every time women have been pushed to the brink (Awe 1992; Mba 1982). In the pre-colonial West African Oyo Empire, for example, women of Oyo-Ile protested naked to show their rejection of Bashorun Gaa’s savage rule in the 17th and 18th century (Oyeniyi 2015:150).6 Among the Igbo in West Africa there was the custom practiced by women known as “sitting on a man” or ogu umunwanye which was invoked to sanction disrespectful men (Oriji 2000; Van Allen 1997; Tamale 1996). In 1929 women used the same custom in their tens of thousands to challenge British colonialist policies in the now famous “women’s war,” described by one of the colonial lieutenants thus: Some were nearly naked wearing only wreaths of grass round their heads, waist and knees and some were wearing tails made of grass... I [told] the women not to make a noise. They took no notice and told me that I was the son of a pig and not of a woman. (Nigerian Government, 1930: 7)

It is reported that “the women were led by an old and nude woman of great bulk. They acted in a strange manner, some lying on the ground and kicking their legs in the air, and others making obscene gestures” (Ifeker-Moller 1975: 129). The British colonialists described the uprising as riots; the women called it umunwanye or war. At the end of the day, the women of eastern Nigeria succeeded in halting the offensive colonial policies and even secured a few seats in the native courts. Another historical example can be found in the areas of the Kom and the Kedjom in modern day Cameroon where women in their thousands unleashed the age-old tradition of the anlu. Anlu was a women’s network traditionally used to punish those that transgressed social norms. In 1958 the anlu women utilized this method to challenge colonial threats to


6 • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

T  he Oyo Empire of the Yoruba was found in West Africa covering the area of present-day Western and North-Central Nigeria as well as Eastern Benin.

their farmland. In a campaign that lasted almost three years: [T]he anlu women began to protest with screams, songs, and wild dancing. They were dressed mostly in rags and greenery, although some also wore men’s clothing to symbolically reclaim the power reserved for men, and carried branches over their shoulders in imitation of guns (which women were not allowed to carry)…. At some of their protests the women stripped naked and painted themselves in oil and red camwood powder before staging public disruptions of meetings. Had men attempted the same sort of disruptions they would have been forcefully removed [by the colonial forces], but officials had no idea of how to deal with naked anlu women. (Global Nonviolent Action Database, n/d)

Anlu was extremely successful and spurred social change, including the establishment of a women’s court and a “shadow government” that remained in place for one year (Tamale 1996; Shanklin 1990). Accompanying naked protesting female bodies with profanities and sexually-explicit language deepens the disturbance and disruption of the spectacle, making it more effective. In more contemporary Africa, women have repeatedly and successfully deployed the weapon of naked protests in various contexts and causes. In 1990, during the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa, angry homeless women in Soweto stripped off their clothes as the police moved in to bulldoze their shacks from an illegal settlement in the Township of Dobsonville (Meintjes 2007). In 1992, Kenyan mothers of political prisoners staged a hunger strike and stripped naked in Nairobi’s Uhuru (Freedom) Park demanding the immediate release of their sons. Maria Nzomo described this act of defiance as “the most effective traditional method of cursing the Moi government” (Nzomo 1993: 68). Nine years later in 2001, more than 300 Kenyan women stripped again and run into a nature reserve camp near River Tana. They were demonstrating against the annexation of their land to expand the camp, forcing a group of scientists to flee from the nature reserve.7


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale


See BBC online report at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1158492.stm [last accessed August 30, 2016.

In 2002 Nigerian women in the Niger Delta stripped to register their anguish against the environmental pollution by oil companies. Liberian women who wished to see the end of the civil war in 2003 also stripped naked when the talks between President Charles Taylor and the rebel groups stalled in Accra. In 2016 students at the University of Rhodes in South Africa stripped against sexual violence on their campus. In Uganda a group of women political activists stripped to their bras in front of the central police station in Kampala to protest against the sexual assault of female opposition leader, Ingrid Turinawe by the police force in 2012.8 The police arrested and detained them for two hours but did not press any charges. Just one year prior to the Nyanzi saga, in April 2015, women in Amuru district in Northern Uganda stripped naked in protest against what they perceived as the grabbing of their ancestral land by government. The Minister of Lands and that of Internal Affairs had travelled to Amuru to try and mediate the situation only to be confronted by naked protesting women shouting profanities and asking pointed questions: “We were born on this land, where will we the elderly mothers go to? Why is the government targeting our land? Why, why?”9 The ministers ordered the immediate withdrawal of the army and the police that had been camping on the disputed land for two weeks. They also instructed the government officials at the sight to abandon their plans to demarcate the land. Three months later, women in Nakasongola also stripped in front of the office of the Resident District Commissioner to protest against perceived threats to their land when the adjacent army facility started surveying their customary land. Similar land-related naked protests by women occurred in Bukedea and Lakang. All these women had one thing in common—they had found themselves between the rock of neoliberal market-centred land policies and the hard place of protecting their food security and agro-based livelihoods. As people primarily responsible for household food production, these desperate women used their nakedness to protest power inequalities.



• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale


T  he police officers violently squeezed the breast of an opposition political leader, Ingrid Turinawe in the process of arresting her. See, John Njoroge, “Police Arrest Women Activists,” DailyMonitor, April 23, 2012. Available at: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/1392006/-/avjh6iz/-/index.html accessed Dec 27, 2012 Julius Ocungi and Stephen Okello, “Women Undress Before Migereko, Gen Aronda,” Daily Monitor, April 18, 2015.

The examples of reported and unreported cases across the continent could go on ad infinitum. The strategy is mostly used in groups but also by single protesters like Stella Nyanzi and Noerina Mubiru. In 1996, Mubiru had been recently widowed. Soon after the burial of her husband, a group of his relatives went to Mubiru’s home in Mubende demanding for their son’s property. The desolate Mubiru stripped naked in front of her propertygrabbing in-laws, daring them to first collect the “most-prized” asset (her nakedness) of their relative (the dead husband) before they can touch any other property. The father-inlaw who had led the delegation fainted and the rest fled her home in horror at her “curse.”10 The power in all the embodied subversive protests demonstrated above is derived from the reversal of positions where the social superior is subjected to the position of spectator of the naked spectacle put on by the social inferior. It cannot be denied that those spaces of protest have a counter-hegemonic effect on society. Exposing the nakedness of elderly women and mothers is especially symbolic in most African cultures and is considered the ultimate curse: “The reason is said to be that through pregnancy, childbirth and nurturing, women are the givers of life. By stripping naked in front of men old enough to be her children or grandchildren, a mother is symbolically taking back the life that she gave, and so in a way, pronouncing death upon them.”11 It is conferring “social death” on those violating their freedoms. It represents a deep traditional curse emanating from women’s generative power and a symbolic social execution effected by the “mothers of the nation.” Before discussing the legal aspects of naked protests and to better understand the potency of women’s naked protests, it is important to delve into the theoretical aspects of the body and its links to power in the next section.

10 11


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

See “Widow strips naked, Father-in-Law faints,” The Monitor, 22-23 March, 1996. S  ee Christine Mungai, “Naked protests in Africa—they cause mayhem; are they necessary, useful or effective?” Mail and Guardian Africa, April 23, 2016 available at: http://mgafrica.com/article/2016-04-21-naked-protests-in-africa [last accessed August 8, 2016]. Ugandans were stunned when General Aronda died five months after the Amuru women stripped before him!

III. Gendered Meanings of Power and the Body

What is the relationship between power and the body? Specifically, how do both the macro unequal power relations engendered by patriarchy12 and neoliberal capitalism13 (negative power), as well as the localized empowerment exercised at the micro-political level by women who seek to disrupt dominant power and to transform society (positive power) operate? The historical account has provided us with a glimpse of the various ways that protesting women deployed the diffuse power located in their naked bodies to engender social or political transformation. Their actions doubtlessly subverted patriarchal-capitalist power dynamics, but they also dealt with myriad other issues along the spectrum of discontent with the existing order. There is a manifest duality in the action of stripping in order to secure a political or economic goal. Michel Foucault clarified that “power, after investing itself in the body, finds itself exposed to a counter attack in that same body” (Foucault 1977: 56). In short, the complexity of power is such that it can operate both as a sword as well as a shield, with immense potential to do considerable good as well as causing significant damage. Power is in constant flux, improvisation and negotiation. Power is a balancing act. Foucault is arguing that the body is vested with power. Power in the female body is also inscribed with a bold sexual script. In other words, the female body is also considered as a sexual body, much more than that of the male. Throughout history, the female body has been an object of attention, desire, and lust. Indeed, the Bible is full of instances in which the female body is the centre of excessive attraction. In Genesis 12:15, we are told that Pharaoh could not resist the “very fair” Sarai, and he took her into his harem; you also remember the story relayed in Judges 16 of how Samson was so enamored of Delilah that he revealed the secret power that lay behind his hair. Or the story told in the Second book of Samuel 11: 2-5, where David was unable to resist Bathsheba after seeing her bathing. While the Qur’an commands both men and women to restrain their gaze and guard their chastity, it only instructs women to cover their (desirable?) bodies (24: 30-31). Given this history, it is of no surprise that women’s bodies have become the object of the voyeuristic male gaze and desire. 12 13


• Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

T  he term “Patriarchy” refers to men’s structural control over political, legal, economic, cultural and religious institutions as well as their domination in both public and private spheres (Goldberg 1993 cited in Glick and Fiske 1997). C  apitalism generally refers to an economic system where the factors of production (land, raw materials, labour, capital, technology) are privately owned. “Neoliberal capitalism” as a concept captures a new model of capitalism that emerged in the 20th century which promotes liberalization, deregulation, privatization, cost-sharing, reduction of subsidies, marginalization of labour unions, etc and prioritizes markets over people. Neoliberal capitalism arrived in Africa via World Bank- and IMF-prescribed structural adjustment policies (SAPs) in the early 1980s.

Nude and half-nude female bodies are routinely exhibited on public cinema screens, videos, magazines, advertising bill boards and tabloids such as Red Pepper. Moreover, these are primarily for the gaze and satisfaction of the male consumer. The complexities, dilemmas and contradictions that female nakedness throws up have been the subject of scholarly research for years (e.g., Sultana 2013; Barcan 2002; Mba 1982; Ifeka-Moller 1975). What is clear from all the research in this area is that the protesting naked female body is not viewed in the same way as the male and therein lays the paradox of patriarchal-capitalist societies. Depending on the context, in the same public space, the same naked body will invoke desire and allure while being “read” with the discourse of shame and humiliation (Sutton 2007). Through this ambiguity, the naked protesting body represents what Shirley Ardener refers to as the “condensed symbols of female power” (Ardener 1973: 16). A naked body is not the same as a nude one. There is a significant conceptual distinction between the terms “nudity” and “nakedness.” Nudity presupposes display and invites sexual connotations. On the other hand, nakedness asserts agency in the shedding of clothes: “A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become nude” (Berger 1972: 54). When women bare their nakedness to the public they are not engaging in sexual provocation. Rather, they are drawing on dominant gender norms, challenging and subverting them to draw attention to their plight. As powerless people, they mobilize their bodies as a powerful resource, thereby transforming the negative associations of nudity into positive power. The meanings that society attaches to gendered bodies through culture, law and religion exist in discourse (Tamale 2015). Historically, various discourses around the world have “inscribed” the naked human body with cultural and legal meanings. Zillah Eisenstein explains that discourse “is more than language—it moves into the realm of thinking and acting” (Eisenstein 1988: 11). In other words, discourse is a system of knowing that entails linguistic practices, subtle cultural codes and interpretive processes. It is through discourse that we see and interpret information, categorize people and events and justify power relations. Discourse constructs our world of meaning and experience (Belsey 1980: 54). And the law is pivotal in such construction. As Eisenstein explains:


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Recognizing law as a discourse calls attention to how law establishes regulations, thoughts, and behavior and institutes expectations of what is legitimate and illegitimate behavior, what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is criminal and legal, what is rational and irrational, what is natural and unnatural. (Eisenstein 1988: 43)

The legal discourse of the law engraves or inscribes our bodies with particular characteristics and symbols. Indeed, it is the semantic significance of the body that makes it an effective tool of protest. When the body is deployed as an instrument of resistance outside the institutionalized systems of protest, it can be quite effective. Poststructural feminist analysis allows us to see how dominant discourses drive us to conform to conventional norms. Poststructural theory questions that which is assumed to be normal or common sense. It challenges the idea that individuals exist as essential beings and argues that our “being” is socially constructed. Bronwyn Davies explains that “we speak ourselves into existence within the terms of existing discourses” (Davies 2000: 55). Hence we are subjects of cultural narratives and discourses. In other words, we are not the authors of the ideologies that construct our subjectivity (Barrett 2005). We have little control of the narratives and meanings attached to our bodies. But as oppressed people, women can mobilize the narrative of “vulnerability” that is written on their bodies into a political tool by rewriting it as “power.” In her essay, ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,’ African-American theorist, Audre Lorde writes about how women can reclaim their erotic power. But she does not use the term “erotic” in the usual sense of the word. Rather, she reconceptualizes it by challenging the false dichotomy that separates the erotic from the spiritual and the political. Lorde’s notion of the erotic embeds much more than superficial sensations such as pornography and extends beyond sexuality: The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling...


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We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued…

Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic from most vital areas of our lives other than sex... I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience. (Lorde 1984: 53-56)

When oppressed, women are pushed to the brink with no more options to protect their self-respect and dignity. They will tap into the depth of Lorde’s erotic and utilize it even if it means stripping off their clothes. They will use their nakedness to demand for what they believe to be rightfully theirs. Their acts against oppression “become integral with their self, motivated and empowered from within” (ibid: 58). Lorde instructs women on how to access the “creative harmony” of the erotic by emphasizing a system of expression instead of oppression (Rashedi 2011: 2).

3.1 The Place of the Body in Relations of Power and Gender

What is the link between the processes of changing the oppressive structures of power and making changes in the self? In other words, how do the subversive bodily actions of oppressed individuals (or groups of individuals) work to alter complex structures of power? To come to grips with these questions it is necessary to understand that the body should not be simply viewed through the lens of biology. Rather, the body needs to be understood as both a material and a political entity. The “natural” body derives meaning from culture, history and society (Karpin & Mykitiuk 2011; Sclater 2002). Michel Foucault saw different markings engraved on our bodies (Foucault 1977, 1978; also see Giddens 1991). According to Foucault, the way we view reality and interpret the world is based on a discourse that has been historically, socially and culturally constructed. It is through the discursive or constructed sense of reality that we know anything about our bodies. The nib of the law is


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instrumental in metaphorically inscribing our bodies and thus lending meaning to them.

When Foucault theorized the body as a medium of communication, i.e. the surface on which the social is inscribed, he flung open the conceptual doors for us to problematize it as discourse. He offered us the analytical tools to deepen our understanding of how history, culture, law, religion and other institutional forces impose rules and regulations upon our bodies. He pushed us to see the body as a site of power struggle, self-expression and of numerous contradictions. If one imagines the naked body to be a blank slate at the time of birth, culture then proceeds to inscribe gendered, racialized, sexualized, and classist hierarchies that give character to that body.14 The text that culture inscribes on our bodies is a crucial medium for effecting social control. But, most importantly, conceptualizing the body as discourse powerfully suggests that our bodies have the capacity to “speak” and to be “read” in particular social and historical contexts. The markings, engravings or script that Foucault spoke of were not necessarily limited to the visible tattoos or beautiful scarification like those we see on the traditional bodies of the Karamojong or the Masaai. They constitute rules, images, symbols and even hierarchies, all of which give shape and character to male and female bodies. We are “fabricated” onto our bodies by discursive practices and formations. Thus, the plastic surgery industry is one of the most lucrative fields of medicine today. Here at home, shops which sell false “bums” are doing brisk business. In fact, “ideal” body shapes keep evolving along a spectrum, depending on the cultural context. Women in different cultural contexts spend a lot of resources manipulating their bodies to conform to the dominant ideologies to achieve the desired packaged shapes. The bodies of men and women are represented differently; in other words, the cultural script written on men’s bodies is quite different from that which has been inscribed on the bodies of women. They are sexed and gendered bodies. It is also interesting to note the variations across cultures in the way in which the bodies of men and women are perceived. For instance, there is no “ideal” universal or standard sexy female body shape. A wellendowed bust, slim waist, narrow hips and long legs (the Barbie-image) may pass as


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I n actual fact there is no such thing as a ‘pre-cultural’ body. The body emerges from the womb as a contested site (Karpin and Mykitiuk 2011; Sclater 2002).

“beautiful” in Europe. In most parts of Africa the description “beautiful” tends towards a more voluptuous curvy silhouette, especially in terms of the backside. An example to demonstrate how the law engraves scripts on men’s and women’s bodies is the Penal Code of the State of New York which criminalizes the exposure of women’s breasts but is silent about a similar action with respect to men. This sends out a strong message to the public about the two bodies (Glazer 1993).15 Barbara Behrmann writes about the difficulties that mothers in the U.S. face while navigating nursing babies in public spaces, including hiding in bathrooms (Behrmann 2005). This is the same culture where “breasts are used to sell everything from cars to beer; in which deep cleavage dominates the checkout isle… and in which the number of women who artificially enhance their breasts has increased 533% from 1992 to 2002” (Behrmann 2005: 190). But it is interesting that a publically breast-feeding woman in Uganda, as is the case in most of Africa, does not raise any eyebrows. The resilience of that part of African culture is quite intriguing when compared to women in the West. However, through religions such as Christianity and Islam and cultural globalization, Ugandan dominant culture is being influenced to adopt similar negative views about women’s breasts. This illustrates the contradictions and paradoxes that are associated with the body as a site of cultural and political contestation. Analysing naked protests brings out in bold relief the link between power, the human body and sexuality. Foucault also redefined the concept of power beyond the commonly-held notion of a negative repressive force exercised in top-down fashion through the instruments of law, taboos and censorship (Foucault 1978). Power is something that is exercised, rather than possessed; power is unfixed, diffuse and permeates all aspects of social life and operates through discourse, knowledge and what Foucault called “regimes of truths” (Foucault 1977; Rabinow 1991). This also marked a major theoretical breakthrough about the concept of power. When we conceive of power as not resting on the external but as incorporated into numerous practices and embedded in everyday relations, it becomes easier for us to comprehend both its negative and positive aspects. The positive potential of power is seen when it is understood to work through people rather than on them.


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E.g., see section 245.01 of the New York Penal Code.

This complex re-conceptualization of power as a relational concept that works through the actions of people at the micro-structural level is extremely useful in analyzing the complex link between naked protests and the law. When one understands power as being diffused throughout the social structure, circulating through the entire society, one then begins to appreciate the role of power in the lives of oppressed social groups such as women. Indeed, feminists have adopted the Foucauldian conceptualization of power and taken it a step further by emphasizing the role of subjectivity and agency in this system of power, acknowledging people’s ability to determine their own destinies (King 2004; Balsamo 1996; Butler 1990; Bordo 1993; Barrett 1991). As Anne Balsamo writes, “Although the female body is subordinated within institutionalized systems of power and knowledge and crisscrossed by incompatible discourses, it is not fully determined by those systems of meaning” (Balsamo 1996: 39). In other words, women (and other subordinated groups) transgress and resist the discourses that seek to contain them. Adopting this approach facilitates our clear grasp of the experiences, capacities, self-understanding and subversive actions of those who resist as they attempt to achieve change. The script written on our bodies is scribbled with the power-infused ink of numerous forms of oppression. The way that society “reads” the body of a youthful married woman is very different from how the body of an older unmarried woman or that of a poor disabled woman is read. The subtext of a traditionalist woman “speaks” differently from that of a Muslim woman. To further demonstrate how power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge or “regimes of truth” I offer some examples from Kiganda culture. The “truth” regime in Kiganda culture orders that a skimpily-dressed woman who exposes her thighs and cleavage in public is dishonorable and deserves no respect. Most Baganda women conform to this “truth” and, as they seek social acceptability, they cover their bodies without giving it a second thought. Such performance gives meaning to social constructions, covering it with the flavor of “reality”’ and “naturalness” (Goffman 1969; Butler 1980). The non-conformists or deviants who dare to breach and challenge this “truth,” face the wrath of the law (written and customary). Deviance highlights the political aspects of performance (Butler 1990). The same culture also instructs that a naked woman bending over in public represents the


ultimate curse. These “truths” among the Baganda are not necessarily “true” in the culture • Concerning Nuditude / Prof Sylvia Tamale

of the Karamojong where women routinely move about half-naked in public. Through bodily expressions (e.g., gestures, movements and enactments such as kneeling before her elders and husband), a Muganda woman constitutes the illusion of her ethnic self. And only her transgressive acts of performance (say, through naked protests) can lead to social change (Tamale 2008). The meaning of “covering up” is as important as the performance of “undressing in public”; both constitute the process by which a bodily norm is accepted or rejected. Each society has its “regimes of truth” but there seems to be a huge global overlap when it comes to the meaning of female naked bodies in public. These “truths” are created and reinforced through systems of formal and informal education, science, religious teachings and the mass media. They are constructed mostly by those that hold structural power. The crucial point here is that all these “truths” are constructed by society for political reasons and hold no essential core. Oppressed groups, through a twist of politics, an alternative performance, can subvert the meanings imposed on their bodies to their own advantage. Humiliated bodies can be “resignified to humiliate the humiliator” (Sultana 2013: 35). Theorizing about “public” and “private” spaces is also important when thinking about naked protests. The separation of the personal from the political or speaking of the private/ public as dichotomous spheres is an artificial construct designed to support the oppressive status quo (Tamale 2004; Butler 1990). The dominant system that accepts naked bodies in “private” but proscribes them in “public” has political motivations. The meaning of the fictitious private/public divide gets especially muddled when it comes to issues of sexuality where we see the same institutional power turning our “private” sexual issues into “public” matters to be regulated and controlled by law. For example, the “private” matter of who we choose to have sex with as consenting adults is regulated by laws such as those that criminalize sex work and homosexuality (Tamale 2009b). Even the maternalistic discourse associated with women’s domesticated bodies is deployed by patriarchal-capitalist states for political ends, a point demonstrated in the next subsection.


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3.2 Female Nudity, Cultural Values and the Symbolism of the Motherland

Our knowledge of the body is derived from and mediated through discourse—discourse that is always subject to interpretation. One of the avowed missions of the colonizers who subjugated Africa was to bring “civilization” and “modernity” to the “dark continent” (McClintock 1995). The process of changing Africans followed many forms but the most potent came in the shape of religion, education and the law. In Uganda, the effects of proselytization and acculturation were tremendous, including the values, beliefs and meanings that we associated to our bodies. To fully understand the female body as a symbol of a broader politics, it is important to appreciate the association of that body with nationhood and the motherland. The concept of nationalism invents or imagines nations where they do not exist (Anderson 1991). As one way of social organization, the nation is built on the basis of shared language, dialects and culture. For instance, in pre-colonial Africa, the Kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro were separate “nations” with centralized political systems. On the other hand, the Alur, Acholi, Langi, Iteso, Karamojong and the Bakiga organized themselves along decentralized, clan-based social and political structures. When the imperial powers met in Berlin in 1884 to divide Africa among themselves, they carved it into different nation-states, paying no attention to any commonalities or shared cultures. Indeed, many “nations” were separated in this process and post-Berlin families and kin found themselves on different sides of national borders. In Uganda, the British colonizers faced the challenge of patching together such diverse “nations” that inhabited the newly-created geographical space baptized “Uganda.” The task of nation-building or imbuing a sense of oneness and patriotism among the citizens of the invented country was monumental—one that continues to dog our post-independence governments. Motherhood is metaphorically important in nation-building as the mother image is a signifier of nationalism (Mostov 1999; Eisenestein 1988). This is more true today within the context of accelerated neoliberal capitalism than ever before. In its institutionalized form, motherhood includes the nurturing of children and the maintenance of the household (for no pay)—critical aspects in the preservation of patriarchal capitalism. Hence, the “political economy” of the woman’s body is highlighted in its value and utility for shifting needs.


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As producers and reproducers of gendered members of the national collectives and as transmitters of culture, women are implicated in nationalism (Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989). Reference to “our motherland,” “our mother country,” “our mother tongues” or even “mama Africa” and the use of feminine pronouns abundant in nationalist discourse are mainly designed to invoke the sense of love and care for our nation; it serves to salute the nation as a “doting mother” for the ordinary citizen. The cultural power of the motherhood metaphor is clearly mobilized in the service of nation-building. As the primary caretakers of the family, women are also “construed as the symbolic bearers of the nation” (McClintock 1993: 62). It is symbolic because it rarely goes beyond political rhetoric and rarely translates into women holding real political power. Indeed, motherhood is much more associated with cultural than political citizenship. The “mothercrafting” process of building the nation must involve the valorization of motherhood as the iconic care-giver and preserver of cultural values. As reproducers, women reinforce national boundaries and are constructed as the source of national pride. Their bodies– representing the motherland—must therefore remain pure, uncontaminated and honorable. The law inscribes the script of decency and modesty on women’s bodies. We see this, for example, in the absurd position of our criminal law which only penalizes the “indecent assault” or “insulting the modesty” of women but not men’s bodies.16 After pushing women’s bodies through a purifying sieve, they must work hard to maintain these values and not soil this script. Those who try to erase or re-write the script by, for example, asserting their subjective autonomy, are not only held in contempt but also face punitive action. Hence as “mothers of the nation,” the naked protesting bodies of women are viewed as polluting the very purity of the nation and undermining its solidarity. In order to deprive it of its radical political content, the protesters are framed through descriptions such as “irrational” “mad” “crazy” or even “primitive.”17 The fact is that the naked bodies of protesting women are reconfiguring nakedness on their own terms, struggling to move away from objectification (Sultana 2013).


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See Section 128 of the Penal Code (Cap. 120). Section 147 protects only minor boys under the age of eighteen from indecent assaults. S  tella Nyanzi’s mental state came under serious scrutiny on social media platforms and even with the University Committee that was set up to investigate the issues surrounding her protest.

As one of the most important “scribers” of bodily narratives, we turn to the law and how it addresses naked protests. If the body is ultimately an instrument of power, what role does the nib of the law play in engraving our bodies with various scripts? In which ways do the imposed scripts clash with our self-inscribed narratives? What legal means does the state deploy to try and erase our self-written scripts? And what are the consequences of molding our own bodily inscriptions through our agency and activities?


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IV. Law, Culture and Religion on Naked Bodies

Legal orthodoxy presents law as a neutral and objective arbiter. But as we have intimated, nothing can be further from the truth. Law plays a crucial role in inscribing our bodies with rules, symbols, images, meanings and hierarchies. Legal discourse constructs and reinforces the “normal” body and any breach or deviation from the “norm” exposes one to punishment. The constructs of law mirror patriarchal-capitalist social relations and “truths.” Eisenstein elaborates: [Law] constructs and mirrors patriarchal social relations through its phallocratic interpretations of truth, but there is no one interpretation through the law. The law names reality at the same time that it mystifies reality…. Law reflects and impacts the world…. Law operates as a political language because it establishes and curtails choices and action. (Eisenstein 1988: 21-22, 46)

There is a diversity of discourses that make up the body of law (Karpin and Mykitiuk 2011). In other words, statutory law is but one cog of the public administration system which includes several other facets such as policies, culture, religion, social regulation and implementing institutions. Legislators, judges, lawyers and law professors who make, apply, interpret and disseminate the law all contribute in establishing law as a discourse. As a postcolonial country, Uganda operates a pluralistic legal system that embraces both codified statutory law and uncodified customary law mainly rooted in culture. Although not stated anywhere that religion has the force of law in Uganda—indeed the Constitution explicitly underscores the secular character of the State18— many patriarchal religious principles find expression in the legal codes and are often used to justify and legitimize culture and the law (Tamale 2014; Nyamu 2000). Together all these laws participate in inscribing our bodies. But the fluidity and contingency of our embodied selves always pose the challenge of subverting the dominant script. This part of the lecture engages with a critical analysis of the law, expanding upon its more nuanced and complex nexus with gender and power and exposing the contradictions


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See Article 7 of the 1995 Constitution which clearly states, “Uganda shall not adopt a State religion.”

that such a relationship entails. The legal discussion is of course linked to naked protests. While the issue of nudity, indecency and pornography in Uganda has recently emerged as an important one, the jurisprudence on these issues is grossly underdeveloped. This means that much of our analysis has to draw on discussions from elsewhere.

4.1 Natural Law Doctrine and the Criminalization of Sexual Morality

Although positive law dealt a serious blow to natural law theory over two centuries ago and displaced it as the orthodox jurisprudential school of thought, residual influence of natural law endures into the 21st century (e.g., Finnis 1980). The basic tenet of natural law theory is that law is based on morality, and the standards of what is “right”’ and “wrong” governing human behavior are derived from the command of a super-natural power. Given that one of the “truth” values of Natural law theorists is that everything natural is moral, it is ironic that they view “natural” nakedness as immoral. Rooted in patriarchal religious authority, natural law theorists continue to operate with underlying beliefs espoused by St. Thomas Aquinas who viewed woman as an “imperfect man” or Aristotle who considered women to be “naturally inferior” (de Beauvoir 1988: 16). Law is structured through the dualism of man/woman, privileging the male as the default human and the female as the “other.” The new-fangled natural law schools of thought, such as those espoused by John Finnis (1980), Germain Grisez (1987) and al-Buti (1982), all manifest as a resurgence of Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms which seek to subjugate women through their bodies. The subjugation proceeds along the channels of morality and decency engraved on the surface of women’s bodies. In Uganda, such morality is firmly implanted in the British-designed Penal Code which came to us via India under the chapter entitled, “Offences against Morality.”19 The common denominator that links all morality offences in Uganda’s law is sexuality, particularly women’s


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See Chapter XIV of the Penal Code Act (Cap 120).

sexuality.20 It is here that we see the law functioning to both name reality and mystify it at the same time, declaring men and women as different while simultaneously obscuring the many similarities that they share (Eisenestein 1988: 22). Our penal system generally constructs and enacts morality, not so much to protect as to confine and repress particular expressions of sexuality (Tamale 2009a; Hubbard 2000). Such legal moralism rests on two problematic assumptions. First, that there exists a moral consensus in what is a pluralistic Ugandan society. Secondly, and more importantly, it assumes that elements of human rights and democratic freedoms are absent from the law (Bakare-Yusuf, 2011). That same outlook has been given expression much more deeply in some of our more recent laws. Thus, in 2014 the Anti-Pornography Act (APA) was passed to reinforce this “‘morality framework.”21 Even where the law appears to protect females, say from sexual assault, its approach is highly problematic. The offence of rape, for example, revolves around the “lack of consent” and the proof of penetration. However, a sexual assault victim will not be protected by rape law if she did not consent to having sex with her abusive husband as he is exempted from such assaults.22 Moreover, the only penetration that the law envisaged was penile-vaginal, which means that if a man rapes a woman through the mouth or penetrates her with a gun barrel or a broken bottle, he can only be prosecuted for the lesser offence of indecent assault. When it comes to prostitution, the crime is only restricted to the sellers of sex (mostly women) but not the buyers (the majority being men). Similarly, criminal adultery is restricted to wives and not husbands.23 This clearly reflects a husband’s control over his wife’s body, which was viewed as chattel. Indeed, in 1707 English Lord Chief Justice John Holt described adultery as “the highest invasion of property.”24 Such double-standards in the sexual morality of men and women clearly indicate that


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T  he offences listed under Chapter XIV include: rape, abduction (with intent to marry or to have sexual intercourse), elopement, indecent assault, defilement, child to child sex, procuration, detention with sexual intent, prostitution, abortion, unnatural offences (sodomy), indecent practices and incest. See the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014. T  he Common Law jurist, Sir Matthew Hale, in his History of the Pleas of the Crown, (1736) Vol. 1, at 629 wrote, “But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.” T  his particular law (section 154 of the Penal Code) was challenged and the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional for its gender discrimination. See case of Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda v. Attorney General [2007] UGCC 1. However, since that ruling parliament has done nothing to remove the offending section in the Penal Code. See R. v. Smith (Morgan) [2001] 1AC 146 at 169

the aim of the law is not to protect but to regulate and control women’s bodies. Wives were viewed as their husband’s property or chattel and therefore the crime of rape was taken like any other property crime (Adamo 1989). The time is overdue for Uganda to overhaul these outdated sexist penal laws. The foundation of such laws was English Common Law which is rooted in Natural Law principles. The focus should not be on the morality of the sexual offences but rather on the illegality of the sexual assaults committed against women. That will help to rewrite the script on women’s bodies. A critical analysis of the morality offences defined under the law exposes not only the means by which dominant structures engrave particular scripts on women’s bodies, but also the ways that such scripts are “read” and interpreted by society. In other words, a feminist deconstruction of morality laws gives us an opportunity to sharpen our understanding of the context in which women’s naked protests erupt and to assess the response of society to them. This was made clear with the call by the minister of Ethics and Integrity for the arrest and prosecution of naked protesters under the Anti-Pornography Act. However, elements of the offence introduced by this law are restricted to “producing, trafficking in, publishing, broadcasting, procuring, importing, exporting, selling or abetting any form of pornography.”25 Section 2 of the APA defines “pornography” as: ...any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement. [Emphasis added]

Although the phrase “sexual parts” is not defined in the law, we know that the popular understanding of this term differs for men’s and women’s bodies. While men’s sexual parts are normatively restricted to their external genitalia, for women there are many more body parts that are sexualized including breasts, thighs, buttocks, hips, even hair and lips (Tamale 2016). Indeed, the draft version of the law had also explicitly banned the depiction of the


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See Section 13 of the Anti-Pornography Act, 2014.

clearly gendered “sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or genitalia.”26 The term “indecent” is not defined in the law either. Failure to provide an explicit definition of this illusive term opens it up to the unsatisfactory I-know-it-when-I-see-it standard.27 Moreover, it would be stretching the law too far to argue that naked female protesters are exhibiting their bodies primarily for sexual excitement. The case of Uganda v. Nabakooza and 9 Others28 further illustrates how the law dictates the meaning of the body. Specifically, it demonstrates the contribution made by the law to inscribing sexuality onto women’s bodies. On July 6, 2004 several African heads of state were travelling from Entebbe airport to Kampala for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) meeting. Jackline Nabakooza and her music troupe were also travelling atop a pick-up truck along the Entebbe highway for a fete on the same day. They were adorned in skimpy costumes and dancing to amplified music en route. The police arrested them and charged them with being “idle and disorderly” contrary to section 167(d) of the Penal Code. Finding them guilty of the offence, the Chief Magistrate held that the women “depicted a high level of moral decadence of the country” to the visiting heads of state and sentenced them to three months in prison. He described their performance as “a shame to the nation,” and further ordered that for future deterrence, the women’s skimpy dresses be handed to the police for immediate burning, their big weaves undone and their heads shaven. The sentence he meted out to the young women was harsher than what he gave to their male counterparts. This gendered, morally-oriented interpretation of the law by the magistrate and the visiting of shame on the young women’s performance was very telling given that, traditionally, most female dancers around Africa are skimpily-dressed. Indeed, on review by the High Court, gender-sensitive Justice Okumu-Wengi, set aside the order holding that destroying their clothing and shaving their heads “smacked of a discriminatory treatment that also demeaned the girls and assailed their dignity as women amounting to them suffering cruel, degrading treatment and punishment.” 29



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27 28 29

S  ee Clause 2 of the Anti-Pornography Bill No. 12 of 2011. Reference to the explicit body parts was removed after women’s rights activists objected to its gendered import. T  his phrase was famously used by the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart decades ago in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio 387 US 184 (1964). HC Criminal Revision No. 8 of 2004 (Unreported). See Uganda v. Nabakooza Jackline and 9 others, HC Criminal Revision No. 8 of 2004 (Unreported).

What needs to be emphasized is that the expressive act of protest is very different from pornographic expression. To interpret the law in that way would amount to denying the protesters agency and power, turning their bodies into passive sexual objects. When women strip in protest, at best they rewrite and overwrite the dominant sexual script associated with their nude bodies. At worst they render it illegible. It is an insult to undermine their mobilizing potential and their ability to rally against oppression. Naked protesting women are stretching the personal to relate it to the political in a dramatic fashion. Society must therefore “read” their naked bodies as powerful icons of defiance and not as the objects of sexual display.

4.2 Naked Protesting as a Constitutional Right and Freedom

The 1995 Constitution provides the fundamental principles of law to which all other laws of the land must conform. This premier law recognizes the right to peaceful protest and indeed, such right is integral to any functioning democracy. The basis of this right is preserved in the fundamental freedoms of conscience, expression, assembly and association, all of which are enshrined in the Constitution.30 If we continue with the “speaking body” metaphor, it is quite clear that individuals are free to use their bodies as a tool of communication. Indeed, an expansive conception of expression has been extended to non-verbal conduct by courts of law.31 However, the rights which stand as the foundation for protest and resistance come with legal caveats. Specifically, individuals exercising these rights and freedoms must justify them with evidence that their actions are not detrimental to the “public interest.” Article 43(1) of the Constitution provides: In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person


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30 31

See Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. E.g., see the Canadian the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Irwin Toy Ltd v Attorney General (Quebec) [1989] 1 SCR 927 (SCC).

shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. In other words, the enjoyment of one’s rights is contingent upon one’s fulfillment of the public interest duty. But what are the parameters of the concept of “public interest”? The premier law does not delineate the limits beyond the fact that it must not go “beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in this Constitution.”32 So under what circumstances would expressive nakedness be acceptable and demonstrably justifiable as per the Constitution? We turn to judicial interpretation for proper guidance on this crucial concept. Unfortunately, Ugandan jurisprudence is yet to clarify and interpret the right to freedom of “expressive” nakedness as protected under Article 43. However, a similarly-worded provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (1990) was scrutinized in the 2012 public nakedness case of Pointon v. New Zealand Police.33 Pointon was a naturalist who did not believe in covering the natural human body with clothing. When he went jogging in the park wearing nothing but his running shoes, members of the public complained and he was charged and convicted of “behaving offensively” contrary to section 27 of New Zealand’s Summary Offences Act. Pointon successfully appealed his conviction, arguing that the charge negated his right to freedom of expression. Pointon’s nakedness was distinguished from nudity exhibited in cases such as strip-tease shows.34 In fact, Pointon represents the current jurisprudence in New Zealand on this issue; that is, that the nakedness of protesters (or naturalists) does not amount to indecent behavior (Lincoln 2013). In Uganda, two basic principles developed by the Courts of Law define the idea of “acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society”: first that individual rights and freedoms are inherent35 ; and secondly, that all organs and agencies of


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32 33 34 35

See Article 43(2)(c) of the Constitution. [2012] NZHC 3208. See section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. E.g., in the case of Philpott v. Police HC Christchurch AP-138-142, 13 July 1993 (cited in Lincoln 2013: 13). See Article 20(1) of the Constitution.

government and all persons must respect, uphold and promote all human rights.36 Therefore, any limitations imposed on a right guaranteed by the Constitution have to be precise and clear. The Supreme Court of Uganda in the case of Onyango Obbo and Another v. Attorney General, 37 expounded upon the meaning and rationale of the phrase “acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.” Relying on persuasive authorities from jurisdictions such as South Africa, the USA and Canada, the court was quite generous when drawing the boundary lines on the right to freedom of expression. It noted that the words “acceptable and justifiable,” clearly presuppose the existence of universal values and principles to which every democratic state is committed and underscored the fact that legislation which seeks to limit the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms is invalid unless it is in accordance with the universal democratic values and principles that every free and democratic society adheres to.38 The court ruled, “[A]ny one seeking to restrict that freedom must be prepared to show that special and clear circumstances do exist that justify such restriction of the freedom. The task is not insurmountable but it is quite a demanding one.”39 This means that anyone asserting that a naked protest is detrimental to the “public interest” would have to meet the high standard of scrutiny set by the Supreme Court. So, would Ugandan courts follow the New Zealand judiciary in disqualifying the application of the exceptional criteria on naked protests? One of the key justifications that parliament put forward for enacting the APA was that pornography offends public morality.40 We have already discussed the problems surrounding the vaguely-defined term “pornography.” But what is “public morality”? Whose morality are we talking about here? When a society employs double standards of morality for men and women, which one counts as public morality? Does the moral wellbeing of the protesting women really matter? Who determines the moral compass of the public and to what ends? Does morality discourse work


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36 37 38 39 40

See Article 20(2) of the Constitution. Constitutional Appeal No. 2 of 2002; [2004] UGSC 1 ( February 2004). Mark Gova and Anor v. Minister of Home Affairs and Anor S.C.36/2000: Civil Application No. 156/99. Per Twinomujuni, JA in the Onyango-Obbo judgment (note 28) at 24. See Official Hansard, December 19, 2013.

to obscure hidden interests? Does it make sense to legislate morality and should immoral conduct be criminalized? As a feminist, the concepts public interest and public morality always transport me to the uncomfortable terrain where the rigid demarcation between the public and private spheres works as an instrument to reinforce patriarchal-capitalist interests. As we have seen, the deeply gendered distinction relegates women to the so-called “private” sphere where they gratuitously provide the necessities of productive and reproductive social life (Tamale 2014, 2004). What is dubbed “private” is in fact very much in the public or the political realm and the complex realities surrounding naked protests overlap both “spaces.” Catharine MacKinnon articulates it better: “The private is public for those for whom the personal is political. In this sense, for women there is no private, either normatively or empirically” (MacKinnon 1989: 191). Protectionist regulations that are often justified with the “public interest” veil are usually designed to protect the interests of the powerful at the expense of the oppressed and exploited. The script inscribed on the domesticated naked female body and “read” by the public as shameful and embarrassing, is only meant to stifle women’s selfdetermination and agency. If it was really about public morality then the commodified nude or half-nude bodies of women that are routinely displayed on billboards, in the mass media, on screens and stages for the male gaze would be banned. The artificial public/private split also has significant implications for women’s citizenship rights as “private” actors asserting themselves in the “public” realm. It is important to unpack the public/private dichotomy and reveal the power relations behind the distinction. Under patriarchy, men’s bodies are constructed as the “benchmark” standard and even equated to the public “body politic” (as opposed to the “body natural” of the woman) (Fineman 2011: 114). Clustering the term “public” with the vague and ambiguous concepts of “morality” and “interest” operates to juxtapose it against the cluster, “private life” which society undervalues and views as unimportant. But the meanings associated with the terms “public” and “private” are much more complex. The classification of “public interest” signifies matters about which the public is or ought to be interested. Ruth Gavison argues that “the normative sense of public concern may be related to the fact that these


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matters have direct or indirect effects on the public welfare, or that these are matters

which the public constructs or regulates through its norms and culture” (Gavison 1992: 7). In the case of oppressive social structures (based on gender, class, etc.), this normative claim is more likely to mean that the public should seek to change such matters via political processes, including naked protests. To put it simply, deploying the APA or any criminal code against naked demonstrators under the patronizing guise of protecting the “public interest” cannot be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.


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V. Conclusion: A Case of Women Reclaiming their Power?

The take-away from this lecture is that the human body is fraught with politics, influenced by complex effects of power derived from institutions such as law, culture and religion. Such institutions mark the body with meaning and power which can be used either to oppress or liberate. A discussion of naked protests entails a conceptualization of the body as an instrument of control as well as a source of disruption. The body is a site of imaging the social structuring of society; it carries the symbols of hierarchies based on gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, age, etc. Naked female protesting bodies are quite different from lewd nude bodies as the former represent defiance and agency while the latter represent sexual objectification. At the minimum, naked bodies force us to rethink our association of nakedness with shame and debasement. At the maximum, naked bodies make strong political statements that challenge structures of domination or exclusion. They have the capacity to disrupt and, in a spectacular way, turn vulnerability into empowerment. We have discussed the contradictions in portraying women’s bodies in the public arena as objects of desire and sex while simultaneously labeling them deviant. The silence of the written law on naked protesting bodies is pregnant with meaning. It is a silence open to interpretation, often reading perversity and hypocrisy on its surface. Audre Lorde invited women to reclaim their power through the self-deepening and embodied feeling inherent in the erotic (Lorde 1984). It is the connection with their erotic lifeforce, experiencing the power of the erotic that drives women to bare their nakedness in public. As I argue elsewhere, “Women will go about their ‘feminine’ business as usual until a core part of their self-perception is shaken to such threatening proportions as to compel them to take action challenging it; when such a time comes, there is no regression” (Tamale 1996: 19-20). We have highlighted the political technology of the body, exposing the role of the law (statutory, customary and religious) in regulating and disciplining the body. The law is an important instrument in shaping and scripting our gendered bodies. Society “reads” women’s bodies along the landmarks forged by the law. Female naked protests represent a resistance and subversion of the dominant scripts engraved on women’s bodies—scripts


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of subordination, passivity, sexuality, subservience, vulnerability, etc. Hence through the process of naked protests, women engage in a re-scripting and reconfiguration of their bodies. African women have employed this strategy against the wielders of power for many generations. The meanings and understandings of these processes are interpreted differently; the custodians of patriarchy view it as a violation of dignity and the law, while the activists perceive it as fighting for embodied justice to preserve their very dignity. Given that at core, the law is a political institution, it may appear that there is little hope held up for those bodies that stand in the way of those who hold state power. However, there is another type of power that inheres in the self, in solidarity, in self-determination and in disrupting the norm.


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Adamo, Sonya (1989), “The Injustice of the Marital Rape Exemption: A Survey of Common Law Countries,” American University Internatinoal Law Review 4(3): 555-589 al-Buti, Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan (1982), Dawabit al-maslaha fi I-shari’a al-islamiyya, Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Risala,

Dickens, G. Arthur (1968), Reformation and Society in Sixteenth Century Europe, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Eisenestein, Zillah (1988), The Female Body and the Law, Berkley: University of California Press

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Fineman, Martha (Ed.) (2011), Transcending the Boundaries of Law: Generations of Feminism and Legal Theory, New York: Routledge

Ardener, Shirley (1973), “Sexual Insult and Female Militancy,” in Shirley Ardener (ed.), Perceiving Women, London: Dent & Sons

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Bakare-Yusuf, Bibi (2011), “Nudity and Morality: Legislating Women’s Bodies and Dress in Nigeria,” in Sylvia Tamale (Ed.), African Sexualities: A Reader, Oxford: Pambazuka Press

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Balsamo, Anne (1996), Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women, Durham: Duke University Press Barcan, Ruth (2002), “Female Exposure and the Protesting Woman,” Cultural Studies Review 8(2): 62-82.  Barrett Michèle (2005), “Making (some) Sense of Feminist Poststructuralism in Environmental Education Research and Practice,” Canadian Journal of Environmental 10: 62-78 (1991), The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press Behrmann, Barbara (2005), The Breastfeeding Café, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press Belsey, Catherine (1980), Critical Practice, London: Methuen Berger, John (1972), Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin Bordo, Susan (1993), Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, California: University of California Press Butler, Judith (1990), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge

Gavison, Ruth (1992), “Feminism and the Public/Private Distinction,” Stanford Law Review 45(1): 1-45 Grisez, Germaine, Joseph Boyle and John Finnis (1987), “Practical Principles, Moral Truth and Ultimate Ends,” American Journal of Jurisprudence 32(1): 99-151 Giddens, Anthony (1991), Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge: Polity Press Glazer, Reena (1993), “Women’s Body Image and the Law,” Duke Law Journal 43(1): 113-147 Glick, Peter and Susan Fiske (1997), “Hostile and Benevolent Sexism: Measuring Ambivalent Sexist Attitudes Toward Women,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21: 119-135 Global Nonviolent Action Database (nd), “Cameroonian women use Anlu for social and political change, 1958-1961” available at: http://nvdatabase.swarthmore. edu/content/cameroonian-women-use-anlu-social-and-politicalchange-1958-1961 [last accessed August 4, 2016] Goffman, Erving (1969), Strategic Interaction, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press Goodson, Aileen (1991), Therapy, Nudity & Joy: the Therapeutic Use of Nudity Through the Ages, Los Angeles, CA: Elysium Growth Press

Davies, Bronwyn (2000), A body of writing, Oxford: Rowan & Littlefield de Beauvoir, Simone (1988), The Second Sex, (trans. and ed. by H.M. Parshley), London: Picador


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Hubbard, Philip (2000), “Desire/disgust: mapping the moral contours of heterosexuality” Progress in Human Geography 24(2): 191-217

Ifeka-Moller, Caroline (1975), “Female Militancy and Colonial Revolt: The Women’s War of 1929, Eastern Nigeria,” in Shirley Ardener (ed.), Perceiving Women, New York: John Wiley and Sons

Mostov, Julie (1999), “Sexing the Nation/Desexing the Body,” in Tamar Meyar (Ed.), Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation, New York: Routledge

Jirasek, Ivo and Pavel Hlavinka (2010), “Gymnosophy: the Wisdom of Nakedness,” Filozofia 65(7): 683-690

Nigerian Government (1930), Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces December, 1929, Lagos: Government Printer

Karpin, Isabel and Roxanne Mykitiuk (2011), “Feminist Legal Theory as Embodied Justice,” in Martha Fineman (ed.), Transcending the Boundaries of Law: Generations of Feminism and Legal Theory, New York: Routledge King, Angela (2004), “The Prisoner of Gender: Foucault and the Disciplining of the Female Body,” Journal of International Women’s Studies 5(2): 29-39 Lewis, Desiree (2009), “Gendered Spectacle: New Terrains of Struggle in South Africa,” in Ann Schlyter (ed.), Body Politics and Women Citizens: African Experiences, Stockholm: SIDA LeValley, Paul (2007), “Gymnosophy, Past, Present and Future,” in Atul Kumar Sinha and Abhay Kumar Singh (eds.), Udayana: New Horizons in History, Classics and Inter-Cultural Studies, New Delhi: Anamika Publishers Lincoln, Laura (2013), “Public Nudity and the Right to Freedom of Expression: Balancing Competing Interests,” Unpublished LL.B Thesis, University of Wellington, available at: http://researcharchive.vuw. ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/3389/thesis.pdf ?sequence=2 [last accessed August 16, 2016] Lorde, Audre (1984), “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Berkley, CA: Crossing Press MacKinnon, Catharine (1989), Towards a Feminist Theory of the State, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press Mba, Nina (1982), Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women’s Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900-1965, Berkeley: Institute of International Studies McClintock, Anne (1995), Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest, New York: Routledge (1993), “Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family,” Feminist Review 44: 61-80


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Nyamu, Celestine (2000), “How Should Human Rights and Development Respond to Cultural Legitimization of Gender Hierarchy in Developing Countries?” Harvard International Law Journal 41(2): 381-418 Nzomo, Maria (1993), “The Gender Dimensions of Democratization in Kenya: Some International Linkages,” Alternatives 61: 61-73 Oriji, John (2000), “Igbo Women from 1929-1960,” West African Review 2(1): 1-11 Othman, Norani (2006), “Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Fundamentalism/ Extremism: An Overview of Southeast Asian Muslim Women’s Struggle for Human Rights and Gender Equality,” Women’s Studies International Forum 29: 339-353 Otiso, Kefa (2006), Culture and Custom of Uganda, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Oyeniyi Bukola (2015), Dress in the making of African Identity: A Social and Cultural History of the Yoruba People, New York: Cambria Press. Rabinow, Paul (Ed.) (1991), The Foucault Reader: An introduction to Foucault’s thought, London: Penguin Rashedi, Roxanne (2011), “Deconstructing the Erotic: A Feminist Exploration of Bodies & Voice in Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Nella Larsen, and Toni Morrison” MA Thesis, Georgetown University Reis, Elizabeth (1997), Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England, Ithaca: Cornell University Press Sclater, S.D. (2002) “Introduction,” in M. Richards, A. Bainham, and S.D. Sclater (eds), Body Lore and Laws, Portland, OR: Hart. Shanklin, Eugenia (1990), “Anlu Remembered: The Kom Women’s Rebellion of 1958-61,” Dialectic Anthropology 15: 159-181

Meintjes, Sheila (2007), “Naked Women’s Protest, July 1990: ‘We Won’t Fuck for Houses,’ in Nomboniso Gasa (ed.), Women in South African History: They Remove Boulders and Cross Rivers, Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Press

Sultana, Parvin (2013), “Nakedness and Resistance: Understanding Naked Protests of Women,” Meridian Critic 20(1): 31-43

Mernissi, Fatima (Ed.) (1996), Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory, London: Zed Books

Sutton, Barbara (2007), “Naked Protest: Memories of Bodies and Resistance at the World Social Forum,” Journal of International Women’s Studies 8(3): 139-148

Tamale, Sylvia (2016), “‘Keep Your Eyes Off My Thighs’: A Feminist Analysis of Uganda’s ‘Miniskirt Law,’” Feminist Africa 21: 83-90 (2015), “Crossing the Bright Red Line: The Abuse of Culture and Religion to Violate Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Uganda,” in Ellen Chesler and Terry McGovern (Eds.), Women and Girls Rising: Progress and Resistance Around the World, New York: Routledge (2014), “Exploring the Contours of African Sexualities: Religion, Law and Power,” African Human Rights Law Journal 14: 150-177 (2009a), “Paradoxes of Sex Work and Sexuality in Modern-Day Uganda,” East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights 15(1): 69-109 (2009b), “A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the AntiHomosexuality Bill,” East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights 15(2): 509-519 (2008), “The Right to Culture and the Culture of Rights: A Critical Perspective on Women’s Sexual Rights in Africa,” Feminist Legal Studies 16: 47-69 (2004), “Gender Trauma in Africa: Enhancing Women’s Links to Resources,” Journal of African Law 48(1): 50-61 (1996), “Taking the Beast by its Horns: Formal Resistance to Women’s Oppression in Africa,” Africa Development 21(4): 5-21 Van Allen, Judith (1997), “‘Sitting on a Man’: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women,” in Roy Grinker and Christopher Steiner (eds.), Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History and Representation, London: Blackwell Yuval-Davis, N. and F. Anthias (Eds.) (1989), Women-Nation-State, London: MacMillan


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On Collin Sekajugo’s The Fist of Stella Nyanzi Exhibition and the Gendered Power Economy in Uganda Angelo Kakande


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Collin Sekajugo is a prolific, “self-educated”1 artist whose practice has also been informed by his participation in workshops. This exhibition is one of the several shows he has held locally, regionally and internationally. The ways in which the artist’s personal biography, couched in the theme “Art to Change Lives”, has shaped his career since 2007 (when he opened his Ivuka Arts Kigali in Kigali), and thus this show, is well documented in several online resources and can be accessed with ease. I thus need not repeat it in this short article in which I respond to The Fist of Stella Nyanzi exhibition (2016) which was launched at Weaverbird (or CoSe) Gallery located at plot 62, Kenneth Dale Avenue2 on 21 May 2016. It was slated to end on 4 June. However, the period was extended to three months because of the positive response received from the public. Some of Sekajugo’s works were indeed sold. Yet the Fig. 1: Invitation card for The Fist of Stella Nyanzi Exhibition, 12.5 x 9.5 cm, 2016. Artist’s collection

objective was not to sell art and make money.3 In this article I show how, in keeping with this broad objective, the artist treaded carefully with the event that happened on 18 April 2016 in which Stella Nyanzi used public nudity as a form of protest. Sekajugo’s exhibition was based on the personal experience of a woman named Dr Stella Nyanzi who protested by stripping down to her knickers in broad daylight, in front of the press. I return to the details in a moment. For now, let me observe that this is the event which informed the show and gave the artist an opportunity to align himself with all victims of nepotism in Uganda while using his art to “raise awareness on how favouritism impacts the public offices in Uganda” (see Fig. 1). In a moment we will see that this theme, and the Nyanzi protest on which it was based, hinged on the question of governance and democracy in the country. How does this wider question inform the meaning of Sekajugo’s art? I admit I did not see the exhibition launch itself. Instead I accessed interesting archival materials which have shaped my thoughts. I thus may sound subjective in some respects. But I am not being arrogant. I am basing myself on the fact that Nyanzi’s nude protest provoked subjective, and erotic, responses that are intellectually productive. For

1 2 3


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Sekajugo refers to himself as such: see Hron (2009). However, this notion is contested in the sense that it assumes that education in art is only obtained from art school. This road is fast becoming a melting pot for creative activity. It is a narrow, short road. But it hosts a number of galleries, a restaurant and performing artists. Rashidah Najjuma is the programmes coordinator for Weaverbird Arts Foundation, founded by Collin Sekajugo, which organised the exhibition. She gave me this information during our interview on 21 November 2016 at Kamwokya. Sekajugo confirmed it during our interview on 3 December 2016 at the same venue.

example, the day she stripped I met two male students on their way to the Makerere Law School. They were engaged in a heated conversation in which one told the other in Luganda: “Maani, ekikazi kinkubye! Ssinga katonda akimpa nnyinza okukyabya eyo ssumbuusa ekiwaga.’4 (Translated: You man, this woman is so sexually appealing that if God could give her to me I would have sex with her until I blow that vagina which is giving her a lot of zeal and energy to smithereens.) Statements like these may be subjective and spontaneous. They, however, are replicated5 and informative. They confirm that the specific debate informing Sekajugo’s exhibition was so wide, sexualised, sensitive, emotive and subjective that objectivity was lost; it is hard to reclaim it. Therefore, all I can promise is to give my subjective (but humble) opinions on an exhibition in which an artist, conscious that a woman’s nakedness (and the whole notion of public nudity) is taboo and constrained by cultural mores and religious conservatism, responded to a spectre in which a woman, named Dr Stella Nyanzi, undressed in protest against what she considered to be unfair treatment. I had earlier observed that being part of the elite public whose viewing tastes the State must police, artists tend to consciously believe that nudity in art is a statement which services aesthetic and political ends. It is not about pornography. They thus maintain a sharp distinction between the nudity-as-art—which they produce in their studios—and the obscene pornography which they must not reproduce. In fact many artists I have spoken to have rejected Stella Nyanzi’s protest as immoral and obscene. Sekajugo did not exactly use 4



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This word is sometimes written as sumbusa. However the correct spelling is ssumbuusa. A ssumbuusa is a triangular dough stuffed with beef or peas or beans or vegetables, fried in hot oil and eaten as food or a snack. However, the ssumbuusa has other eroticised and political meanings implicating the woman’s body as seen in the song Ssumbuusa (2012). Done by Barbie Jay and Eddy Kenzo, the song demonstrates that the ssumbuusa is food. But it can be creatively used to represent a woman’s genitalia, heterosexuality, a woman as an object of desire and to highlight the poverty, and poor hygiene, in Uganda’s slums. The two male students had the meanings of the woman’s genitalia, heterosexuality and he woman as an object of desire. Stella Nyanzi herself has used the ssumbuusa in reference to heterosexuality and the woman’s genitalia as she coined what she called “Stellar Sumbusa”. She also used ssumbuusa for politics to critique police brutality and state-sponsored electoral violence seen during the February 2016 elections as she satirically promised to have sex with the Inspector General of Police—General Kale Kayihura—if he ceased brutalising the supporters of the opposition. She made her point thus: “If Kale Kayihura removes the non-smiling gun-wielding scaremongers from our democratic processes, he can have a bite of my fresh tightly-packed sumbusa for it is spicy hot! If Kale Kayihura stops the verbal and psychological intimidation of Uganda’s voting masses, he can have a second bite of my stellar sumbusa.” See: Our Reporter. (2016, 5 February 2016). “Dr Stella Nyanzi: I’ll give Kayihura my sumbusa if….” Retrieved 11 November 2016, 2016, from http://www.theinsider.ug/dr-stella-nyanzi-ill-give-kayihura-my-sumbusa-if/. For instance, on 9 July 2016 one Meega undressed in Kampala protesting mistreatment (and incessant provocation) by the community, including by her mother-in-law. Reporting the incident on 9 July 2016 Bukedde, a Luganda online daily, observed that in reacting to the naked body of the woman men laughed without stopping, leaving one wondering whether they were intrigued by Meega’s expression of anger or whether they enjoyed the consumption of her erotic naked body Musasi wa Bukedde (2016). Mundeke bukunya mbalagireko bwereere. Bukedde Online. Kampala, The New Vision Printing and Publishing Ltd.. (My translation from: Meega eyabadde atambula obute yakubizza abasajja enduulu ey’oluleekereeke…Abasajja abaabaddewo baawuliddwa batenda Meega kyokka tetwategedde oba baabadde bakungiriza bukambwe oba engeri gye yakula.) Arguably then, this act of stripping naked renders the woman’s naked body available to the voracious (heterosexual) gaze. Such consumption is replicated in every incident in which women use nudity as protest.

the same words but he too agrees that what Nyanzi did to undress publicly “was not the right thing since young people might pick it up. But on the other hand I am thinking if people didn’t listen to her how else would she have done it”, he asked suggesting that in his view Nyanzi had only one option left: to undress. In keeping with this delicate balance in which his art is not about obscenity, but “a bold statement” of protest which also protected, how then did the artist avoid the obscene body but remain “faithful to the original message” of Nyanzi’s protest?6 No catalogues were produced to guide the viewer. However, an invitation card (Fig. 1) was widely circulated. I use it together with the conversations I had at Weaverbird Arts Foundation to analyse the broad issues on which the artist based his works, namely: “[a]n artistic approach to Dr Stella Nyanzi’s recent bold statement on inequality and favouritism that are said to be crippling public institutions in Uganda.” This theme is very intriguing. It confirms that the artist based himself on the experience of an individual, Stella Nyanzi, to produce his work. For him the personal biography of Stella Nyanzi was also political. But who is Stella Nyanzi? Stella Nyanzi is a researcher who, until recently, was serving at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Institute of Social Research (also called MISR), headed by one Professor Mahmood Mamdani. She has been interdicted following an incident on 18 April 2016 in which she protested eviction from her office. It is not important for us to go into the merit of her case or whether she indeed did the right thing. It is also not proper for us to go into the vexed question as to whether the eviction was justified or legal. Whichever answer one gives to any (or both) of these questions, it produces two victims (Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Dr Stella Nyanzi) ensnared by a heavily bureaucratic system which gives power with limited authority.7 This is the environment which produces the kind of lameduckism— that Apolo Nsibambi8 referred to in the 1990s—and reproduces unhappy individuals in 6 7 8


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 uring our interview he emphasised that the exhibition was “not pornography but [he] remained faithful to the original message” as he gave his D “artistic point of view” which was “another point of view.” Kizito Maria Kasule is the Dean of the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art, Makerere University. On one occasion he observed that the structure at Makerere University gives power without real authority. Other administrators present concurred. Apolo Nsibambi was a professor at Makerere University. He headed the Department of Political Science and MISR before he retired to become a Minister and later Prime Minister in the Ugandan government. He is known for using complicated terms including “lugubrious” which at one time was added to his name by the press: he was called “the Lugubrious Nsibambi.” The way I understood him, by lameduckism Nsibambi meant a scenario where a public servant lacks the capacity to act quickly and effectively because of fear and political interference.

Uganda’s public service.9 There is a lot of discussion on this area and it is available in varied sources and mediums. It need not be reproduced here. What is important for me is that Nyanzi interpreted the eviction as a breach of her right to work and responded using publicnudity-as-protest. This is the protest that Sekajugo calls a bold statement and whose nexus with social activism Sekajugo has linked to the fight against favouritism. Though denied by officials of government and the ruling party (the National Resistance Movement) there is a public perception that favouritism is widespread in Uganda. It nurtures bad governance; it negatively affects the delivery of public services and goods in the country.10 Seen in this light, the debate on Nyanzi’s public nudity becomes academically productive. A Professor of Law at Makerere University, and women’s rights activist, Sylvia Tamale (2016), wrote and presented her Professorial Inaugural Lecture on 28 October 2016. She based her thoughts on what Sekajubo calls the bold statement and used the artist’s painting The Fist as a cover page for her published lecture. Many stand-up comedians continue to make reference to Stella Nyanzi’s public nudity, confirming that it has become culturally productive as well. I do not intend to defend Stella Nyanzi. However, I want to demonstrate and argue that, approached through these scholarly and culturally productive lenses, the discourse searches beyond a woman’s naked body, and its [mis]characterisation as a public nuisance.11 One begins to see how Stella Nyanzi’s public nudity was not a mere indecent act performed by an unholy, immoral woman who, influenced by greed, selfishness and Western education, embarrassed Makerere University, her children, family, clan, ethnic group and the country. A personal 9




• Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

 pecifically, both Mamdani and Nyanzi appealed for direction from the office of the Vice Chancellor and his deputies. However, none could firmly S resolve the impasse. In fact, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Finance and Administration gave direction at one point, which he later characterised as mere advice. Whatever it was, his direction was not implemented. It is important to remark here that stances against favouritism are sometimes part of complex political negotiations over access to public service jobs. For example believing that there is favouritism through which the Banyankole (from Western Uganda) are occupying most positions in the security agencies, government was on 21 November 2016 “urged…to address the imbalances, saying all the regions should have equal share of promotions in the police and other security agencies” Edema, D. (2016). No promotion is based on tribalism, says Otafiire. Daily Monitor Online. Kampala, Monitor Printing and Publications.. However, such calls rarely serve the collective interests of entire regions. They are sometimes based on selfish, parochial sentiments and ethnic bigotry. In fact they largely benefit individuals (and their households) some of whom are not even aligned with the ruling party or the Banyankole—the President’s ethnic group. In a country where the private sector does not create many job opportunities to absorb the ever increasing number of unemployed Ugandans, such calls can only continue to grow. Crucially, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity ordered that Nyanzi be arrested for committing a public nuisance. For one to be lawfully charged she must have broken Section 160 of the Penal Code of Uganda which makes it an offence to annoy or inconvenience the public in the exercise of common rights and gives a punishment of imprisonment for one year on conviction. However, for the accused person to be lawfully charged the act she has committed must not be authorised by law; anything done in lawful exercise of one’s rights is not a nuisance. Nyanzi, and other women in Uganda, have undressed in protest. Protest, in itself, is not prohibited by any law in Uganda. As Tamale (2016, 2-3) rightly puts it, “there is no bar against displaying the naked body” as a form of protest in Uganda.

act of undressing in public performed by an elite, angry woman who stripped down to her underwear in protest, becomes a form of political expression. The “Nyanzi nudity” that was feared by the clergy,12 was a reason for an arrest (and detention) and became a major issue that occupied the electronic and print media in Uganda for weeks, gains an urgently political tone touching on the question of governance in Uganda. The personal becomes the political. And this is the point at which Collin Sekajugo took up the debate and appropriated it for socio-political activism through his art. But how does he navigate the complex political debate surrounding public nudity using art as a form and medium? In view of the fact that Nyanzi’s bold statement also risked offending deep-seated cultural and religious sensitivities in Uganda’s largely conservative patriarchal societies (Tamale 2016), and that it was likely to offend public morality (however gendered that term may be) and thus the artist’s audience, how then does the artist avoid being seen as an outlaw13 propagating [im]morality while not losing track of the political question[s] in Nyanzi’s undressing? What political question was at stake anyway? I learnt of this show through an e-mail on the Makerere University intranet in which Stella Nyanzi herself invited staff and students to go to Kenneth Dale Drive, home to Weaverbird Arts Foundation, and view it. This invite came through a process which is interesting. According to the artist, on learning about the exhibition Stella Nyanzi was concerned that the artist would borrow a leaf from the tabloids, strip and circulate her totally naked body using art. This would have created the impression that her protest was about pornography and exhibitionism; the exhibition would have fed into the scheme to silence and suppress her voice which had gathered steam through the press. She thus sent her lawyer (Jacqueline Asiimwe) to assess the content of the show before she visited it herself. I was 12 13


• Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

The clergy publicly expressed this fear that Nyanzi’s nudity was eroding public morality: see Wandera (2016). There is always the risk of art for activism being outlawed on suspicion of propagating immorality. For example, on 18 February 2005 Eve Ensler was set to perform her play, the Vagina Monologue – also published as a book – in the National Theatre, Kampala. Tickets were sold out. The proceeds were intended to support the relief effort in war-torn northern Uganda, which had been affected by a long and brutal rebellion. However, the Ugandan government outlawed Ensler’s play. Reference to the vagina was found to be offensive and against the country’s morals (whatever those are). By repeatedly making reference to it in a public space, Ensler was seen to be promoting lesbianism. The head of the Media Council argued that the performance could only be allowed if Ensler “expunge[d] all the offending parts” referring to the vagina and human sexuality. This was tantamount to writing a new play; Ensler declined. See BBC (2005). For the publication of the play, see Ensler (2007). In addition, a young woman Jamimah Kansiime—also called Panadol—was incarcerated over allegations that her song Panado wa Basajja (2015) was pornographic. Yet she merely relied on fast-moving silhouettes and overlapping frames in which her naked body (presented as pandadol the common drug for aches and pains) was used to critique the insatiable appetite Ugandan men have for the woman’s body.

unable to speak to her. But Sekajugo intimated to me that the lawyer found the exhibition inoffensive; “she asked some questions but for her the show was another way of contributing to their story” while targeting another audience. In other words the artist had added a brick to the fight against marginalisation and oppression using the woman’s naked body. Against this backdrop Nyanzi herself visited the show and arrived at the same conclusion before sending an open invitation to the entire university community which would not have known about it.

Responding to the invite, an irate academic, who had visited the show, concluded that it demonstrated that public stripping had placed Nyanzi in the limelight. “That was brave!...I did not know that it [stripping publicly] would make you more famous! Actually, it seems to be doing [so]!!” he wrote, adding that he himself should do the same in his fight against the Fig. 2: Madam Blaster, oil on canvas, 98 x 100 cm, 2016. Artist’s collection

refusal to promote him even when he submitted all the necessary requirements. Clearly then, what had started as the “Nyanzi Affair”14 in which a Research Associate at the MISR challenged the lack of progress on her application for promotion in 2014, had morphed into something wider than an individual’s struggle by the time Sekajugo exhibited his work. It had emboldened Stella Nyanzi and probably raised her international stature as an activist who had used her naked body to confront patriarchal power, marginalisation and exclusion. Her body became not just an inscriptive surface marked by the law and culture (Tamale 2016) but a voice for the many who felt unfairly treated. I argue that this is the shared trajectory of unfairness (and the fight against it) that strings together Sekajugo’s exhibition. Yet Sekajugo does not reproduce victims. Rather, he allows Nyanzi’s body to be a vehicle for the struggle to redeem the oppressed, a vehicle for real change. For instance, in his Madam Blaster (Fig. 2) he captures a single female figure. She wears a dress whose heavy design is enriched by conventional and non-conventional patterns. She appears to literally restrain herself by refusing to speak. At some point during her nude protest Nyanzi


14 • Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

 hen the misunderstanding between Nyanzi and Mamdani became public, an e-mail was circulated in which it was presented as “the Nyanzi AfW fair”. I use this notion in that context.

used masking tape to seal her mouth and refused to talk. The artist did not refer to these images. Instead, he relied on the widely circulated image of bespectacled Stella Nyanzi with dreadlocks tied together with pieces of cloth matching her long dresses. Specifically he saw a video clip in which Nyanzi used extremely vulgar language on a local Television station challenging the use of excessive power. The artist however did some interventions. He introduced text in this painting using words adopted from Nyanzi’s statements sieved through the song Embooko (2007). As if to confirm, the title of the work draws heavily on the name of the musician behind Embooko: the late Master Blaster (1986-2015). Embooko is a sexually suggestive song. However, Master Blaster uses words – whose literal meanings are not offensive – to invent a vocabulary with which he circumnavigates vulgarity,15 including emmanga (downwards) for emana (vagina), embooko (a whip) for embolo (penis), enfuufu (dust) for enfuli (labia), omusingi (a foundation) for omusino (clitoris) etc. Sekajugo freely deploys these words, together the meanings they acquired through Fig. 3: The Defender, oil on canvas, 92 x 97 cm, 2016. Artist’s collection

Master Blaster’s song, as text that enriches the backdrop against which he projects a woman. This language use was uncharacteristic of the image of Stella Nyanzi, who defiantly inverted traditional norms and openly used foul language in public. The strategy, however, allowed the artist to deal with the vulgarity with which Nyanzi expressed herself. The mainstream print and electronic media struggled to deal with her foul language. It appears Sekajugo found a way around ‘the problem’ by relying on another medium: music. Inadvertently, however, the artist seems to produce a woman who is on the defensive and unable (or hesitant) to articulate her views publicly. Thus she rejects a microphone from NBS Television. This is the direct opposite of what Nyanzi did during the NBS show.

Unlike the woman in Madam Blaster, the artist made four portraits in which he placed figures wearing dreadlocks tied together with multi-coloured pieces of cloth. He paid limited attention to facial features as he applied thick dabs of colour that gave freshness to the


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 ost communities in Uganda avoid obscene words. People who use foul language are not respected. In Nyanzi’s Buganda region, obscene words are M also referred to as ebigambo ebitayita mu kamwa (translated: Words that are too big to pass through the mouth).

uncontrolled texture on his canvases. Produced in different designs, the clothes give each portrait a sense of uniqueness and identity. The women wear gloves and hold up their fists in defensive positions. As they are used in fist fights, such positions are defensive but they allow the fighter to study the opponent and attack. This is the attack the artist seems to produce through another series of portraits in which the women go on the offensive. Some open their fiery eyes and yell in front of the beholder, the artist’s audience. They animate their statements through placards with words like “free our”, “I can’t BR; He can’t B”. Some text runs off the edge without losing the force of calling for freedom—the calling behind Sekajugo’s The Defender and The Fist.

The Defender (Fig. 3) has three dominant figures covering most of the canvas, leaving limited breathing space. For Rashidah Najjuma this painting serves the interest of “all women out there who are victims of exploitation” and sexual harassment and not just Nyanzi and the elite women like her. Sekajugo agrees. I would base on the fact that all the figures are identifiably female and share a common space (and time) to agree with them. However the women stand in different poses/postures. Two are not nude; they are subdued but not restrained as they create a backdrop against which one woman stands in an uncomfortable pose while giving life to a rather uninviting palette. A rope-like structure runs around her body. It is not a fashion accessory. It seems to service a moralising enterprise as it wraps Fig. 4: Suspended Cross, oil on canvas, 25.5x50 cm, 2016. Artist’s collection

most of the woman’s naked upper body down to the thighs as if to drape it. Thus, I argue that the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation in this painting are ambiguously expressed. However, it could be inferred that the artist seems to make two related points in his The Defender. First, to avoid the taboo subject of female nudity in the public (gallery) space, he covers up the body of his undressed woman. Second, he seems to make the point that as a defender of woman’s rights, Nyanzi had to fight to free herself first from bondage. This bondage is also poignantly expressed in Sekajugo’s Suspended Cross (Fig. 4) in which the upper body of a human being is wrought against an improvised cross using a heavy chain and padlock.


• Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

This painting suggests that Sekajugo questions and critiques the religious conservatism

which has framed the debate surrounding nude protests in Uganda. Nyanzi did the same. However, beyond religious conservatism confirmed in his Suspended Cross, the artist seems to suggest that for meaningful freedom to be achieved, Nyanzi has to confront the masculinised16 power economy of the nation-state in the kind of encounter one sees in Sekajugo’s The Fist.

In The Fist an aggressive woman stands erect wearing dreadlocks. She has stripped down to her black underwear. Left naked, her chubby body gains incredible strength. It assumes a solid, impenetrable, unshakeable mass which blocks – and simultaneously confronts – an advancing figure of a man dressed in a grey cap, shirt and trousers tied to the waist with a striped belt. Unable to move past each other, the body of the man, and that of the woman, melt into a dark, intermediate (probably transient) body to which they both Fig. 5 Fist of Stella, oil on canvas, 98x100cm, 2016, artist’s collection

contribute and lose their individual identities. This painting demonstrates that the artist accessed the events at Makerere in which Nyanzi undressed. He, however, did not replicate what he saw. For example, television footage, and some newspaper images, showed the naked Nyanzi behind the metallic fencing at MISR. The artist deliberately removed the iron cage from his work, thus demonstrating that he was not a camera. This strategy had the added advantage of allowing the artist’s audience to access the boldness of the statement Nyanzi made to confront the police, whose presence the artist captures using the dress code of a man which resembles one of the uniforms worn by the policemen who arrested Stella Nyanzi on 18 April 2016.



• Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

 pecioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe (also called Spe) became the first female Vice President in the history of Uganda’s post-colonial statehood – a S position she held from 1994 to 2003. In 2001 Laeticia Eulalia Mary Mukasa Kikonyogo became the first woman Deputy Chief Justice, Head of the Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court of Uganda. Currently the speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, is a woman; this is her second five-year term. Indeed, these gestures confirm that the ruling National Resistance Movement NRM Scretariat (2016). 2016-2021 Manifesto: Taking Uganda to Modernity through Jobs-cretion & Inclusive Development. Kampala, NRM Secretariat. has radically transformed the public space by ensuring that women participate in it. However, this shift does not change the fact that the nation-state and public space are masculinised; women who join public office become ‘masculine’. As such, the marital status of any woman in public office is always an issue: where a woman is unmarried, her political career may be ruined. Where a woman is married she is expected to publicly demonstrate that she has not lost her femininity. She is also expected to be a good wife and mother. Thus, one of the big questions haunting Rebecca Kadaga as Speaker of Parliament concerns her marital status: Why is she ‘not married’ and has no children? One of the reasons Spe’s marriage collapsed is because she was a Vice President and not good as a housewife. In the case of Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe v Eng Charles Nsubuga Kazibwe, decided in 2003, the High Court of Uganda heard chilling details of how Spe’s husband abused and humiliated her with a view to show her that she was the woman in the home whose legitimate head was (and would always be) the man, the husband.

By not paying attention to the woman’s anatomical details, the artist looked beyond the biological body to produce and project a political body. This strategy, together with the use of a limited colour palette, helped Sekajugo to avoid offending his audience as he used his art as a form and medium through which to make a case for resilience and resistance as prerequisites for a meaningful struggle for liberty. He seems to suggest that pushed to the margins, women use their naked bodies to violently resist oppression. His suggestion is not farfetched. It could be traced from local proverbs. For example, in Stella Nyanzi’s Luganda language17 (spoken by over sixteen per cent of the country’s population18) it is said that: Atakulekera naawe tomulekera, ennyanja ekutta omira (translated: Do not hesitate to use violence to defend yourself against repression). It could also be traced from other scenes in which public nudity and violence have been used as forms of protest and resistance to violent repression. For example, on 12 October 2015 Fatuma Zainab Naigaga, a woman political activist aligned with the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was arrested by a group of female and male police officers. In video footage that went viral, the police officers are seen publicly stripping the woman in the process of her arrest. Agitated by the police action, Naigaga violently confronted them. In the process she met violence with violence. She repeatedly asked the female police officers how they, as women, dared undress a fellow woman in public. Uncomfortable and uneasy, as women, the female officers struggled to dress her up as she repeatedly got stripped in a long and hard battle to arrest and lift a heavy Naigaga and dump her on a waiting police truck. In the process the police and the woman activist were all fused into a gendered territory mapped by violence, sex, power and a flawed democratic process which has characterised all elections in Uganda’s post-colonial history. To sum up, the issues behind Sekajugo’s work were national and not entirely specific to Nyanzi, Mamdani, MISR and Makerere University. In fact, by the time the exhibition was launched, Nyanzi had joined the defiance campaign – a mass protest started by the FDC


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17 Sekajugo grew up in areas where Luganda is a dominant language. He speaks it. 18 The recent population and housing census revealed that the Baganda constitute sixteen per cent of Uganda’s population. Luganda is their native language. See Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2016).

in response to the disputed election results of the 2016 presidential elections. Sekajugo was alive to this fact. It is thus very interesting to read them as a backdrop against which he mounted his The Fist of Stella Nyanzi since he saw Stella Nyanzi as the defender of the struggle against all forms of marginalisation, exclusion and repression in Uganda. He singles her out as a representation of the struggles of other women19 (and men) who have publicly undressed to protest bad governance and repression. His images are not about the erotic body; they are about the political body. In this respect, Nyanzi’s image became a sort of emblematic portrait (in the sense of Borgatti 1990); Sekajugo’s exhibition has gained its position in the history of Uganda’s art as a contribution to the debate in which public nudity has become a powerful weapon used to push back against the power economy which has violently masculinised political discourse and the public space in Uganda, albeit in ways that are academically and artistically productive.


19 For instance, in April 2012 a group of elite women in Kampala (central Uganda) stripped down to their bras to protest an incident in which a police officer fondled the breasts of woman political activist Ingrid Turinawe. In May 2015 a group of women in Amuru district (northern Uganda) undressed in protest over what they called land-grabbing. They were unhappy that their land was being claimed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority as a sanctuary for wild animals. In July 2015 women in Soroti (eastern Uganda) undressed to protest eviction by the newly established Soroti University. These incidents could have been avoided through dialogue. However, with an ever-shrinking space for meaningful dialogue, the “female body has become a useful tool of dissent”. See Okuda (2016). • Concerning Nuditude / angelo kakande

References cited

BBC News. 2005. “Uganda ban on Vagina Monologues.” British Broadcasting Corporation, accessed 1 December. http://news.bbc. co.uk/2/hi/africa/4277063.stm. Borgatti, Jean M. 1990. “Portraiture in Africa.” African Arts 23 (3):34-101. doi: 10.2307/3336827. Edema, Denis. (2016). No promotion is based on tribalism, says Otafiire. Daily Monitor Online. Kampala, Monitor Printing and Publications. Ensler, Eve. 2007. The Vagina Monologues. New York: Villard Books. Hron, Conducted by Madelaine. 2009. “Interview with Artist Collin Sekajugo.” Peace Review 21 (3):354-358. Musasi wa Bukedde (2016). Mundeke bukunya mbalagireko bwereere. Bukedde Online. Kampala, The New Vision Printing and Publishing Ltd. NRM Scretariat (2016). 2016-2021 Manifesto: Taking Uganda to Modernity through Jobs-cretion & Inclusive Development. Kampala, NRM Secretariat. Okuda, Ivan. 2016. “The Message in Nude Protests.” Daily Monitor, 23 April. Our Reporter. (2016). “Dr Stella Nyanzi: I’ll give Kayihura my sumbusa if….” Retrieved 11 November 2016, 2016, from http://www.theinsider. ug/dr-stella-nyanzi-ill-give-kayihura-my-sumbusa-if/. Tamale, Sylvia. 2016. “Nudity, Protest and the Law in Uganda.” Inaugural Professorial Lecture, Makerere University Main Hall, 28 October 2016. Uganda Bureau of Statistics. 2016. National Population and Housing Census 2014: Main Report. Edited by Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Kampala. Wandera, Stephen. 2016. “Religious Leaders Condemn Nyanzi Nudity.” Daily Monitor, 23 April. http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/ Religious-leaders-condemn-Nyanzi-nudity/688334-3171072-qfe5dyz/ index.html.


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1992 Freedom Corner Protest Awuor Onyango

“I told them, essentially: Don’t come talking to me about my womanhood because I’m not interested in your manhood …” Professor Wangari Maathai


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In a tribute to Prof. Wangari Maathai, Dorothy Attema states:

“Immediately the government learned Wangari had joined the mothers (a handful of women, less than 10) the President was nervous, and he decided to go stop her no matter how. So a truck full of policemen was sent to the freedom corner where they were seated. The policemen threw tear gas at them and then pounced on them hitting them with clubs (three were hospitalized after the incident). This is when it happened! The unthinkable! Wangari persuaded the women to strip naked in a traditional expression of protest to the violence. And they did it! They all stripped naked and the policemen ran away! I remember how sad the whole country was blaming former President Moi for pushing these elderly women to a point of stripping naked.”1

Just a quick Google search of “Freedom Corner” and one discovers that Professor Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Prize winner, did something to protest against Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi’s government. The Google search returns photographs and articles in which Wangari Maathai is badly beaten. She, along with other unnamed mothers, are reported to have been involved in a public nudity protest. But what actually happened at Freedom Corner?


1 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

A Tribute to an Agent for Change and Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Mathai, by Dorothy Attema http://www.afla.nl/news/voice-in-the-field-a-tribute-to-wangari-maathai retrieved 29th Nov 2016

A Timeline of A Year Long Hunger Strike:

On the February 28th 1992 a group2 of 60-82 year old women petitioned the Attorney General Amos Wako to release 52 political prisoners, some of whom were their sons. Receiving a lukewarm response, the women gathered by Nairobi’s Freedom Corner to start a hunger strike to pressure the Moi era regime into meeting their demands. Freedom Corner is within Uhuru Park at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru highway. It faces, across Uhuru highway, the Murumbi Art Gallery which shares a compound with Nyayo House. To its left, across Kenyatta Avenue, is a political architecture, a monument of Moi’s hand holding his rungu (mace) atop a mountain-like structure. The original three organisers3 Monica Wangu wa Wamwere, Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia and Gladys Thiitu Kariuki met in Nakuru at Monica’s house to plan their strategy. At the time of the hunger strike, their sons Koigi Wamwere, Rumba Kinuthia and Mirugi Kariuki (respectively) along with Koigi’s cousin Geoffrey Kuga Kariuki had been under arrest since October 1990 for treason4 and were said to be across the road from Freedom Corner at Nyayo House, facing torture and possible execution5. Four others (three relatives and an employee of Rumba Kinuthia) had been charged with misprision (concealment) of treason. These were Joseph Mwaura Kinuthia (Rumba’s brother), Mary Mwaura (Joseph’s wife), Margaret Wangui Kinuthia (Rumba’s sister) and James Gitau Mwaura, a former legal assistant in Rumba Kinuthia’s law firm, whose mother Priscilla Mwaura Kimani was also involved in the protest. “I decided to go there because I felt my son would be hanged” Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia said.6 In the first few days of their outdoor protest, sleeping overnight in the park, a group of supporters rallied with the hunger strikers. The mothers lit candles, one for each of the fifty two political prisoners whose release they were seeking. An Asian woman loaned them an open-sided canopy and a group of men led by Ngonya wa Gakonya, then leader of a religious group known as the Tent of the Living God, arrived to provide protection for them at night. At first members of the public came just out of curiosity, but by the second or third

2 3


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4 5 6

Certain reports state 13 others “a dozen or so” Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia, Rumba Kinuthia’s mother, in an interview with Robert M Press, October 12, 2002 in Nairobi, Kenya. She said the original three were the mothers of political prisoners Koigi Wamwere, Mirugi Kariuki, and Kinuthia. Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. AI Index: AFR 32/28/90 Distr: SC/CO/GR Kenya: SIlencing Opposition to One-Party Rule, November 1990 By Rumba Kinuthia’s own account he was at the time in solitary confinement at a maximum prison facility Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia, Rumba Kinuthia’s mother, in an interview with Robert M Press, October 12, 2002 in Nairobi, Kenya.

day, other Kenyans came to tell their story of how they, too, had been tortured.7 Singing songs their sons couldn’t hear and holding hands, they quickly gained coverage by the local and international press. Freedom Corner soon became a rallying point for those who felt aggrieved by the regime, where people stopped to air their own stories of oppression. “Once we went there we opened a flood … We provided a forum that so many people needed but didn’t have. So by the second day people started coming to visit, to look, to see: “Look at this bunch of crazy women who are sleeping outside!” and to hear our story. By the 3rd day some people started telling their story… People started their story and it was like there was an opening here… a free place where people were talking about things they had never talked about… They were shouting ‘I am a victim! I have been tortured!’ ”8 Dr. Wangari Maathai, who had recently been stripped of her role as a Member of Parliament and supported the women, said. According to Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia, other politicians who had come were Raila Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Emilio Kibaki9. “We also chained ourselves to each other. The police used to stop the traffic when we crossed the road because we were chained together” Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia recalls.

On the morning of Tuesday March 3, 1992, the Head of the Public Service, Philip Mbithi, warned the mothers to leave Freedom Corner and end their strike: “ The Government has noted with concern that since Saturday 29 February 1992, the hunger strike has been used by the opposition to hold unlicenced meetings, illegal processions and demonstrations. The hunger strike has also been used to promote acts of violence. Such acts include stoning of motorists along Uhuru Highway and Valley Road, traffic obstructions and inconveniencing of members of the public. Further, the hunger strike has facilitated the violation of the Nairobi City Commission by-laws related to erecting of tents, display of banners and destruction of the vegetation (...) Accordingly, the Government has decided that

7 8


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Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. Wangari Maathai, in an interview with Robert M Press, September 23, 2002, in Nairobi, Kenya. Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. 9 Kenya Film Commission, Jane Murago-Munene (dir) The Unbroken Spirit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAiMIXckFBY 2:56 (retrieved 28th. November.2016)

this potential threat to security in Nairobi must come to an end. The mothers of the hunger strike are informed that their specific message had been received and are, therefore, advised to call off their strike immediately and return to their homes.”10 By 3:00pm, several hundred policemen had surrounded the protest site at Freedom Corner to forcibly evict the mothers with a support base now estimated at 10,00011 surrounding the mothers. Kenyan riot police (known as the General Service Unit) first beat, whipped, and dispersed the Release Political Prisoners youth and other members of the public who had gathered in a security cordon around the fasting women. The General Service Unit soldiers threw tear gas into the tent where the hunger-fatigued women held firm. Policemen then indiscriminately battered the old women as they emerged from their tent. One elderly Mau Mau fighter, Ruth Wangari wa Thungu threw off her clothes (Gikuyu = kutura nguo). In the pitched battle she stripped naked and cursed the police and the head of state by exposing her vagina.12 She is said to have been joined by two other women.13 The police forces responded by turning away and leaving the scene. There are conflicting witness reports on whether the GSU attacked the women, either way Dr Wangari Maathai14 ended up hospitalized for three days and a number of the hunger strikers sustained injuries as well.

Riots in support of the mothers and for the release of political prisoners, started at around 9:00 am on Wednesday March 4,1992. Subsistence traders and public transport workers at the Gikomba market and the Machakos bus terminus boycotted their work in protest against police attacks on the women of Freedom Corner. Motorists who defied the transport strike were stoned. Most Kenya Bus Service vehicles were withdrawn after several were pelted with stones.The mothers regrouped at the All Saints Cathedral, which was located one block away from Uhuru Park. Because the government prohibited the mothers from returning to “Freedom Corner”, the priests (Archbishop Manasses Kuria and Provost 10 11 12 13


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Nation Reporter, “State Orders End to Strike.” Daily Nation. Nairobi,4 March 1992 Elaine Enarson, P G Dhar Chakrabarti (2009) Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives. SAGE Publications India Leigh S. Brownhill. University of Toronto,Terisa E. Turner. University of Guelph,(2003) Feminism in the Mau Mau Resurgence Global Nonviolent Action Database: Kenyan mothers win release of political prisoners and press for democratic reform, 1992-1993, http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/kenyan-mothers-win-release-political-prisoners-and-press-democratic-reform-1992-1993 (retrieved 29th November 2016) At the time she was not yet a Professor

Njenga) of the cathedral granted them sanctuary. There, the mothers continued their campaign, holding daily meetings outside the cathedral to speak with their growing numbers of supporters. They held open forums and spoke about democratic procedures and citizens’ rights. They asserted that individuals should not be placed in jail because of their political beliefs. Thousands of supporters visited the mothers, and many political opposition groups (including the Forum to Re-establish Democracy and Release Political Prisoners pressure group) and women’s organizations (including Mothers in Action and the National Council of Women of Kenya) openly lent them their support. On March 31, 1992 the mothers attempted to deliver a petition to President Moi to give him an opportunity to avoid the strike, but they were turned away by police forces. On the evening of April 1, 1992, government police raided the All Saints Cathedral and occupied the grounds for three days as the mothers barricaded themselves in the church basement. The Forum to Re-establish Democracy called for a national strike to begin on April 2, 1992. On April 12, 1992, Archbishop of the Anglican Church Manasses Kuria declared that “idlers” were officially barred from the cathedral grounds, and that the cathedral was “…a sanctuary for the mothers of the political prisoners.” On April 16 - 17, 1992, the mothers distributed 6,000 leaflets containing information about their sons and the conditions under which they were arrested. In addition, the mothers regularly attended their sons’ court hearings. On June 24, 1992, four of the political prisoners were released, and by January 19, 1993, all of the mothers were reunited with their sons. The 52nd political prisoner, James Apiny Adhiambo, was released on November 14, 1997, after a five-year international campaign coordinated by the Release Political Prisoners pressure group.


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Witness Accounts

Robert M. Press “As the Kenyan police, armed with helmets, shields, clubs, and tear gas circled the mothers, she (Monica wangu wa Wamwere) began leading them in a traditional Kikuyu song. Young male supporters, sitting on the ground in a larger circle around the mothers, locked arms in an attempt to provide a human shield against the impending attack”

The history of the period has been written and will continue to be written without us. The imperative is clear: either we make history or remain the victims of it. Michelle Wallace, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman

“I found myself standing next to Dr. Maathai and only a few feet from one of the mothers, Monica Wamwere, who started to sing as the police got closer. Then the police attacked. Some later reports claimed police beat the women: I saw no evidence of this firsthand, though I couldn’t see everyone. The police did attack the would-be protectors who had formed a ring around the mothers who themselves sat in the shade of the canopy. The protectors quickly fled for safety toward the mothers, piling under the roof of the canopy and falling in a pile on and round the mothers. I found myself buried under their bodies with just my head protruding, feeling the crush of their weight. Just then a Kenyan policeman tossed a tear gas canister toward the women under the canopy. The canister hit my head, bounced off, and exploded, sending a cloud of gas through the area. It actually helped: the supporters fled the gas, freeing those of us underneath. Betty meanwhile had sidestepped the cloud of teargas and managed to keep photographing. Some of the mothers stripped at least partially as a cultural protest”15

Monica Wangu wa Wamwere “On that particular day, we were beaten up badly by police and sent away but there was no stopping us. We resorted to drastic measures if that was what it would take to have our demands honoured,”16


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15 Robert M Press, Witness Statement. Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. 16 Monica Wangu Wa Wamwere, in an interview. http://www.panapress.com/Relatives-of-Kenya-s-ex-political-prisoners-recall-dark-days--13-47478017-lang4-index.html 03 Março 2003 20:50:00 (retrieved 28th.November.2016)

Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu After all this, I tried to think what I would do next. I then stripped my clothes and remained stark naked and started fighting with the policemen because I saw a young man called Kanene, who was one of us in RPP, struggling with a policeman who wanted to shoot him. I came in between them and stripped off my clothes. When the young people saw me naked, they stopped fighting with the police. They ran away and we were left with only four policemen whom I know were Kalenjins and they were old men.’ We fought with them and God helped. At that time, members of the public had come in large numbers and there were many motorists who had a chance to pick up the unconscious people and rush them to various hospitals. The people who were able to run away, ran, and I was left with the four policemen. We stayed and at last calmness prevailed. We then put on our clothes and stayed there even as the police pulled down our tent and took it with them plus our other belongings.17 (First Woman 1996) “There are people who spent 40 days without eating. Ngonya wa Gakonya18 and some others didn’t eat.” 19

Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia We went back to Wako’s office – in a large group, which included Wangari Maathai and when we asked Wako to take us to the President, he declined. Wangari Maathai helped us a great deal. She used to sleep with us on the concrete floor. We were not comfortable because we were sleeping on the concrete, but we had a lot of support from people. We were on a hunger strike for almost one month, and we were only taking juices. It was very difficult because some of us used to fall sick. I myself fell sick and I was taken to the hospital. I stayed for four days in the hospital. Then I went back to the church. We went back to Wako and told him again we wanted to be taken to the President. He refused. He refused and then later on the


17 18 19 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

First Woman. “Interview with Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu.” Nairobi, 29 May 1996 Then leader of a religious group known as the Tent of the Living God Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu in Tv Interview, Freedom Corner Women, narrated by Esther Kahumbi https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=e1M-eQOLrus published 20th Oct 2014, (retrieved 29th November 2016)

General Services Unit (GSU) came in about five lorries and surrounded the place (All Saints Cathedral). We were ordered to open; we refused. There is a lady called Njeri [Kababere] who we sent to talk to them. She told them that these women have refused to talk to [the paramilitary force], so you should just go away. Their leader pleaded with us saying please, just open for us; your sons are going to be released. They were pleading with Mama Koigi but I told her not to get up from where she was lying. Also, those personnel, GSU, spent the night there, outside. The following morning they called the Pastor, the Provost, Njenga, asking him to plead with the women to open up. He said he could not do that; he said you have to go talk to the women themselves. He planted the stick he was holding. And they [GSU] said he had been bewitched, like by a sorcerer. It was an ordinary stick, but they believed when he planted it he had used some black magic against them. They got back into their vehicles and drove off. They were also alleging we had a bomb inside the [church] bunker [basement]. They said we were coming to remove the bomb.20


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Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia, Rumba Kinuthia’s mother, in an interview with Robert M Press, October 12, 2002 in Nairobi, Kenya

The Naming of participants and what it means:

Throughout Kenyan history, there is a running trope I like to call “the things the women did to help the (named man or men) achieve x”. A prime example for me is the women’s wing of the freedom fighter unit, the Kenya Lands and Freedom Army, popularly known as the Mau Mau. Whereas there is general consensus and admission that there were female fighters, commandants and suppliers of arms and food to the troops, “Women fighting alongside the men was possible as the Mau Mau had a strict rule about rape. Rape was punishable by

It comes automatically to nationalist struggles to devalue the contribution of women as well as gays or anybody else who doesn’t fit the profile of the noble warrior or the elder statesman Michelle Wallace, Black Macho and

death,”21—the complete historicization of these women remains unnamed, unrecognised and un-lauded. “One woman, Muthoni wa Kirima, even rose to the position of Field-Marshal.” and in some reports (Brownhill and Turner) we are told of the women of Freedom corner’s own involvement in the Mau Mau war.22

Symbolic Politics and ‘Mothers Protest’ Newspaper articles named the hunger strike a “mothers’ protest”23 which seems to

the Myth of the Superwoman

have been deliberate as far as the organising of the protests went. On the reasoning behind framing it as a “mother’s protest”, according to Rev. Timothy Njoya:

“We became mothers of political prisoners. We changed from wives because some wives are afraid of coming. But mothers were not. So we changed to mothers of political prisoners. Many university students registered as Mothers of Political Prisoners. People like Wangari Maathai joined, the Greenbelt Movement director joined as one of the ‘mothers.’ So the ‘mothers’ was broader than gender; it was all-encompassing. Even students, male students would join and call themselves ‘mothers’ of political prisoners (...) A man saying I’m a wife was more complicated than saying I’m a ‘mother.’(...) I tried the wives of political prisoners. And I then saw the wives – the connotation of the word wife is not attracting non-wives. But the connotation of mother attracted people who were not mothers. They identified more with


21 22 23 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

Jomo Kenyatta, 1st president of the Republic of Kenya in “Facing Mt. Kenya.” Ligaya Lindio-McGovern, Isidor Wallimann; Globalization and Third World Women: Exploitation, Coping and Resistance Nation Team. “Mothers Call Hunger Strike.” Daily Nation. Nairobi, 28 February 1992. 2. Nation Team. “Mothers Vow To Continue Strike.” Daily Nation Nairobi, 5 March 1992.

motherhood than with wifehood.”24 What is of interest here is the two options Rev. Njoya espouses, Wives or Mothers and how this ties into British colonial practice as far as female incarceration was concerned. “The nature of women’s incarceration was shaped by British preconceptions about gender, as the rehabilitation programmes designed for women in the camps sought to make them into better wives and mothers...Over the course of the Emergency Period, approximately 8,000 women were detained, most of them at Kamiti...A rehabilitation scheme was launched at Kamiti, designed to make women more docile and domestic. While various rehabilitation activities took place in all the camps, the program at Kamiti was gender specific. Women took part in activities such as embroidery, hygiene training, cooking, child welfare, literacy, civics and gardening.”25

Robert M. Press argues that the framing of motherhood links with symbolic politics in that Mothers symbolized the traditional virtues and values of society and therefore when pitted against the authoritarian regime, detractors of the regime saw it as a good (the mothers) vs evil (the authoritarian regime) battle.26 He states that “Across Africa and in many other parts of the world, it was considered taboo to strike a mother, protesting or not.”27 The question here is whether, at almost thirty years after gaining independence from the British, this symbolism was Kenyan at all or a result of British colonial practices and gendered leanings passed down into the authoritarian practices of the Moi regime and the public psyche, perhaps at that time and even now. The Moi regime, much like the colonial one, was quick to try and trivialize the women’s campaign and underestimate the work of the protesters. Thomas Askwith, the director of the department in charge of rehabilitation (of detained Mau Mau women) said, “The women have, of course, far less knowledge than 24 25


26 27 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

 imothy Njoya in an interview with Robert M. Press [see: Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. T Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate.] Bruce-Lockhart Katherine, Mau Mau women and the struggle for justice in historical and contemporary perspective, http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=27623 retrieved 18/12/2016 Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. Press. M. Robert, Ripples of Hope: how ordinary people resist repression without violence. © Robert M. Press / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015. e-isbn 978 90 4852 515 7 (pdf)

the men and have been easily swayed by the Mau Mau leaders.”28 In the same way, that the Moi regime attempted to trivialize the women’s campaign, under pressure by Germany and America for excessive use of violence on the protestors. Whereas the framing of the hunger-strikers as mothers was deliberate, there are questions as to what this motherhood meant when the framing was extended to voice the relationship between mother and son. This became a pivotal point of the word’s historicity. This terminology appears in historical documents: “By January 19, 1993, all of the mothers were reunited with their sons”29 ; “Three mothers decided they must protest to try to save their sons’ lives”30 ; “They demanded the release of their sons and brothers, political prisoners who were incarcerated for their involvement in agitation for democratic change in the country”31; “They were not skilled at mounting a protest. Driven by a passion to save their sons, they were using their own bodies to challenge a regime that had shown little respect for the law”32 ; “Mothers to ‘prove sons’ Innocence.’”33 What’s of interest to me is the underlying assumption that the prisoners were indeed all male. It’s of important note that Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia had a daughter Margaret Wangui Kinuthia and a daughter-in law Mary Mwaura facing charges of misprision of treason at the same time as both her sons and a nephew. While researching this, I noted that some of the participants’ interviews were in Swahili and Gikuyu and the terms used would more accurately be translated to “children” rather than sons (watoto in swahili and wana in Gikuyu both mean children). This leaves me to wonder if the sons inclusion was part of the symbolic politics and what the sons could have then symbolized. Was the recurrence of the term son due to some underlying assumption that the political prisoners were mostly male, a framing

28 29

30 31 32


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 om Askwith, “From Mau Mau to Harambee: Memoirs and Memoranda of Colonial Kenya,” Cambridge African Monographs no.17, Cambridge: T African Studies Centre, 1995, pg. 107. Global Nonviolent Action Database: Kenyan mothers win release of political prisoners and press for democratic reform, 1992-1993, http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/kenyan-mothers-win-release-political-prisoners-and-press-democratic-reform-1992-1993 (retrieved 29th November 2016) Press. M. Robert, Ripples of Hope: how ordinary people resist repression without violence. © Robert M. Press / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015. e-isbn 978 90 4852 515 7 (pdf) Brownhill S. Leigh and Turner E. Terisa. Subsistence Trade Versus World Trade:Gendered Class Struggle in Kenya,1992-2002. Volumes 21/22, Numbers 411 Press. M. Robert, Ripples of Hope: How ordinary people resist repression without violence. © Robert M. Press / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015. e-isbn 978 90 4852 515 7 (pdf) Mburu Mwangi, Joseph Olweny and Vincent Mwangi, Mothers to ‘prove sons’ Innocence’, Nation 9th April 1992

influenced by Monica Wangu wa Wamwere who had two sons in police custody an erasure of female political prisoners (either deliberate or no), or was it a more palatable representation of the problem to the public through some hidden symbolism that allowed them to react to male political prisoners as opposed to female ones? The participants’ activities suggest that the plea for the political prisoners’ release was framed in such a way as to create a conduit for other political reforms to be addressed. Wahu Kaara states that they had come “For all Kenyans (...) we were all in a big prison known as Kenya.”34 From the women’s activities at the All Saints Cathedral it seems as though they were raising awareness of civic and democratic processes and rights. “They held open forums and spoke about democratic procedures and citizens’ rights. They asserted that individuals should not be placed in jail because of their political beliefs.”35 From Wangari Maathai’s own admission the naming of Freedom Corner “ provided a forum that so many people needed but didn’t have. So by the second day people started coming to visit, to look, to see: “Look at this bunch of crazy women who are sleeping outside!” and to hear our story. By the 3rd day some people started telling their story (…) People started their story and it was like there was an opening here (…) a free place where people were talking about things they had never talked about (…) They were shouting: ‘I am a victim! I have been tortured!’”36 Rev. Timothy Mboya also reveals a grander consideration in the symbolic politics of framing the appeal as coming from mothers “I tried the wives of political prisoners. And I then saw the wives – the connotation of the word wife is not attracting non-wives. But the connotation of mother attracted people who were not mothers. They identified more with motherhood than with wifehood.”37, This symbolic battle of Good vs Evil then transcended 34 35



37 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

Kaara 3rd February 2008 Global Nonviolent Action Database: Kenyan mothers win release of political prisoners and press for democratic reform, 1992-1993, http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/kenyan-mothers-win-release-political-prisoners-and-press-democratic-reform-1992-1993 (retrieved 29th November 2016) Wangari Maathai, in an interview with Robert M Press, September 23, 2002, in Nairobi, Kenya. Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. Timothy Njoya in an interview with Robert M. Press [see: Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate.]

the “imprisoned sons” and allowed other issues to be brought to the fore through this conduit. It allowed for the citizens to call for a “comprehensive, inclusive, participatory democracy,”38in a way that unseats the importance of the mother-son relationship seemingly emphasized by the context. In her seminal text Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, Michelle Wallace posits that there exists a “structural inability of the mainstream to admit that women’s oppression and racial oppression sometimes are seen in combinations which create a third and entirely different category of problems with regard to the black woman or woman of color. There is the further presumption that women of color are somehow too small a “minority” to conceptualize.” If we replace the issue of race with that of eco-social standing, would the women have been easily dismissed then if they came out for the female political prisoners? Would it have become a “women’s issue”39? I picked out the eco-social status of these women precisely because of those whose names were easy to find. When I first learnt of this protest, I was told Dr. Wangari Maathai was its central protagonist —and this remains the popular social recollection of it. One article named her as the leader of the protest. Numerous articles named Wangari Maathai, Njeri Kabeberi and Wahu Kaara while referring to the rest as ‘The Mothers’ or ‘group of women’; the aforementioned were urban, (western) educated ‘elite activists’.40 Robert M. Press goes on to point out that ‘the mothers’ were from modest backgrounds, lacking much education, and without the benefit of any formal organization or political party,41 and in another instance “upcountry, with little formal education, whose smile revealed her mostly missing front teeth”.42 The same is implied by Rev Timothy Njoya in his interview when he fixates on Monica Wangu wa Wamwere’s missing front teeth “she came to St. Andrews and because she had no front teeth, the church complained that I brought a woman to St. Andrews who has no front teeth”.


38 39 40 41 42 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

Elaine Enarson, P G Dhar Chakrabarti (2009) Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives. SAGE Publications India A term of contempt often used by the then President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi to belittle efforts towards equality performed by women. Term used by Robert M Press; mothers posed challenge to the regime that were in somewhere deadlier than the daring acts of elite activists Press, Robert M. (2006) Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties. Aldershot, U. K.: Ashgate. Describing Monica Wangu wa Wamwere, Press. M. Robert, Ripples of Hope: how ordinary people resist repression without violence. © Robert M. Press / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015. e-isbn 978 90 4852 515 7 (pdf)

Motherhood, Erasure and Vacuum

The question of who could be named is further complicated by a symbolism of motherhood,

which made it difficult for me, during the research of this article, to find the names of the women who staged the protest. A lot of the reports and articles from the timeframe (19921997) only referred to them as prisoner X’s mother and prisoner Y’s mother or “mothers of prisoners”. Whereas it was easy to name the black woman who was lone; Wangari Maathai, Wahu Kaara, and Njeri Kabeberi, it remains increasingly difficult to identify the black woman

“Black women have two places in these images: they are either positioned alongside strong black men or alone… It is impossible for me to look back at this book without the conviction that the significance of black women as a distinct category is routinely erased by the way in which the Women’s Movement and the Black Movement choose to set their goals and recollect their histories.” Michelle Wallace in “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.”

alongside the strong black man, in this case the political prisoners’ mothers. Even recent articles around the issue still frame the question of naming in a similar manner. An article in the Baltimore Sun on May 31st 1992 solely focused on Wangari Maathai’s involvement, another on the Nairobi Times in April 2015 read “Elderly women senselessly beaten while protesting the detention of their sons in 1992 at Uhuru Park will not be compensated” (says) Court,”43 and immediately linked Monica Wangu Wa Wamwere to her son by referring to her as “Mama Monicah Wamwere - the mother of politician Koigi wa Wamwere”. In the Amnesty International Report of 199544, it was stated that names of the hunger strike participants could not be mentioned for fear of retaliation. The report goes on to chronicle retaliation on the women who were identified, as well as the political prisoners themselves. Josephine Nyawira Ngengi, sister of C.G Nyawira Ngengi had been arrested while attending her brother’s court case (in 1994), tortured for 22 days and then charged with armed robbery (the sentence for which was death). She was beaten and had objects shoved into her vagina until she bled. “One time an officer got so angry he took a piece of wood and hit my head until I bled from the wounds. They then forced me to wipe the blood off with my tongue. I did as I was told.”45 It is important to note that at the time of the strike both of Monica Wangu wa Wamwere’s sons were in custody and both sons, one daughter, one daughter-in-law and a nephew of Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia were also in police custody.


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43 44 45

Nairobi Times, April 15, 2016 Amnesty International AFR 32/06/95 Wanawake wa Kenya, Harakati za Kupinga Ukatili Amnesty International AFR 32/06/95 Wanawake wa Kenya, Harakati za Kupinga Ukatili (translation Author’s own from Swahili)

Margaret Wangui, the sister of Rumba Kinuthia, who acted as a liaison between the mothers and their supporters in the city, was detained for more than two months and tortured for her part in the mothers’ protest. “They continued beating me and asking me whether I had been feeding the mothers … whether we wanted to overthrow the government. I stayed one day [in a water-flooded cell]. I could not sleep or sit down. They beat me with small sticks … I never knew where I was because I was blindfolded [during interrogations]”.46 Veronica Nduthu’s son Karimi Nduthu was set free and then shot dead weeks later. Naming the participants of protest was, at the time, linked with elements of endangering not just for them, but their nuclear and extended families. It was also an act of systemic erasure which made it difficult for future generations to look back on the hunger strike with any kind of knowledge outside of the vague construct of elderly women, mothers and rural womenfolk. It assured that when the time came to speak, there would be a broken telephone with no guarantee of a name or a face. This approach would once again compress the history of the women’s struggle in Kenya to an act women did for their men (in this case unnamed mothers for their named sons), creating a vacuum where their names and faces should be in our recollection of the strike. Even now, with some deeper knowledge of the facts, it is still impossible for me to guarantee that I have appended the right name to the right photograph. However the work of historicizing women concretely rather than in abstract notions such as “the women would send food and weapons to the men in the forest” in recollecting the Mau Mau independence struggle, must be done. The task of unearthing nameplates in the vast sea of anonymous female faces that are quietly erased is one of rebellion. We must endeavour to name, not just ourselves but those who came before us, for no one will do the naming for us. Luckily, some of the living participants of the protest have recently come forward to sue the government for damages. I have followed some of the cases with interest, particularly that of Monica Wangu wa Wamwere and Priscilla Mwaura Kimani


46 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

 argaret Wangui interview with Robert M. Press. Press. M. Robert, Ripples of Hope: How ordinary people resist repression without violence. © M Robert M. Press / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015. e-isbn 978 90 4852 515 7 (pdf)

in which it was adjudged that they had not given enough evidence of physical harm47 whereas Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia and Margaret Wangui Kinuthia were granted Kenya shillings 2.8 million in damages.48 It’s with this reading of their own willingness to identify themselves that I am encouraged to identify them; hopefully the days of endangerment are behind us. My research into the hunger strike has led me to believe that these were the ‘dozen or so’ women that organised and participated in the 1992-1993 freedom corner protest and hunger strike that led to the release of 52 political prisoners between 1992 and 1997.


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Monica Wangu wa Wamwere



Milka Wanjiru Kinuthia

10. Veronicah Wambui Nduthu


Gladys Thiitu Kariuki

11. Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu


Priscilla Mwara Kimani

12. Wahu Kaara


Josephine Nyawira Ngengi

13. Wangari Maathai


Rosemary Nyambura

14. Njeri Kabeberi


Nancy Njeri Muchima

15. Nyambura Kariuki


Margaret Wanjiru Kariuki

16. Nduta wa Koigi

47 48

Leah Wanjiru Mungai

Petition No. 196 of 2013, (Monica Wangu Wamwere vs Attorney General) and No. 197 of 2013 (Priscilla Mwara vs Attorney General) Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia & 2 others v Attorney-General [2013]eKLR

Taboos, Curses, Primitive Madonna

Freedom Corner’s sole recollected protester is Professor Wangari Maathai. The erasure of the memory, and the city’s amnesia around the other participants of the Freedom Corner protest conjures up questions about their position in the city itself. Did they live in Nairobi before, during, and after the protest in 1992? While this worked in their favour in some instances, such as when subsistence traders started riots on the 4th of March after the

“Then down dropped those lids, so that her face wore the insufferable blank piety of a primitive madonna.” Doris Lessing, ‘Old John’s Place’

brutal removal of the hunger-strikers from Freedom Corner, it is also important to note how the participants of protest were viewed by “City Folk”. The documentation of the women surrounds the facts that they were unskilled at mounting protest, had little to no education, and came from humble backgrounds. They were part of a public protest of ordinary people and that Monica Wangu Wa Wamwere did not have her front teeth -- an issue that the church had brought up. In many ways the protest teased out issues between the “primitive native” and their magic and the “civilised urbanite” and theirs. We are left to question what Monica Wangu Wamwere must have looked like, wrapped in leso and missing her front teeth, singing protest songs before the riot police. “As the Kenyan police, armed with helmets, shields, clubs, and tear gas circled the mothers, she (Monica wangu wa Wamwere) began leading them in a traditional Kikuyu song,” Robert M. Press recalls of the events of March 3rd 1992, and continues, “These supporters joined in on the mothers’ singing of traditional Kenyan songs, which included such lyrics as, “Go and take the child back…””. Historical newspaper archives include some photographs of Freedom Corner participant Ruth Wakaba cursing the policemen with her naked body, and only Milka Kinuthia’s witness statement mentions Provost Njenga’s “black magic stick”; something that seems to have been lost in translation. Prof. Maathai’s own admission of their being viewed as “crazy women” harkens back to colonial days where “those women considered the most deviant women who resisted British rehabilitation tactics were labeled as mentally unstable, a stereotype commonly applied to women who challenged colonial authority.”49 Tradition, taboo and curses held an important role in the hunger strike and seem to have gone hitherto undiscussed and skimmed over, with the exception of the stripping.


49 • Concerning Nuditude / awuor onyango

 ruce-Lockhart Katherine, Mau Mau women and the struggle for justice in historical and contemporary perspective, http://www.africafiles.org/artiB cle.asp?ID=27623 retrieved 18/12/2016

Guturamira ng’ania: “the curse of nakedness.”

The most potent and remembered fact about the year long hunger strike is the stripping of Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu on Tuesday March 3, 1992. Her son Harun Wakaba Thungu had been arrested 19th October 1990 and charged with being a member of Mwakenya (Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kukumboa Kenya, Union of Patriots for the Liberation of Kenya). Reports differ on how many other women joined in, some saying three others unspecific about the numbers and none naming anyone else. “Some of the women removed

“When the young people saw me naked, they stopped fighting with the police. They ran away and we were left with only four policemen whom I know were Kalenjins and they were old men.” Ruth Wangari Wakaba Wa Thungu

all their clothes when they were attacked.” Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia says in an interview, not naming anyone. “Two other women had thrown off their shirts” Brownhill and Turner reported while withholding names. It is with interest that I note the reluctance of any of the other hunger strike participants in admitting or identifying their participation in the act of stripping in protest. It’s also with interest that I note the fixation on the stripping as far as to diminish the work that continued for close to a year after the fact. Before my research, my knowledge of the act was that a group of women led by Wangari Maathai stripped naked to protest Kenyan president Arap Moi. My mother says I was ‘barely born’ when it happened (I like to think I was perhaps starting to walk) in order to explain why my friends and I don’t know anything of it (I asked my peers for help in research to justify this claim). I question whether the reluctance on the part of the other participants, except Dr. Maathai, to identify with the act of stripping is due to the newly found shame in our nudity or from the tiredness they might have accrued with the world’s obsession with that one act. The stripping has been popularly likened to that of Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru on March 15th 1922 who protested the arrest of Harry Thuku, know as the Chief of Women. Nyanjiru threw her dress over her shoulders and exposed her nakedness to the crowd. She shouted “You take my dress and give me your trousers. You men are cowards. What are you waiting for? Our leader is in there. Let’s get him!”50 In the same way that Nyanjiru’s nakedness galvanized the crowds into riot, Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu’s stripping resulted in, an albeit forced detente with state


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Rosberg and Nottingham 51-52

violence that saved the lives of many that day. “Three of the protesting mothers stripped their clothing, shook their breasts, and shouted, “What kind of government is this that beats women! Kill us! Kill us now! We shall die with our children!”51 Another similarity between Nyanjiru and Wakaba is that they were both “Mau Mau Women.”52 Wakaba notes that the (four) policemen who didn’t turn away were Kalenjin and therefore didn’t necessarily understand the curse. The subtext here then is that the majority of the police, those who turned away from her nakedness, understood her curse. Does that then mean that they were of the same ethnicity, or was it an anomaly that the Kalenjin police officers didn’t have an understanding of the situation they’d found themselves in? Ruth Wangari Wakaba explained what her stripping meant. Since she had given life to sons, she had the capacity to symbolically revoke the lives of degenerate sons by baring her body. By running towards the police, she denied them life and simultaneously saved the life of her ally, Kanene. “That is a curse, a way of cursing those people – the president and the people who had imprisoned our sons unfairly,”53 Milka Wanjiku explained. Wangari Maathai explains the curse as by “exposing their bodies, and more particularly their vaginas, the women were showing disgust and contempt for sons who had the nerve to come and beat their own mothers. In Kikuyu tradition, they were cursing the men, saying, “I have no respect for you. I wish I had never given birth to you” (Zwartz 23rd May 1992). An unnamed mother stated, “The ages of most of the mothers here are between 60 and 80. At my age we cannot afford their combative ways. Let me state that this is exactly what made us strip down to our bare nakedness. It was an indication that there was nothing else we could have done in the circumstances; nothing else could have saved us and our children from the punishment that was being meted out at us (...) That act brought about some



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 lobal Nonviolent Action Database: Kenyan mothers win release of political prisoners and press for democratic reform, 1992-1993, http://nvdaG tabase.swarthmore.edu/content/kenyan-mothers-win-release-political-prisoners-and-press-democratic-reform-1992-1993 (retrieved 29th November 2016) 52 Many of the mothers were Mau Mau women in the 1950s. They had been involved in the armed uprising against British imperialists and their African collaborators, or homeguards. Brownhill S. Leigh and Turner E. Terisa. Subsistence Trade Versus World Trade:Gendered Class Struggle in Kenya,1992-2002. Volumes 21/22, Numbers 411 53 Margaret Wangui Kinuthia, in an interview with Roobert M Press, October 12, 2002, in Nairobi, Kenya.

immunity because, had we not stripped, we would have been killed at the Park” (Society, 23 March 1992). As minor and perhaps nightmarishly ordinary as it might have seemed in the face of all the international attention it got (many local customs have means by which a mother can curse her sons), the “curse of nakedness” (guturamira ngania) “opened channels of gendered class solidarity between women and men, between rural and urban subsistence producers and traders, and between Kenyans and other activists globally.”54 That is perhaps the most important thing about this curse in the local context, not that Ruth Wanjiru Wakaba was naked, but that she stripped for the protection of an ally and in return this could no longer be seen as a struggle between some mothers and the government, but one in which mothers came together to fight for the entire country’s youth. In return the country’s (or rather city’s) youth rioted the very next day in support of the hunger-strikers.


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 rownhill S. Leigh and Turner E. Terisa. Subsistence Trade Versus World Trade:Gendered Class Struggle in Kenya,1992-2002. Volumes 21/22, B Numbers 411

Provost Njenga’s Cursed Stick

“The following morning they called the Pastor, the Provost, Njenga. Njenga asked him to plead with the women to open up. He said he could not do that; he said you have to go talk to the women themselves. He planted the stick he was holding. And they [GSU] said he had been bewitched, like by a sorcerer. It was an ordinary stick, but they believed when he planted it he had used some black magic against them.” Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia recalls of the three days in which the General Service Unit officers prowled the grounds of the All Saints Cathedral where the hunger-strikers had been securely continuing their protest in a bunker. Within the context of the curse that had happened a few days prior to this incident and the general view of these women as unseemly “primitive and traditional” in the concrete urbanite context of Nairobi, the suspicion of an ordinary stick as being bewitching further compounds these views. If there is a custom or tradition in which planting a stick before your enemy is considered a curse, Milka’s recollection doesn’t take this into account; which could only mean that it was not intentional. At this point, the GSU might have been sensitive to even the small things that the group did, inflating a meaningless action such as planting a stick as a curse, because after all weren’t these the same women that had cursed them and or their colleagues previously, and hadn’t that curse led to riots the following day? What then becomes interesting here is that a paramilitary faces the anthropomorphic objects, and leads a battle against magic. The GSU, who had alleged that the women had a bomb in the bunker, and that they were there to remove the bomb from the premises, found themselves having to disengage. On April 12, Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Manasses Kuria declared that “idlers” were officially barred from the cathedral grounds, and that the cathedral was “a sanctuary for the mothers of the political prisoners,” thus, giving the women official sanctuary within the church grounds and forcing the paramilitary force out of that space.


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A Brief List of Quotations

“I’d tell him (the president) to remember the heroes, from the past and the present. We did a lot more work than those of the past (independence struggle)” Ruth Wangari Wakaba wa Thungu

“My message to the president is that he should know we are here. He should know we are the ones who fought for change. He should know those of us who are still alive, and others have died because of the problems it caused.”

“I told him I am happy, not only because of you but for all the others who have been released.” Monica Wangu wa Wamwere (to her son Koigi Wamwere upon his release)

Veronica Wambui Nduthu

“The struggle for us has never really stopped. It is good that today we can come back to this ground without fear of being victimised or beaten and remember our loved ones and all whose lives were lost at the time...I do not regret the beatings I got on that day because we knew the course we were taking. Even though by then my husband was long dead, other women like me had their sons and husbands in wrongful detention and so we united as one for a common cause,” Nyambura Kariuki, 1st wife of slain politician JM Kariuki


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Nudity as Protest: Exploring the Carnival Nature of Nancy Mteki’s Honai Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa

Nancy Mteki. Untitled, Honai


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The purpose of this paper is to interpret how artist Nancy Mteki’s Honai has contributed to the African Feminist Discourse. This arose from a month of reflection, discussion and research of how nudity or lack of can be a form of protest in a society that finds it easy to shame, sexualise, and objectify women. A society that equates unmarried sex and all related symbolism as shameful. A society where women and girls have been stripped for dressing ‘indecently’ while other women looked on, doing nothing or saying ‘she wanted it’. My aim is to contribute to ongoing discussion and debates about the black female body. Without documenting what is being done to give women a voice and championing their cause, I suspect that it will be difficult to map progress and the contributions of artists and activists to the cause of women. Without documentation it will be difficult to foster unity that women are sorely in need of. Changing the status quo represents a seismic upset of the applecart. This paper is also shaped by a consideration of the sculpture by Joel Sakupwanya at Talent Village in Mabvuku, Harare, of a nude couple in a sexual dance that the owner of the village ‘tastefully’ covered in an African print canvas in order to hide its shameful nudity. Ironically the female has her chest exposed because ‘it does not really matter, does it?1’. There is the awareness that this has been talked about already in different contexts. Reference here is to bell hooks’ article Moving Beyond Pain which no doubt was largely influential in how I have come to view the black female body in protest. The two parts of this paper, philosophical and reflective, form a preliminary response to the way female nudity is viewed in Zimbabwean visual art.


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An informal conversation that took place between the writer and a patron of the village on the 1st of November 2016

Look at me? For many Zimbabwean artists, the idea of protest art is a fairly recent development. It is especially so for female artists who have had to deal with the “double yoke2” of being black and female. In simple terms ideas of sexuality and gender in art have been around since time immemorial but historically, gender and art in Zimbabwe have not had a close relationship. The casual misogyny and the political schizophrenia that characterises Zimbabwe’s public sphere is a reminder that only those with near virginal moral standing should dare hold their heads high and are eligible wives and respected members of society – not too strong, not too opinionated3. This is how in Zimbabwe there are women’s representative positions that effectively wrote women out of mainstream visual arts. We live in a society in which silence around violence against girls and women is pervasive. A culture that tends to treat women as second class citizens and chattels, and in the wider tradition of Zimbabwean – and indeed African – malehood that objectifies women and thus makes them a peculiar target. Mteki’s Honai advances the initial conversation that civic protest can assume different forms in expressive action and dramatic resonance. She uses provocation, irreverence, and derision which are the hallmarks of an artist who has used nudity as a conceptual embodiment of both the conceptualisation and incarnation of an idea. Nancy Mteki, Mask

Protest art is one thing. Nudity is a different thing altogether. It invites shame and discomfort. Zimbabwe does not have the likes of Dr Stella Nyanzi, the medical anthropologist who staged a nude protest in Uganda’s Makerere University, which make nudity such an effective weapon in everyday lives. Women do not strip in protest. Which is why it was so effectively used by Nancy Mteki in her body politic, Honai. The premise of the exhibition is:

Ah honai akarambwa nemurume! Ah achadiwa nani? Mirai achazvara vamwe vana vasina ana baba4.


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Reference to Buchi Emecheta’s seminal novel published in 1982 Nanjala Nyabola Wangari Maathai was not a good woman. Kenya Needs more of them, posted October 6 2015 on http://africanarguments.org Loosely translated this says, “Oh look a man rejected her! Oh who is going to want her now? Just wait and see, she is going to have more fatherless children.” This point to the use of the gaze to strip a woman of her dignity.

But it goes beyond just the identity of a woman being tied to that of a man. It looks at the ‘good’ woman. Women are expected to look backwards on guidance on what it means to be ‘good’ – where ‘good’ is primarily defined by men – but not too good because it makes women less interesting to men. They are forced to pretend to be good to satisfy societal expectation and navigate the relatively minuscule social and political space that remains. Honai as a word is complex. It can mean look but it can also imply see this. To look is a passive action of casting one’s eyes over something or someone and acknowledging it’s their presence5. It is the act of objectifying the subject of one’s gaze. To see on the other hand is an active process of looking further, of perceiving what is being seen in relation to previous knowledge. bell hooks talks about, Look (ing6) away from the conventional ways of seeing blackness and ourselves. Making space for the transgressive image, the outlaw rebel vision is essential to any effort to create a context for transformation. And even then little progress is made if we transform images without shifting paradigms, changing perspectives and ways of looking7.

Thus, Mteki shifts the gaze from how the black female body is looked at and seen. It appears through the exhibition that the female previously held in a supportive role is now given her place of importance. That she has reclaimed her space. But is this what Nancy Mteki wants? Does she want to give women their own place? Lacan in response to Freud’s question, ‘What do women want?’ concluded that the question must remain open since the female is fluid and fluidity is ‘unstable’. Thus we slip back into a phallocentric system which relegates women to the margin, dismissing them as unstable, unpredictable and fickle. We revert to that place where patriarchy subordinates the female to the male or treats the female as an inferior male8, and this power is exerted, directly or indirectly, in civil and domestic life to constrain women. Women as much as men


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5 6 7 8

Borrowed from Helen Teede’s review of the exhibition Honai Addition the writer’s own bell hooks from Black Looks: Race and Representation Reference to penis envy

perpetuate learned female characteristics as natural and the acting out of these sexual roles in the unequal and repressive relations of domination and subordination is seen as acceptable. Thus according to Audre Lorde it is important to note that: Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest form of reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic9.

It is the taking away of sovereignty from women which directly places their defence in the hands of men. And bizarrely in turn it’s the fact that men are then the protectors of women that for some justifies their subordination of women10. Mteki has been measured by the things that she has no control over; not quite fitting in, displaced. These are the latent forms of psychosis that become overt as a result of traumatic experience. Armed with her camera and experience of rejection, motherhood and hurt, she invites the audience to her reawakening. She boldly bares herself against the backdrop of domesticity (the kitchen a societal definition of feminine space), rewriting history and challenging the narrative of black African female voicelessness. She uses these tropes of the stereotypical feminine identity to challenge and posit new ways of seeing11. Each image is infused with political potency, and pushes one to reimagine femininity, masculinity and eventually the individual. Mteki’s Mask series, presents a duality that society expects of a woman. The Madonna/whore paradox is prevalent, and to navigate it many women live a Janus–faced existence that hides elements of their sexuality, their ambition or their personality from the male gaze. The duality is also derived from the co-presence of two discontinuous elements heterogeneous in that they did not belong in the same world; the naked body and the kitchen. She juxtaposes masculinity and femininity as she sheds off each piece of clothing, debunking the gender myth of women not being able to take care of 9 10


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Audre Lorde from The Master’s Tools will never Dismantle the Master’s House Eseza Minachandi Rogues’ Corner: Chibok girls and the self-castration of the Nigerian man – the Male Order in crisis, posted on 14 April 2016 on http://mgafrica.com Borrowed from John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing

themselves; she has had to be mother and father to her child, and releases herself from the yoke of oppression. She is dressed in masculine clothes, which as the series progresses, she sheds until her body presents itself with a directness that deposes the notion of the female form as sexualised, passive, pleasure giving object and enables her to command sovereignty of her body and herself as subject. In direct contrast of this route, the series explores questions of power and possession, comprising a narrative of photographic self-portraits of the artist in her mother’s kitchen, the walls covered in newspaper, her body presenting itself in various stages of nakedness. Her expression in one of contempt, of defiance even boredom certainly a refusal to meet the gaze of the viewer rather than an inability to. The look that can be seen as confrontational, as a gesture of resistance, and challenges authority. It challenges you to look. The naked body lures the spectator’s eye to a place of discomforting voyeurism12. The body is used as a prime medium through which to explore gendered, racial and personal identities. It becomes a weapon. This compounds the voyeuristic experience of being invited to look while feeling rebuffed by the uncertainty of what is on show. There is a distinct reference to a lover’s knowledge and a lover’s touch13 that can turn poisonous and a reference to how the black female form has been violated by a touch and a gaze. This is of particular relevance in a society where domestic abuse and rape are endemic. It interrogates the apathy of a society that no longer respects women and explores the psychological trauma that is an underpinning of a solidarity approach that characterises women’s issues and is deeply grounded in identity politics. Mteki transforms verbal examples of her trauma into visual ones. There is distinct lack of puns and excessive emotional content. She explores nudity as artistic practice. Honai becomes a naked war. By using nudity as a weapon in the Zimbabwean context, where nudity is equated with shame, the work becomes more than a spectacle. The shame is transferred to the viewer. Her refusal to look invites the spectator to look because she is not looking at the viewer, this in turn shames the viewer into re-examining why they are looking. That, in turn, leads the viewer to examine his/her individual failings in how they brought about the ‘shame’.


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12 13

The legacy of Victorian notions of modesty that came with missionaries with the conquest of Africa Annie E Coombe’s analysis of Bernie Searle’s Discoloured Series 1999

Whilst nudity as spectacle implies the exploitative viewership of a Western spectator it is problematic because of the internalised capitalism of artistic practices. Mteki has been criticised for embodying and reproducing western standards14 but this is essentializing the contribution she has made to feminist discourse. Her work points to the plurality of women’s experiences, the polyversal nature of feminism. There is evidence that non-white women have particularly suffered from white male fantasizing, objectifying and over eroticising of their body. A more prominent example is Saartjie Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus. This objectification may be the foundation upon which contemporary pornography is based. Whilst contextually Honai is about the Zimbabwean experience, it also looks at how the West has used and abused the black female. It has essentially erased us from existence by burying black women out of sight whilst appropriating what is part of our identity. Honai is a step towards self–assertion. The feelings of anxiety and rage at a time of crucial personal and professional growth point to bigger problems of gender differentiation particularly when a woman is forced to find her own identity in terms of a man. The work confronts the objectifying eye on women to gain visibility. By strategically appropriating the medium of photography Mteki challenges and subverts the power structure of domination over women. Audre Lorde spoke about how: “Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. … This is a diversion of energies and tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought”15.

In this regard Mteki thus creates psychological diagrams that guide in the analysis of intimacy. It becomes a denunciation of phallocentric language and patriarchal society but also of Lacan’s definition of femininity in psychoanalysis. It becomes a search for integration of the sexes rather than separation.


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14 15

A general view by male artists and practitioners during a discussion late 2015 around the body of work Honai. Audre Lorde Ibid

According to the convention of perspective in photography there is no visual reciprocity. John Berger said: “The inherent contradiction in perspective was that it structured all images of reality to address a single spectator who unlike God, could only be in one place at a time. What you saw depended upon where you were and when. What you saw was relative to your position in time a space”16.

This points to the problem of how the photograph reflects a three dimensional world in a two dimensional form. This effectively takes out the response of the viewer from the equation. The relativity that John Berger talks about can explain away why some people would view nudity in photography as pornographic whilst not feeling the same way about painting. Roland Barthes on the other hand says, “Photography can tell me this much better than painted portraits (photography is tormented by the ghost of painting) photography is the kind of primitive theatre a kind of Tableau Vivant a figuration of the motionless and made up face beneath which we see the dead. The photograph cannot signify except by assuming a mask. Society it seems mistrusts pure meaning. Hence the photograph whose meaning is too impressive is quickly deflected; we consume it aesthetically, not politically. Ultimately, photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels or even stigmatises, but when it is pensive when it thinks17.

This is especially profound in the exploration of how the body has been used for political action while considering an escalating intolerance for nudity. Hence questions of indigeneity and political commitment, perspectives of incongruity can be put to rest. The appropriation of the body as object by the act of taking a photograph, the sexualisation of women in photography and film are concerns which were raised by Mulvey


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16 17

John Berger Ways of Seeing Roland Barthes Camera Lucida

and Sontag and show that this is not a new discussion. This is an ongoing discussion in which the issues surrounding the representation of the female body is a deeply layered and multifaceted discourse, particularly in Zimbabwe’s relatively conservative society. The trajectory of the emancipation of women is one in which intimacy is invaded, the body explored, the home scrutinised, a necessary process that induces a perception and portrayal of the female form as a vessel for autonomy, power and independence and not as a passive vessel for objectification. Power manifests in different locations in various subtle ways. The negation of the female by the male gaze is one such way. Female spectators in the same situation identify with the work and resent the way Mteki was mocked, she becomes the embodiment of their hurts, fears and anger. The conventional representations of black women have done violence to not just the image but the physical being herself. The black female form is reduced to its capacity to seduce and betray. Mteki’s body thus transcends space encountering and challenging the public gaze, revealing her vulnerability and displaying her power. The work explores the external, practical, bodily experiences of the woman with the underlying internal, emotional and mental encounters. She engages with concepts and materials that are regarded as contentious within the various fragile relationships of human beings and prompts a consideration of the shifting ways in which the black female body can be perceived in the context of ongoing social, political and feminist discourses. Ranciere argues for art that, “would ensure, at one and the same time the production of a double effect: the readability of a political signification and a sensible or perceptual shock caused, conversely, by the uncanny by that which resists signification.” But Nancy Mteki shows us that we can never step outside the process of signification on to some neutral ground. Resistance to phallocentrism then must come from within the signifying process. Here the female body gives itself a voice from within the frame of a photograph. Within the context of the prison that society has constructed for her. In a show that is at once intimate and challenging, Mteki uses the camera and her body to express her experience as a Zimbabwean woman in a society that ‘shames whilst simultaneously sexualising and objectifying the black female form18’. Tawanda Appiah’s assertion that, ‘the work’s


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Helen Teede’s review of the exhibition Honai

creation draws deeply from her personal narrative and subjectivity’ explains the brash and unapologetic way that the work is presented. Black women have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves19. They have also taken the brunt of punishment where a male and a female have ‘committed’ a crime. Take the example of Amina Lawal, a single mother in Katsina State in Nigeria who was in 2002 accused of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning by a state sharia court for conceiving a child out of wedlock. The father was released without


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Jesse Williams in his acceptance speech for a Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards on 25 June 2016.

conviction. Lawal was later released by another Sharia court of appeal. There are people who argue that there are worse violations of women’s rights which should be addressed more urgently, while softer forms of discrimination can wait or are not really all that harmful. That these violations do not kill or maim women and addressing them is not seen as a priority. If it does not directly endanger or kill you, we are not ready to label it a human rights violation. But according to Hannah Arendt (1970): “The left says, violence is a marginal phenomenon of power, power is behind it. But it is the same, it is one of the modes for the margin mould. The right says all power is violence”20.

At stake is of course the black female’s historical and cultural memory as well as the master narrative informing it. Our societies are such that they are structured to make women disappear behind walls, burqas and other forms of servitude and erasure. This points to the urgency of the construction of a powerfully symbolic black female sisterhood that resists invisibility, which refuses to be silent. bell hooks says, “Black female emotional pain can (thus21) be exposed and revealed. It’s all about the body and the body as commodity22”. Mteki thus explores these shifting vagaries to validate that something is wrong and something must be done.


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20 21 22

From On Violence by Hannah Arendt Addition the writer’s own Bell Hooks from Moving Beyond Pain

Ndakunik’ amabele: African Women Un/ dressed Wairimu Muriithi

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” — (Fanon 1961: 166)


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I once heard, somewhere, that Tupac Shakur is not dead, but is living his best life with his aunt Assata Shakur in Cuba. Although he has a different story and context, Frantz Fanon is, perhaps, still alive and living in South Africa—if the ways in which his work, such as The Damned of the Earth, has been circulated and rearticulated by various movements in the country is an indication. Indeed Fanon’s work is relevant for almost any postcolonial African country. I read it as a Kenyan woman and often find myself wondering how he knew what would unfold in postcolonial Kenya. But in South Africa, especially, Fanon’s work actively and often visibly provided a chronological trajectory of political ideological resistance. That is, from the assertions of Steve Biko to those of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement started in Durban in the early 2000s, and to the student protests of 2015 and 2016. The political climate in spaces of higher learning across South Africa has been particularly heated since 9th March 2015, when University of Cape Town (UCT) student Chumani Maxwele threw human shit at the campus statue of Cecil John Rhodes. This marked the beginning, or the first large-scale visibility, of the #RhodesMustFall movement defined here as “a student, staff and worker movement mobilising against institutional white supremacist capitalist patriarchy for the complete decolonisation of UCT” (UCT: Rhodes Must Fall Facebook page) of which Maxwele is a part of. Solidarity with the movement grew fast across the country, party due to the active social networking on internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. At the university currently known as Rhodes (uckar), the Rhodes Must Fall movement first manifested in the hashtag #RhodesSoWhite. Started by graduate student Lihle Ngcobozi, #RhodesSoWhite digitally collated testimonials of what then became an online archive of the structural racism uckar (also Rhodes) upholds. What looked like an increasingly unified student voice at the university – that later grew and transformed into the #FeesMustFall movement – had used Rhodes Must Fall’s steam to protest against institutional culture at respective universities and colleges around South Africa. In the discourse on visibility, the movement was intersectional, with countless images and videos of Black queer women on the frontlines of the uckar (also Rhodes) protest. This collective resistance is not new. Students at renown ‘historically black’ colleges


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and universities periodically mobilise against their administrations, but racist discourse

places these protests in the realm of the expected, the disposable and thus the unremarkable. During the Rhodes Must Fall—and then Fees Must Fall—mass participation by students at ‘historically white’ universities (UCT and Rhodes) pushed this resistance onto a national and international stage and early in the morning of 19th October 2015, following the three-day shutdown at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) the week before, students shut down their campuses one by one, starting with the three mentioned thus far, (WITS, UCT and Rhodes). On a national scale, the protests lasted a week, ending with President Jacob Zuma’s announcement that there would be a 0% fees increase for the following academic year 2016. The #FeesMustFall protests were loud and the articulation of certain demands by what sounded like a single voice was heard, if only to be strategically muffled by the government’s containment strategy. During the week, students at all three colleges experienced physical, mental and emotional violence from the police and school administrations. Far too often, we “end[ed] up on the wrong end of a stun gun, a smoke bomb or, in the case of women and queer people […], a penis” (Mugo 2015: 1). On social media, people — mostly women and/ or queer people — shared their experiences of homophobia, sexism, physical and sexual violence during protests, meetings, and even when conducting everyday activity away from the hypervisible scene of resistance. At Rhodes, especially on the Thursday night of the week of the shutdown, many students – mostly women – were pulled from spaces of their own privacy and intimacy and forced into protest by a group of men, some of whom were students and many of whom were inebriated by alcohol. Sexual and physical violence at Rhodes was rampant—but not exceptional— that night, and many of us got into bed early on Friday morning feeling broken and deeply betrayed by fellow comrades. Yet we already knew, from any number of stories of resistance we heard or read about, that in the heavily masculinised discourse of national liberation, movements in South Africa —and elsewhere—are “notorious for their token recognition of women’s oppression as a political issue that links inextricably with the question of national liberation” (AZAPO newsletter quoted in Moodley 1993: 44). It became clear early on that decolonisation was really a question of land or feminism. It was not a surprise, and yet we were still disillusioned because this movement, which had preached inclusion and intersectionality, was supposed to be different.


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“It became clear early on that decolonisation was really a question of land or feminism.” But how could it be different, when a continental history of liberation struggles, to borrow from Césaire (1972 translation), bears the ‘thingification’ of Black women, first by the coloniser and then by Black men alongside whom our foremothers fought? How could it be different when “women must demand that their liberation, their needs, and their specific oppressions be clearly addressed and incorporated into national liberation movements from the outset” (Sharpley Whiting 1998: 59)?

Engaging Fanon’s work, especially his descriptive analysis of women’s roles during the Algerian war in A Dying Colonialism, Algerian feminist scholar Marie-Aimee Helie-Lucas reminds us that: during wars of liberation women [were] not to protest about women’s rights. Nor [were] they allowed to before and after. It is never the right moment. Defending women’s rights ‘now’ — this now being any historical moment — is always a betrayal of the people, the nation, the revolution, religion, national identity, cultural roots. (Nya 2015: 70)

Therefore, as women celebrated changing regimes with their male counterparts at independence, and as women give of themselves to new liberation struggles, constant reminders should be sounded that Fanon’s political philosophy recognises all people as human. As the #FeesMustFall resistance continues in 2016, with lesser steam, once-valorised leaders like Maxwele continue to posit Blackness as “the a priori category we should be mobilising for as young disenfranchised [B]lack people” (Mthonti 2016: 1). But this viewpoint absolves Black men of accountability for any violence they commit towards women and queers who challenge their politics. As such, the current rhetoric of decolonisation in the


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South African student movement insists on the liberation of the oppressed races before the

liberation of objectified and alienated identities. This limits a construction of race. But while Aime Cesaire’s writing on colonial history tells us that women were thingified, and as a result, women were sidelined with the liberation of the colonised subject – even as our foremothers, too, fell into that oppressive category – which narrative, therefore, tell us about the same liberation struggles against Western imperialism in which African women’s efforts were unified? As Pumla Gqola puts it, “...when we talk about how gloriously revolutionary the 1980s were, we are right. But what are the connections between the downplaying of women’s roles in the struggle and what the experience of that role was? To revisit the history of activism means taking seriously the fact that women had experiences that sometimes complicated narrow retellings of the struggle.” (Gqola 2007)

In April 2016, with the intention of highlighting women’s roles in the liberation struggle

students at uckar (also Rhodes) and elsewhere took the #Chapter212 campaign to the streets, which gave birth to the reported #RUReferenceList protests which follow in detailed discussion. In this paper, I intend to show how marginalised and gendered people have advocated for and participated in decolonial liberation struggles, either in their immediate locale or in the national paradigm of the postcolony, such as South Africa as a whole.


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What Fanon did not say

Tracing Fanon’s movement through various interpretations, Henry Louis Gates Jr. claims, not incorrectly, says that Fanon “is a Rorschach blot with legs” (1991: 458). Indeed, a combination of the prophetic nature of his work, and the mainstreaming of identity politics in popular vernaculars make his work resonate within innumerable circumstances encountered by marginalised people, both within the postcolony and without. In South Africa in particular, Fanon’s The Damned of the Earth (1961) has been useful, often to the point of reverence, for

“It must be stated at the outset that Fanon never proclaimed himself a feminist.” (Sharpley-Whiting 1998:6)

showing post-apartheid reality as distinct from the politics of a rainbow nation under Madiba. Inadvertently, then, Fanon and his works are pulled into feminist discourse, and a question is posed: was Fanon patriarchal, or misogynist? Feminist literature often produces a number of buzzwords and their variations as an indicator of anti-woman politics: ‘patriarchy’, ‘misogyny’, ‘gender’, ‘women’, and ‘feminism’ itself. A quick search of digitised copies of Fanon’s three texts reveals there is no mention of ‘feminism’ or ‘misogyny’; ‘patriarchy’ appears twice in A Dying Colonialism (1959) and once in Black Skin, White Masks (1952). Women are mentioned often, read as ‘men and women’ or ‘women and children’, and generic gender referents are masculine. Almost as an aside at the end of his preface to Black Skin, White Masks, Homi Bhabha explains that “Fanon’s use of the word ‘man’ usually connotes a phenomenological quality of humanness, inclusive of man and woman and, for that very reason, ignores the question of gender difference” (1952: xxxvi). Superficially, then, Fanon appears to fail the litmus test on writing about women. If “[l] anguage was the primary instrument through which Fanon observed racism and alienation” (Sharpley-Whiting 1998: 9), it also appears to be the way in which Euro-American scholars engaged with Fanon’s work, especially when noting his predominant use of masculine referents and French vocabulary. Yet Sharpley-Whiting maintains that “masculinism is categorically different from anti feminism and misogyny” (1998: 11), thus creating a distinction in feminist nomenclature that allows for a more generous reading of Fanon. She is also critical of postmodernism’s renunciation, “in the words of Edward Said, of universal values of truth and freedom for local situations and language games” (1998: 98). In other words, while Fanon’s language is gendered (more so in the English translations), he does not fall into the trap of Toni Morrison, which maintains that (in context) “knowledge [which]


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holds that traditional, canonical American literature is free of, uninformed, and unshaped

by the four-hundred-year-old presence of, first, Africans and then African Americans in the US” (date: 4-5). In the same way that Black people are written out of the very constitution of a nation that could not exist without them, African women’s lives and labours often go unacknowledged by some of the most revered male thinkers on liberation. At the very least, Fanon at his most ambiguous maintains observations and critiques that insist on dismantling patriarchal structures and rejecting patriarchal futures in which the postcolonial subject replicates the hegemonic patriarchy of white supremacy. Anne McClintock rightly observes that gender “runs like a multiple fissure through Fanon’s work, splitting and displacing the Manichaean delirium” (1995: 361). In Black Skin, White Masks, he claims he knows nothing about the woman of colour, but he neglects the possibility of survival or of love when he writes about Mayotte Capecia, insisting instead that she is attracted to her lover only because he pulls her closer to whiteness. In A Dying Colonialism, Fanon provides a scathingly accurate critique of Western feminism which then serves as a warning against “the problematic assumption that the colonisers were only European men and not European women” (Nya 2015: 66) but his optimism, apparent in Algeria unveiled ignores or understates the violence women encountered from Black men within the struggle. In The Damned of the Earth his representation of women is negligible so that we might accuse him of lack of rigor, but not of misogyny. The preoccupation with Fanon’s feminism, or a lack thereof, often yields a noninstructive line of inquiry because it runs the very real risk of failing to live up to the dynamic vortex of political vocabulary produced by a growing number of feminisms, and thus dictating feminist liberation by “totalising feminist paradigms” (1998: 91), It also has dangerous implications on predetermined racial grounds: in the foreword to Tracy Denean SharpleyWhiting’s book, Joy James warns us against a Pavlovian reading and dismissal of Black or ‘Third World’ male radicals, such that the reflex response to ‘[B]lack revolutionary’ is ‘patriarchal male’ (1996: ix). Instead, James argues for:

“... subtle analyses of [grey] areas and the fine lines differentiating anti-


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imperialists whose revolutionary praxis (despite their sexual politics) contributed

to women’s liberation from those revolutionaries who expressed little interest in women’s rights” (1996: ix)

Doing this would rewrite the question posed above: How can Fanon’s thoughts – on love, on violence, on mental health – be useful to women’s liberation?

“How can Fanon’s thoughts – on love, on violence, on mental health – be useful to women’s liberation?”

Africana philosopher and Fanonian scholar Lewis Gordon asks a critical question, followed by an astute observation: “How many biographies of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Fanon do we need before it is recognised that they also produced ideas? It is as if to say that white thinkers provide theory and black thinkers provide experience for which all seek explanatory force from the former” (2015: 5).

Later, he expounds: “This is not to say that experience should be rejected in the theoretical work of people of color. The impetus behind the appeal to experience is after all the terrible history of the human sciences, in which European theorists acted as though people of color had no inner or subjective life. To appeal to colored experience was also an effort at asserting the reality of one’s inner life. This is why Du Bois wrote of “souls” and “consciousness” and Fanon wrote of “livedexperience.” (2015: 37)

To this I add the names of Wangari Maathai, Leymah Gbowee, Stella Nyanzi, Ketty


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Nivyabandi, Harriet Jacobs, Bessie Head and other Black female writers whose work

contributed to anti-colonial and anti-slavery intellectual labour. I also include the names – unknown to me – of all women who have directed their cognitive faculties towards imagining a better future and have not made it into academia’s scope of vision. Using a centurylong historiography of what is popularly known as ‘naked protest’ across Africa, I attempt to place Fanon’s thought in conversation with women’s theorisations and articulations of feminist resistance through militarised bodies. Maintaining that ‘usefulness’ does not necessarily mean ‘always in agreement with’, I hope to show their points of concurrence and of departure, and that the Fanonian “new humanism” (1952: 1) is impossible without a full recognition of women’s humanity.


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A Continental Prelude

“We need to think of feminist transnational practices as a way of re(encountering) what is already encountered, in the very crossing of national and regional borders.” (Sara Ahmed cited in Feminst Africa 2015: 89, my emphasis)

As a child, I knew of women strangled in their saris Women doused in paraffin and burned in their saris. Saris made you vulnerable. A walking target. Saris made you weak. No one told me about women who went into battle – in their saris. Worked the fields – in their saris. Why didn’t anyone tell me about women who laboured on construction sites in their saris? (Patel 2010: 21)

Cherki states correctly that The Damned of the Earth is “an inquiry into the future of Third World Nations” as they decolonise and democratize; his prophetic insight is therefore a “distress signal”, written by a man who wished his predictions would not come to pass (2006: 171). It is important, then, to further interpret it as a call to listen to and learn from our histories. These histories continue to teach, depending on where we look and who we learn from, that womanhood has always been a politicised and political identity. As such, women’s bodies are always battlefields for physical, economic, spiritual, psychic and ideological warfare. Fanon and Patel remind us that the foremost aspect of such politicization and politics – everywhere in the world – is clothing. On the first page of Fanon’s Algeria Unveiled, Fanon identifies clothing as the most immediately visible cultural marker, probably anywhere in the world. His experiential example is the veil as worn in the Arab Maghreb, where: “one may remain for a long time unaware of the fact that a Moslem does not eat pork or that he denies himself daily sexual relations during the month of Ramadan, but the veil worn by the woman appears with such consistency that it generally suffices to characterise Arab society” (1965: 35)

My grandmother, a Gikuyu woman, recalls the day her grandmother took off all the beaded jewellery she had worn for years until her conversion to Christianity, as the missionaries disapproved of traditional Gikuyu dress and adornments. Colonialism, just like any other mode of transnational migrations influenced changes in the ways that people dressed and used their clothing. Though, it obviously has been and was in the colonial missionary’s favour.


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Subsequently, Fanon notes that colonial discourse is (and was) obsessed with “Western

penetration into the native society” (Fanon 1965: 42) in order to destroy its structure. Woodhull similarly states that “in the colonialist fantasy, to possess Algeria’s women is to possess Algeria” (quoted in Faulkner 1996:1). In order to have unlimited access to women’s bodies, covered by cloth or hidden behind closed doors, the colonial project thus sought to undress and redress the native woman’s body as a method of controlling communities and societies as a whole. The colonial economic structure made it obligatory for women to leave the domestic space, either willing or not. It was inevitable, then, that this patriarchal formulation of “equating land with women and women with land” (Faulkner 1996: 1) and its subsequent praxis through women’s bodies by physical, sexual, mental, spiritual or emotional exploitation, would encounter and clash heavily with the pre-colonial women’s practice, in many parts of Africa, of baring breasts and genitals as a curse, a mockery of masculinity and its failures, or a severing of social ties. Under the colonial gaze, which only understood the woman’s body through hypersexualisation and simultaneous invisibilization (of personhood), this was reduced to senseless madness.

Gũturamira ng’ania, March 1922: Thousands of Kenyans, mostly men, gather outside the Nairobi police station, demanding the release of labour rights agitator, Harry Thuku. There are about 200 women in the crowd, many there because of Thuku’s investment in abolishing severe labour exploitation and the consequent sexual violence perpetrated against women by colonial officers and native chiefs. When the men look like they are capitulating to an unbeneficial negotiation with the colonial secretary, the women jeer, taunting their masculinity. One woman, Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru, “leap[s] to her feet, pull[s] her dress right over her shoulder and shouted to the men, “You take my dress and give me your trousers. You men are cowards. What are you waiting for?” [She] and the others pushed on until […] the firing started. Mary was one of the first to die” (Muchuchu in Wipper 1989: 315).

African women in collective, organised resistance, are an ancient story. One with


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different faces, in different spaces and for different reasons. A common method, usually

deployed as a last resort when used, runs through many protests and demonstrations by many women: the actual threat of the nudity of a woman’s body, especially that of a mother or an elder. These stories traditionally held and still hold their place in memory through music, poetry, performance and oral and written literature, including feminist scholarship, which has filled many gaps in androcentric educational discourses by writing these important histories into academic spaces. Women’s resistance, in whatever form, is often reductively framed as a reaction to a compromised ‘women’s issue’ such that it can be separated, when convenient, from broader national discourses on economics, war, land redistribution and state governance. Fanon, too, is guilty of this in his first two books: although he recognised and valorised women’s involvement in the war, his insistence on engaging with the colonial gaze whenever he wrote about women “forecloses his humanism to the (black) female, whom he presents, in [bell] hooks’ words, as “a sexualised body, always not the body that ‘thinks, but also appears to be the body that never longs for freedom” (Sharpley-Whiting 1998: 91). This rigidity in Fanon’s view of the black female does not see women for their own contributions and failures (to disavow the myth of the strong Black woman). It cannot see black women outside of a perpetual external sexualisation. It is easily the same rigidity that ties a woman’s body to the nation-state as bearer of a nation and carrier of its culture. But in collective resistance, women reject this rigidity which downplays their impact on political culture, while objectifying them as mothers of the nation. The multitude of violations against which women collectively resist demonstrates a recognition and an understanding that none of these issues can be inextricable from womanhood. This is because womanhood occupies all spaces, in all worlds, whether or not it is seen, heard or taken seriously. Therefore, the act of stripping to the flesh as protest reminds us of the sexual violence inflicted upon women in the 20th century. It reminds us of the 1922 Harry Thuku protest and #RUReferenceList protest. It is a practice that turns colonial doctrine on its head when appropriated and used against the colonizer. In much the same way that women’s bodies are symbolically conflated with the nation, in the act of stripping women use their bodies to (re)claim memory, economy, spirituality and their


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physical environments in present times and in the future.

Anlu, November 1958: Angered by new farming re(al)locations and regulations, seven thousand Kom women in what was British Cameroon organised against the local colonial and native administration. At one of its peaks, a large number of the women stormed a council meeting and occupied a council member’s compound. Shanklin writes, “some of the women were draped in rags and leaves, others in men’s trousers and old dirty caps. All were singing and chanting, shouting obscenities, urinating and defecating all over the yard, and even attacking the zinc roof of the house with bamboo staffs” (1990: 159).

Across the continent, the 1960s were politically lit. Most African nations made up

a large part of the third wave of democratisation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as liberation struggles ended with moments of independence that are hypocritically celebrated as national holidays today. But the separation of eras between the mid and late 20th century within history, cannot sever consciousness. Colonial patriarchy is often extended via the sustenance of global capitalism, and collaboration with neoliberalism’s structural adjustment policy. About Algeria, where Fanon’s observations on women during the war are often considered a misrepresented overstatement, Monique Gadant aptly writes:

Nationalism asked of women a participation that they were quick to give, they fought and were caught in the trap. For nationalism is frequently conservative, even though it appears to be an inevitable moment of political liberation and economic progress which women need to advance along the path of their own liberation […] The example of Algerian women is there to remind all women that participation does not necessarily win them rights. From the points of view of those women contributors who have grown up after the war of liberation, everything is still to be done. (quoted in Sharpley-Whiting 1998: 20, my emphasis)


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In Pitfalls of National Consciousness, Fanon certainly warns against “perpetuating the feudal tradition which holds sacred the superiority of the masculine element over the feminine”; in the postcolony committed to liberation through a new imagination of humanism, “women will have exactly the same place as men, not in the clauses of the constitution but in the life of every day: in the factory, at school, and in the parliament” (1961: 163). Women in resistance have already envisioned this just future and have consistently articulated it in their demands.

Soweto, 1991: Section 10 of the apartheid-era Urban Areas Act grants rights to urban housing rights to Black South Africans who were born in or have lived in an urban area for more than fifteen years; this does not including single women and migrant workers, who are thus even more precariously placed within urban labour economies. Tired, a group of women build shacks on unclaimed land in Dobsonville. Unsurprisingly, the police arrive armed for violent demolition, “the younger women shack dwellers [strip] off their clothes, [taunt] the police, [ululate], [shout] in anger about their plight and their pain, [sing] and [dance], and [hold] up printed placards demanding homes and security of tenure” (Meintjes 2007: 347). Soon afterwards, the Transvaal Provincial Association allocates them land to build their homes on.

Freedom Corner, March 1992: Seven political prisoners remain detained even after political opposition and multi-partyism is constitutionalised in 1991 in Kenya. Their mothers set up camp in the park outside Nyayo House, infamously known for its basement torture chambers, and start a hunger strike. When the police arrive to disperse them, “three elderly mothers stripped in response to the brutality of the police. The Nation reported, “Women wailed and stripped and ran screaming; ‘Uuii! Uuii! Hii no serikali aina gani inapiga akina mama! Tuue! Tuue sasa! Tutakufa na watoto wetu!’ […] The policemen turned their heads and walked away from the naked women.” (Tibbetts 31-32)


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Yet through its appropriation of a feudal tradition in quotidian conversation, in policymaking, in redistribution of labour and resources, and in domestic, professional and academic spaces, the women’s struggle perpetuated what Gqola calls the ‘cult of femininity’. These African women and many others, however, reject the parameters of a feudal formation.


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Alienation, #RUReferenceList and Decolonisation

Hhe wen’ awuyaz’ oy’funayo Ngoba ndakunikelisandla Ndakunika le ngalo Ndakunik’ amabele Hhe wen’ awuyaz’ oy’funayo

“The rising generations are neither more flexible nor more tired than those who launched the struggle. There is, on the contrary, a hardening, a determination to be equal to the historical challenge, a determination, too, not to make light of thousands of victims. And there is also an exact appraisal of the dimensions of the conflict, of the friendships and the solidarities, of the interests and the contradictions of the colonialist universe.” (Fanon 1959: 26, my emphasis)

—Recalled and sang by uckar #RUReferenceList protesters

Chapter 2.12 of the South African constitution (1996) is as follows, with the most relevant clauses italicised:

Freedom and security of the person 1. Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right: a) not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause; b) not to be detained without trial c) to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources d) not to be tortured in any way; and e) not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. 2. Everyone has the right to body and psychological integrity, which includes the right: a) to make decisions regarding reproduction b) to security in and control over their body; and c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.


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“It is estimated that one in three womxn in South Africa have been raped. How many womxn do you know?” —uckar #Chapter212 poster

The Bill of Rights is not unlike that of most countries, but neither are the high national statistics of sexual violence; ‘high’, as I use it here, means that one such perpetration is one too many, rather than comparisons on which country has the highest or the lowest rate of a kind of violence that is universally underreported. Yet Sisonke Msimang recalls stopping at a traffic light and “[watching] a young woman cross the street […] [wearing] jean shorts cut fashionably high and [Msimang] could see the crease of [the young woman’s] left buttock extend each time she took a step. She wouldn’t have been out of place in London or New York or Tokyo. Except this was Johannesburg” (2015: 1). Her anxiety is exacerbated by recalling an incident, a few earlier, “a young woman in a miniskirt had been attacked by a crowd of men [and by] footage of a crowd attacking and stripping a miniskirt-clad woman in Nairobi” (date: 1).

#MyDressMyChoice, November 2014: At least four women are publicly stripped by mobs of people, who deem them inappropriately dressed or sexually immoral. In response, almost a thousand people – mostly women – gather at Freedom Corner in various kinds of outfits for a protest march. Ready to retaliate when and where they can, a group of young men challenge the women to “walk naked now if you are a real woman. We cannot allow our society to be ruined by your indecent dress. We will strip you again if you continue like this” (Otieno 1).

Msimang’s concern is informed by the contemporary realities of womanhood in the postcolony, even though sexual violence is obviously not limited to urban cities. She also provides an interesting commentary on space: Johannesburg especially demands of women


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a perpetual awareness of one’s clothing and movement through the eyes of another. In

this space – formerly the colonial city, to which the formerly colonised subject legally has unlimited access – and other such spaces intended to negate Black people, we continue to experience alienation because we are “object[s] in the midst of other objects” (Fanon 1952: 82). In this age – the era of institutionalized human rights and women’s empowerment – we are told we are free, but “truly empowered women do not live with the haunting fear of rape, sexual harassment, smash and grabs and other violent intrusions into their spaces, bodies and psyches” (Gqola 116). Students at uckar (formerly Rhodes) know this, via at least as many stories and experiences (on and off campus) as there are students. Late at night on Sunday 17th April 2016, a list of men’s names was posted on ‘RU Queer Confessions, Questions and Crushes’, a Facebook page that has since been taken down. It was ambiguously titled ‘Reference list’. Soon afterwards, a group of students – mostly women – at the university currently known as Rhodes (or uckar) mobilised across campus, removing some of the named men from their campus residences. Because most of the men on the list are no longer students at uckar or do not live in campus residence, only “two people on the list were kept at the drama department throughout the night […] while the protesters sang, danced, organised and composed a list of demands to give to management, starting with the removal of the named perpetrators from the university. Information moved fast and those who did not know, like myself, learned soon enough that the listed men had been accused of sexual violence, and the students intended to bring some justice to their victims and survivors in the absence of a just law and jurisdiction of the Rhodes university administration. The #RUReferenceList publication was immediately preceded by the Student Representative Council (SRC) #Chapter212, a campaign by a group of students intended to (re)call attention to the legislation that is mandated to protect them, and to “raise awareness of the policies regarding sexual assault on campus, and the prevailing attitudes of management towards rape and sexual assault victims” (Wazar 2016: 1). Like #FeesMustFall, the campaign was supposed to garner national traction, but in reality, it only involved three universities (UCT, Stellenbosch University and uckar (formerly Rhodes)), which is partially why it was not as visualised by various media platforms. Photos of the posters, however,


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quickly made their rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“‘Are you sure you want to go through with this? You’ll ruin his reputation.’ RU Management to a victim who wanted to report.” —uckar #Chapter212 poster

“You’re more likely to be expelled for plagiarism than for rape.” —uckar #Chapter212 poster

The launch of the ‘reference list’ is not a new strategy in the broader context of seeking alternative forms of justice; naming and shaming has long been deployed against perpetrators of any kind of violence. In this context, however, it was also a clever fingerpointing at the academic spaces we occupy, which takes plagiarism as a more serious crime than gender-based violence and its potentially crippling effects. We recall Amanda Tweyi, killed in an unsecure campus residence by an angry boyfriend in April 2014 and Boitumelo Manyadioane, killed by an ex-boyfriend in her residence room in 2003. Yet a study done at uckar (formerly Rhodes) in 2013 maintains that “[h]aving witnessed a violent incident in residence is not significantly associated with satisfaction with residence life” (Botha et al. 2013: 10), which raises questions on who was asked and what measure of ‘satisfaction’ was used.

“A perpetrator of sexual violence got sentenced to 65 hours of community service at UCT.” —UCT #Chapter212 poster

“At Rhodes University, only one person has been prosecuted for rape between 2011 and 2014.”


—uckar #Chapter212 poster • Concerning Nuditude / Wairimu Muriithi

At uckar (formerly Rhodes), unsurprisingly, the posters were “taken down, and then [Vice Chancellor] Mabizela made arrangements for them to be put back up but, the day after that they were taken down again with kind of no explanation” (Donaldson in Disrupt 2016: 8.818). After years of frustrated efforts by students and staff to compel management to put sufficient support structures in place and to invest in education on gender based violence, this was the extent of uckar (formerly Rhodes) management’s engagement with the campaign. Starting with the appropriation and reconfiguration of the form of violence enacted upon them during the #FeesMustFall shutdown, the message was crystal clear: if the #FeesMustFall protests of 2015-16 is a microcosm of the on-going struggle for decolonisation under the pathological conditions and their manifestations that Fanon ‘predicted’, then so is the #RUReferenceList protest of 2016. Dr. Mabizela’s response to the demands was vague and non-committal so students mobilised and organised to barricade the entrances to the university. On the Tuesday morning, the police arrived in droves; the violent phenomenon was playing out just as it did on October 2015. There were guns and stun grenades and teargas. All these were used. Six students were arrested. We learned soon afterwards that “some of the people on the list were later taken to a safe house”(Disrupt 2016: 10.00) In this protest, however, something was different. Before the arrests and the disrupted classes, two women – Asavela Matera and Abongile Milano – took off their shirts and painted messages of repudiation and reclamation on their bare torsos. They mobilised without their shirts the whole day. By early evening, “it got to the point where we had to become naked so we can be listened to. Imagine what that does to us as individuals alone?” (Ralethe in Disrupt 2016: 13.52). Ogu Umunywanyi, November 1929: Thousands of women in South Eastern Nigeria gather at the Native Administration offices in their respective towns to protest (in particular) the imposition of special taxes for Igbo market women. They arrive “in their sackcloths, with charcoal smeared faces, sticks in their hands and heads bound with young ferns” (Kies 2013: 95-96). The colonial police opened fire. Officially, fifty women were killed and fifty were wounded. The proposed taxation is


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never implemented.

In What Fanon Said (2015), Lewis Gordon positions Fanon’s own body as the body that experienced the violent phenomenon that is decolonisation. Such a body does not remain unscathed, but is in constant “motion toward the world”, oscillating between love and aggression until it drops (Fanon 1952: 28). Elsewhere, Gordon points out that “the modern world hates to see Black folks resting” (2006: 29); their motion is expected to perpetually be-for-others. Nick Mitchell writes that Audre Lorde, who also fought in collective resistance against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, who, like Fanon, died of a treatable cancer, “didn’t die a natural death. She died an institutionally produced one, a death that was generated at the level of social infrastructure. [Perhaps we should] learn to regard Audre Lorde’s death as an effect of racial capitalism” (2013: 1). Lorde’s death is particularly fitting because the university she worked for refused to make concessions for her illness, concessions which might have prevented an untimely and painful death and perhaps even contributed to a full recovery. Ralethe articulated what those who misread Fanon as a proponent of violence fail to understand: the debilitating effects of violence. Invoking our individual and collective memories of our foremothers across the continent does not mean a romanticisation of their resistance and the conditions that necessitated it. Just before that first night, as university management disregarded the #Chapter212 campaign, many of us found ourselves echoing Cherki’s question yet again: “What are the necessary conditions for decolonisation to succeed” (2006 : 172)? After the first night, the students who took the perpetrators from their rooms were accused of kidnapping, which ironically violates Chapter 2.12 of the constitution. Rethabile prompted the question we always kept in mind: What does violence do to you, to your body and mind and spirit? We know the answers well. We know that enacting violence does not only take a physical toll, but also desensitises the perpetrator and dehumanises the victim. We know because this was the trope and the legacy of colonialism, and appears, too, at the intersection of race, gender, class and ability, to be the trope of decolonisation. In ‘Colonial War and Mental Disorders’, Fanon empirically demonstrated that he knew them, too. But that week, and especially that Tuesday evening, we knew we had ran out of options.


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“Our undressed bodies made it into international news.” Our undressed bodies made it into international news. Support and backlash poured in from all over the place. Parents called their daughters, some extremely angry, others extremely concerned, others still extremely understanding. Students at Uni. Witwatersrand started #IAmOneInThree, similarly undressing in solidarity. What the police called “public indecency” (Disrupt 2016: 14.48) apparently compelled the university to file an interdict against all protesting student and staff members. In the weeks that followed, the men on the list were allowed back into residence and into classes. The Students Representative Council remains intact, even though two members anonymously admitted to committing sexual violence during their university career. A number of students – mostly women – deregistered, unable to exist in the university space after the protests. And while a sexual violence task team has been constituted to transform the university’s sexual policy, any victories won seem often seem small and insignificant especially when compared to the hurdles that have been resurrected. What might Fanon have to say about #RUReferenceList? Perhaps he would be critical of the demand that Dr. Mabizela publicly apologise for his actions as one condition for ending the shutdown that perpetrators be arrested and prosecuted because it implies an investment of faith in the very same institution and Nation-State that authorised the brutality, the legal injunctions and, very importantly, the enabling language of rape culture; the same NationState that acquitted President Zuma on the foundation of that same language and praxis, instead making him president; the same Nation-State that ‘forgave’ those who repented their apartheid sins, including (but not limited to) sexual violence enacted upon Black women, through the rhetoric of negotiation and non-violence that has been woven into the very fabric of post-apartheid South Africa. Yet in the active imagining of intersectional revolutionary praxis, all the mechanisms of the Nation-State are to be dismantled, including and especially a justice system that renders those that reside in the margin defenceless and criminal, “both body and body denied” (Gordon 2015: 8). To arrest and prosecute the perpetrators therefore


cannot bring about an actual dismantling of a patriarchal, capitalist system that profits from • Concerning Nuditude / Wairimu Muriithi

the global prison industrial complex.

Liberia 2003: During the Liberian Civil War, “many [girls and women] were raped in front of their family as a sign of victory or ‘conquering’ – an ultimate expression of power over the enemy” (Munala in Prasch 2015: 190). Increasingly tired, hurt, angry, dying and fearful for their children and Liberia’s future, Christian and Muslim women mobilise towards a football field Charles Taylor drives past twice a day, and “reportedly dressed in all white and wore no make-up and jewellery” (Prasch 2015: 193). Later, at the drawn-out and destructive negotiations in Ghana, Leymah Gbowee challenged the security guard who threatened to arrest the women: “‘Ok, I’m going to make it very easy for you to arrest me.’ I took off my hair tie. And they were looking at me. I said, ‘I’m going to strip naked.’ (Prasch 2015:196). A few weeks later, Taylor resigned and fled to exile in Liberia, the rebel forces retreated from Monrovia and a transitional government was put in place until 2005, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first woman president on the continent. But just as Fanon saw the Algerian Revolution’s potential for radical dismantling and ethically imaginative world-making, so can we read the #FeesMustFall movement, which I believe loses all emancipatory credibility without the #Chapter212 campaign and #RUReferenceList protests, as that constant movement of the body towards liberation. When students insist on bringing #RUReferenceList into the classroom space as much as possible, that is revolutionary praxis. When people open their homes and offer other resources in a time of trauma and near hopelessness, that is revolutionary praxis. In these spaces of collective resistance created by women and/or queer people, we find an exercise of radical, dialectical, intellectual labour and love outside, definitions that have a tendency to slide into disciplinary decadence or the redundant rhetoric of human rights. The women and/or queer people at uckar (formerly Rhodes) certainly cannot be the intellectual, spiritual and physical (that is,


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bodily) end all and be all of revolutionary theory and praxis, just like the ones mentioned and

not mentioned in this paper were not, but our contribution cannot be understated. To borrow from Fanon, this truth-telling, in theory and in praxis, will break up the hegemonic white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that works overtime to keep us in the perpetual condition of damned-ness.


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Activate. Disrupt. Documentary. < https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=YZqQdMhitgY>

Ardener, S. G., 1973, “Sexual insult and female militancy.” Man 8.3: 422–440.

Moodley, Asha. “Black woman you are on your own.” Agenda 9.16 (1993): 44–48.

Botha, F., Snowball, J., de Klerk, V. and Radloff, Sarah, 2015. “Determinants of student satisfaction with campus residence life at a South African university.” A New Research Agenda for Improvements in Quality of Life. Springer International Publishing. 17–35.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark. Vintage, 2007.

Césaire, A., 1955. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Cherki, A., 2006 Frantz Fanon: A Portrait. New York: Cornell University Press.

Mthonti, F., 2016. “A Rapist’s State’s Children: Jacob Zuma and Chumani Maxwele.” The Con, April 8.

Fanon, F., 1959. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

Msimang, S., 2015. “The Backlash Against African Women.” The New York Times, January 10.

Fanon, F., 1961. The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin, 2001. Faulkner, R., 1996. “Assia Djebar, Frantz Fanon, Women, Veils and Land.” World Literature Today, September 22. Gates Jr, H. L., 1999. “Critical Fanonism.” Critical Inquiry 17: 36-52. Gordon, L. R., 2015. What Fanon Said. Wits U. Press: Johannesburg. Gordon, L. R., 2006. “African-American Philosophy, Race and the Geography of Reason.” In Not Only the Master’s Tools: African-American Studies in Theory and Practice. Ed. L. R. Gordon and J. A. Gordon, New York: Routledge. 3–50. Gqola, P. D., 2007. “How the ‘cult of femininity’ and violent masculinities support endemic gender based violence in contemporary South Africa.” African Identities 5.1: 111-124.


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Mugo, K., 2016. “#FeesMustFall: The Threat of the Penis and the Gun in South Africa’s Revolutionary Spaces.” OkayAfrica, June 15. Nya, N, 2015. “Sartre and Fanon: On Men and Women, and Gender and Race Intersection as They Relate to French Colonial Resistance.” GSTF Journal of General Philosophy (JPhilo) 1.2: 61–71. Patel, S., 2010. Migritude. New York: Kaya Press. Prasch, A. M., 2015. “Maternal Bodies in Militant Protest: Leymah Gbowee and the Rhetorical Agency of African Motherhood.” Women’s Studies in Communication 38.2: 187–205. Shanklin, E., 1990. “Anlu Remembered: The Kom Women’s Rebellion of 1958–61.” Dialectical Anthropology 15:2/3: 133–171. Sharpley-Whiting, T. D., 1998. Frantz Fanon: Conflicts & Feminisms. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kies, S. M., 2013. “Matriarchy, the Colonial Situation, and the Women’s War of 1929 in Southeastern Nigeria.” Master’s Theses and Doctoral Dissertations, University of Minnesota, Paper 537.

Tibbetts, A., 1994. “Mamas fighting for freedom in Kenya.” Africa Today 41.4: 27–48.

McClintock, A., 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.

Wazar, M., 2016. “Chapter 2.12: The Campaign Against Rape Culture.” Activate, April 11.

Meintjes, S., 2007. “Naked women’s protest, July 1990:“We won’t fuck for houses.” In Women in South African History. Ed. N. Gasa, Pretoria: HSRC Press.

Wipper, A., 1989. “Kikuyu women and the Harry Thuku disturbances: some uniformities of female militancy.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 59.3: 300–37.

Mitchell, Nick, 2013. “On Audre Lorde’s Legacy and the ‘Self ’ of SelfCare, Part 2 of 3.” low end theory, May 14.

The Weaving Kenya Women’s Collective, 2015. “Weaving Pan-Africanism at the Site of Gathering.” Feminist Africa 20: 83–100.

Editor’s note: This paper was written for the class titled “fUCKAR POLITCS HONOURS “Reason in Revolt”: An Introduction to the Thought of Frantz Fanon” at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa

“FIGHTING TO FIT” Martha Haile


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“Fighting to Fit” is a project inspired by my readings in critical theory and second year courses at the Alle School of Fine Arts. Specifically, after reading books, journals and articles focused on critical theory, I began to realize the dominant power structures that could be studied and analyzed for the benefit of [Ethiopian] society. But these dominant power structures (i.e. patriarchy, racism, classism, sexism) and the challenges they present are not abstract or invisible. I have faced them in my everyday life as a woman born and raised in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Some of these challenges have been around ideas of female beauty and the tension of being seen as a subject and object. As I completed the readings and observed changes in the city, I began to observe, analyze and question why, how and where Ethiopians consume female beauty and fashion and how presented to public spectators. Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is currently known for its drastic changes in architectural and urban development. Alongside the transformation of the city from the horizontal to vertical, there are other elements that indicate how this idea of western development is reflected throughout society; in the economy, interests, desires and the public imagination.


It is very important to mention the country’s interest in western development and globalization. These factors have brought substantial changes that have transformed Ethiopian society. information technology and exchange became one of the factors in this push towards globalization. receiving global information through satellite, also became a way of receiving western information, news, entertainment, and educational programs. Perhaps the most influential of these was the introduction of Hollywood movies and mainstream music videos to Ethiopia. Today, Ethiopian imagination and fantasy reflects the ideals portrayed in the Hollywood mainstream. It is apparent in Ethiopian fashion trends, ideas of what/ who is beautiful, popular television shows and cinema, and fantasies displayed in Ethiopian advertisements (e.g. Coca Cola ad, Ethiopian airlines ad). The result is a cultural conflict and identity crisis. As the great writer and cultural theorist Frantz Fanon pointed out in his chapter The Negro and Psychopathology, this is a contemporary example of “colonized black people” and their failure to fit into social and cultural norms that a white society has established. The long and deep-rooted culture that was Ethiopia has been mixed with white foreign cultures. This cultural shift has brought difficulty to us; we have been westernized in • Concerning Nuditude / Martha Haile

the name of globalization and modernization when in reality, we are being marginalized and held to a white standard that we can never fit. This of course relates to Ethiopian female beauty standards today. It also helps to explain how Ethiopians consume female beauty and fashion in public space

2. Concept

In my work I question the importance and meaning of having skinny, white mannequins publicly displayed in almost every boutique and clothing store in Addis Ababa. The following are questions I consider: How does this public visual affect us ? What has it come to represent? Why do we choose to have the skinny, white mannequin to appeal to consumers? What impact does this have on the average Ethiopian who is unlikely to share the same clothing size? Two of the major influences targeting women are the western visual digital world and the fashion world. These two influences are forcing us to follow deliberately designated way of presenting our body in accordance with the ideals of white supremacy.


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2.1. Description of the concept and body of work

The most important element in this project is the mannequins that exist in every corner of the city’s boutiques, shops and merchandize stores. These mannequins are supposedly shaped in the manner of universal body specifications, which creates confusion and a dilemma for all Ethiopian and non Western consumers with regards to accepting which body size and color they should aspire to . Mannequins are the most symbolic and representational elements in creating a highly fashionable and ideal body represented on the global stage. Note that mannequins of color are still relatively new, and the longstanding prototype of the white mannequin remains in the highest circulation. Mannequins of colour are virtually non-existent in the Addis Ababa commercial landscape. Nor do mannequins of colour address the issues of non Western body size and shape which varies significantly from the Western ideal. After spending a lot of time on the streets of Addis Ababa, upon reflection I realized that I could not fit in with the ideal the mannequins represent in any way. It is mind-boggling for me to witness the epidemic of mannequin in every corner of boutiques and merchandize stores. These mannequins resemble an alien mimicking the human body; carefully rendered to meet the criteria established by the western standard. Hence, this kind of body representation imposed on our society becomes a source of tension since the established standard only reflects the western, white, superior visual image. This standard has had a damaging impact on Ethiopia’s recent culture and history.

The introduction of mannequins as a way to display clothing has been a part of clothing display in brick-and-mortar stores for centuries. In 1997, Schneider documented the history of the mannequin and its use in today’s retail stores. According to Schneider, the first form originated in the mid-eighteenth century when dressmakers would use a steel replication of a customer’s measurements to fit clothing. However, it wasn’t until the late 1940’s to early 1950’s when mannequins began to take their modern form as the development of plastics made it possible for detailed body sculpting (Schneider, 1997). At this time, female mannequins had tightly pinched waists, full hips, and large busts, while male mannequins had an athletic build, a v-shaped silhouette, and hair combed back. When Christian Dior


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introduced his “New Look” collection featuring an ultra-feminine, full-skirted runway shows took on the image of a typical mannequin of the 1950’s with small waists, full hips, and large busts, but critics of this look stated the models looked unrealistic (Schneider, 1997). Schneider contends that it was at this point in history that the idealized body form for the Western-world woman was created: taller than average, thinner than average and yet still evenly proportioned. Martha Landau, a popular designer in 1973 tried to persuade Wolf & Vine, a manufacturer of mannequins, to make larger mannequins resembling real women; the response from the manufacturer was “Inside every fat woman is a thin woman trying to get out, our mannequins are what every large girl would like to be: beautifully proportioned, and clothes simply look better on taller, thinner figures” (Schneider, 1997, p. 11). (Cohen, 2014, 1)

The mannequins are highly objectified representations of the female body found in every corner of every Addis boutique. Thus, the following are critical questions that should be raised and asked. How did Ethiopia get the mannequins and how did they get here? Who produces them? How would they impact our feminine ideals and representations of ourselves? How do we engage people in a meaningful conversation about body dissatisfaction? Mannequins can easily reflect different cultures, meanings and influences, instead they currently represent a single cultural ideal. In Ethiopia this has an effect on local behavior and our understanding of self-representations. Questioning deeply the representation of the mannequins in relation to the human figure can lead us to the issue at core. I do believe that the world is changing into a plastic one, from traditional clay water jugs being replaced by plastic bottles to human bodies using plastic to enhance their sexuality. I find that mannequins embody this change and are the ultimate representation of our increasingly plastic world. The standard of beauty and humanity represented by the mannequin is completely unattainable for the most human beings and especially for the black female body.


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“From (...) desiring bodies to bodies under attack, we can ultimately situate the department store in terms of a dialectic of feminine seduction and exploitation, the circulation of goods and money played out on the female body alternately as sexual activation, self-fetishization, drive toward destruction, and disease. Arguably quite far from being a ladies’ paradise, the department store welcomes the woman into the public commercial sphere with the promise of a kind of selfpurchase that paradoxically only drives her further from self-possession. As Peter Brooks has argued in Body Work:

“While this [sale of woman’s body to woman] might seem to suggest a primal narcissism of women, or an invitation to them to possess their own bodies, there is rather an alienation of women from their bodies, which have been taken over by the (male-owned and –managed) market economy, defined and fetishized by that economy, and offered back to women in piecemeal form, through the cash nexus.” (154) (Hetrick, 2006)

The body image involves our perception, imagination, emotions and physical sensations. It is not static but ever changing; sensitive to changes in mood, environment, and physical experience. In other words, it is how you feel others perceive you, what you believe about your physical appearance, how you feel about your body, how you feel in your body and most importantly for whom you are changing it and why is it even important to change it, and is it to fulfil the sexual desire of men? The imagination race and body type defined by mannequins are well promoted through the Hollywood movie industry, western fashion industry, modeling industry and so on. Moreover, these industries with powerful financial backing are highly visible, and controlled by what womanist theorist bell hooks calls imperialist, patriarchal, white supremacies. This externally deployed factor has a major role in defining and representing the black body and specifically, the black female body in the Ethiopian context. The influence of mannequins,


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particularly white female mannequins, in Addis Ababa has become a defining factor in

dictating the appropriate size of the Ethiopian female body type an ideal very different from the past. I wanted to observe the reaction of the society, especially the reaction of women who are being objectified by these influences. Observing the average Ethiopian body size and natural look, how does the white female mannequin become a center point to challenge our perception regarding ideal beauty or femininity. As a young female visual artist who has a “plus size” body, the issue of fitting into a certain category has always been a question for me and others like me. A a self-identified black feminist with a non-normative body I asked myself several times of three very important questions.

Who gets to decide the way I present myself?

Who gets to decide to whom my body belongs to? And, who gets to claim my way of living in my body, space, world, and reality? I believe that I have the responsibility and agency to claim my body, my space and myself. .These are questions I have struggled with and have raised in my work: How have Ethiopians come to keep our voices silent in conflict with a foreign culture which objectifies the female body and seeks to compromise female subjectivity? How can we glorify and reclaim our female body? If I claim my body, my space, myself, does that free me from the trappings of white supremacy and a patriarchal world? In a lecture at the New School, bell hooks, filmmaker Shala Lynch, author Marci Blackman and transgender activist and author Janet Mock, suggest that self-glorification is very important and “prettifying”, defined by the filmmaker can be a healthy way to boost black female confidence, and can be used as a source of power against “symbolic annihilation” or self hatred and denigration. It is important to revisit the concept of symbolic annihilation and women’s representation in media. First discussed by Gaye Tuchman in the late 1970s, symbolic annihilation is, in Shola Lynch’s words


“two things: 1) Not seeing yourself, and (2) it’s also seeing yourself only • Concerning Nuditude / Martha Haile

denigrated, victimized, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze and look for the images, people, and places that feed me. The more we create our culture— the books you write, the film I made: the alternatives. These are artifacts that live and they speak to people whether we are there or not”

The writer Janet Mock says, “To pretty myself up in whatever way I want to, to don a hot purple lip and to wear these heels, and to walk out and to claim my body and to prettify it in the way that I want to prettify, I think that there’s power in claiming that space, this little space that I have in this world is mine! And so I feel, especially in a world that tells me that I shouldn’t exist, that I should remain silent, that I’m not attractive, that this little, white woman, skinny body is what’s the ideal. I think that I will, I will don all the glamour and the glitter that I want, but I will do that for myself, not necessarily in the way that I was trained to do it, which was to do it in the pleasure or the gaze of a man, and so that is the shift I think that has happened in my own life, just in the last seven years, I think just through my own experience of saying, who is this for, it’s for me” (The New School)

I believe self-glorification should be a means of representing oneself in the way it is needed without any external force or a need to fulfil the sexual desire for patriarchy. I deeply relate the idea of self glorifying with my conceptual work The body that we grew in is ours, the body that contains our energy and everything about us, should be ours! That should be glorified and has to claim its “belongingness” to itself. The society I grew up in did not tell me I should glorify myself for myself rather it made or wanted me to prettify myself for patriarchy.


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“All over the world, girls are raised to be make themselves likeable, to twist themselves

into shapes that suit other people.” says Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Mannequins are a part of this construct that Adichie mentions, and self-glorification allows for a useful, albeit limited, form of everyday resistance to everyday oppression. The representation of the body, the human figure and the female body at large is the central idea of my project. The project idea is constructed by questioning why and how we struggle to fit in to those given systems. As Frantz Fanon stated in a final prayer “O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” (Fanon, 1967, 232).

2.2. The process of changing the concept to a body of work

The first thing I wanted to do was to conduct interviews with people who like to shop for clothing and beauty products I tried to diversify the sample group for the interviews to female and male product consumers, boutique owners, mannequin producers and importers. The diversified groups made the process very interesting and active. I started to discuss the effects of the mannequins on the group in defining a specific, idealized body size. As I understood through conversations with different people, the unprecedented influence the mannequin brought to the society becomes a challenge as where to fit in. As one of my interviewees who makes his business by constructing mannequins shows how our understanding of the body as a society has changed through time especially when it comes to girls and women. The first thing I did with this idea was to have a performance in a public space by bringing a group of people who could serve and perform as a mannequins. The performance was held at the front of a boutique. It was visible and visually appealing to the spectators and made many passersby raise questions. The intention of the performance was to create understanding and communication between the performers who acted as mannequins and the spectators who watched the performance. The group of performers stood in front of the boutique, effectively replacing the mannequins in displaying clothes and accessories. The live act created a platform for the general community to raise issues and to start


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critical discussion in a conscious manner. Haya Hulet(22) area in particular was chosen for this performance because of the large number of boutiques in the area, many of which use mannequins to prominent and visible effect. Mannequins are instrumental tools for boutiques and shops to display and sell mass-produced items imported from abroad. Cheap items mass produced in and imported from China fill the African market. However, these products are marked up significantly when sold in Ethiopia. Displaying these imported products on the mannequins make the accessories look high end to appeal to a certain class who aspires to a Western size and ideal. Marginalizing and filtering consumers is a key scheme used to market a particular ideal. This manner of understanding our body and physical look promotes an illusive class and western fantasy, which we Ethiopians aspire to fit. The performance piece, created and performed at the public space in the inner city, was the main part of the Mannequin Project intended to create a platform for the public to participate in the discourse. Like the construction boom mushrooming in Addis Ababa, many streets of Addis Ababa have seen a proliferation of massive numbers of mannequins. These mannequins are a product of western imagination solely focused on defining the female body in a certain way so that it can please the eyes of consumers. The motives and objective represented by these mannequins are similar to the reality of the way the black body and female black body have been represented through the history. The mannequin as object is a useful frame to analyse the way in which the female body has been objectified and considered as a property to men. Thus, there was no opportunity for women to claim their body and its belongingness beyond an object in the household designed to fulfil the desire of the men. “The woman’s body, no longer private property but rather fetishized commodity, circulates inexorably and vertiginously through the modern marketplace, frantically purchasing that which it can never own.” (Hetrick, 2014)


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3. Material or Medium

After the public performance, I decided to change the working environment from the public space to the White Cube. That is where I had the chance to experiment with multiple ideas I gathered during the research process. I also exchanged several dialogues with different colleagues and creative visual artists both local and international. The versatility of the discussion helped me to understand the cause and effects of “fighting to fit” through local and global perspective. The next step was to illustrate a mind map on the wall located in the wider interior space. The mind mapping helped me to visualize the body of work through all the key concepts and visual ideas translated on the wall surface. I began to collect X-ray printouts.


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These X-rays tell a story of pain in the body without disclosing the patient’s’ identity. Medical X-rays do not show more besides the body part exposed through the frame. There is no obvious sign in the X-ray imagery to identify gender and race. Using X-rays in my project anonymizes the subject but still shows the silhouette of human figure that defines the outside shape of the body. X-rays represent an inner identity, even though society largely ignores the internal identity that defines who we are. Instead we elevate the external, and the body’s ability to provide pleasure and gratification based on a standard embodied by the mannequins. The other reason I wanted to use the X-rays was to question what the medical world is trying to provide us in the name of maintaining the body. Using medication to keep our body healthy is one thing that should be praised and supported. However, medical beautification and body maintenance should be studied and analyzed. Medical treatment in the quest of fulfilling ideals fashion and desire projected through extreme media. Plastic surgery is the primary specialty serving this function. Plastic surgery is used often to beautify body parts, reshape anatomical structures and change skin color. All these changes are manifested by the body through surgical manipulation in order to fit an ideal dictated by fashion trend. It is not just fashion to match the body to an outfit, but also the decisive approach to construct and maintain the body according to a fashion ideal. Those struggling to fit the ideal invest in the difficult process of damaging their body in order to be accepted in the box that fits few. This box, created by patriarchal need and white supremacist hegemony, opposes the nature of self-identity and the physical reality and diversity of the body. I believe that X-ray will project the struggle, the pain and the hardship our bodies have carried in the process of fighting to fit. The use of pharmaceuticals for weight loss is another example of medical treatment for the pursuit of aesthetic ideals. Medication should be questioned in a critical manner.


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4. Methods of Research

I conducted my research using different approaches and methodologies. I prepared the interview questions that I thought could address the core issue for the project topic I proposed. Groups of volunteers participated in the interview. I tried to diversify the sample group as male, female, young, adult, old, educated, non-educated, upper class and working class. I used open discussion to make the participants comfortable enough to speak their mind without hesitation. Through the process I found that I needed more information to find answers for the questions I have, and reading the open resources helped me to fill the gap. I learned the process of changing the concept to a visual body work through reading critical theories, books, articles, poems, videos, ritual performances, and most importantly from my own life experience.


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5. Exhibition Setup

The final work came out in a big box after a long period of experimentation and trial using different materials and found objects that tell stories and connect with my concepts and physical work of art. I created a large silhouette of the body in MDF material in the center of the space of which both sides were visible to the audience. The MDF was covered in x-rays of different body parts that I collected. The studio wall was used to allow the audience to write about their body as a big mind mapping in a big white wall, and i displayed x-rays in the windows that connected the exterior and interior of the building.


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6. Resources and References

This section references the historical and cultural theories, artists, art movements, databases, interviews and/or any other form that influenced my work. According to my project and process, my advisor suggested different books and videos which became important references. The videos contain a brief interview and show the creative development of great artists from around the world. It shows that how these artists developed conceptual thinking, through the process to interpret their philosophy into their artwork. It is very important to mention the writers and contemporary artists work of art and exhibitions. I also have used as references of writers who wrote on the subject matter in a broader and critical manner.

• Cohen, A.(2014). Mannequin Size on Consumers’ Perception of Self and

Satisfaction with Fit (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from http://scholarcommons. sc.edu/etd/2634

• Hetrick, Bethany. “Mannequins, MassConsumption and modernity in au

bonheur des dames : The Department Store as Ladies’ Paradise? .” Equinoxes 7 (2006): n. pag. Web. .

• Art in the 21st Century. PBS. Arlington, •

Virginia, n.d. Television.

Bell hooks scholar-in-residence - Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body. N.d. The New School. Web.


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• Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press, 1968. Print.

• Hooks, Bell. Black looks: race and

representation. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992. Print.

• Hooks, Bell. Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000. Print.

• Hooks, Bell. All about love: new visions.

New York: William Morrow, 2000. Print.

• Singh, Sunit. “Book Review: Frantz

Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.” The Platypus Review 21 (2010): 1 . Http:// platypus1917.org/. Web.



• Concerning Nuditude


On Eroticism and Intimacy Thomas Michael Blaser


• Concerning Nuditude

In Art that speaks sexuality, an article published in the Uganda newspaper Daily Monitor of Mar. 26, culture journalist Douglas D. Sebamala reviewed the exhibition Eroticism and Intimacy. “The collection of 30 art works from 20 artists in five countries deliberated a topic that Africa is not comfortable discussing publicly. The experience moved beyond “who owns the body?” to the abhorred discussion of same sex relations, masturbation, and relative to the International Women’s Day celebrations, to how afraid women are of talking freely about what pleases them,” he wrote. Sebamala continued to report that there are “various alternatives to pleasure, making choices for which individuals are comfortable to express themselves regardless of social pressure and the effect of sexual exposure to children generated part of the pedagogical study.” On the work displayed within the exhibition, Sebamala noted “a monochrome portrait of a woman’s behind laid upon a man with his legs wide spread, two men sharing a bed with hands over each other’s back, three beautifully colourful body revealing images of models including Lolah Adhama in a crawling position very close to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ pose, were among the striking ones. They each came marked with numbers, perhaps without titles to leave room for interpretation.” Thomas Michael Blaser interviewed the co-curators of the exhibition. He sent them the questions by email and they returned written answers.


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Thomas Michael Blaser: In your introduction, you write that women’s achievements are being recognized, be they in politics and in business. Yet you argue that in the private sphere, and in relation to sexuality, there is still much that can and should be done in order to emancipate women. Can you explain a bit more your reasoning here?

Violet Nantume: We live in societies that have preconceived ideas of what sex should be. Men and women whose sexual expression deviates from the cultural expectations of certain people have been restricted, violated and their rights to sexual expression overlooked. This is especially true of women, as someone pointed out that social influences have joined forces to alienate women from their own sexual desires, subduing their sexual appetites. The suppression of female sexuality can be regarded as one of the most remarkable psychological interventions within Africa’s socio-cultural history. According to Mary Jane Sherfey’s1 respected statement, the sex drive of the human female is naturally and innately stronger than that of the male, and it once posed a powerfully destabilizing threat to the possibility of social order. In the progress of civilization, female sexuality has been stifled. In a sense, female sexuality was viewed, through the Enlightenment, as counteractive and retrogressive to moral and social civilization. As a result, countless women in the era and beyond, grew up and lived their lives with far less sexual pleasure than they would have enjoyed in the absence of this large-scale political suppression.

Peter Genza: While it is true that women’s achievements are being recognized and lauded here in Uganda and internationally, these celebrated women belong to a small minority of those who have managed to break through the glass ceiling of their respective professions and careers. Even then, when you hear their stories, most of them will tell you that the road


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to the top is far much harder for them than it normally is for their male counterparts. So we

can never forget the greater majority of women, the ones I may call “voiceless”. Some of them have had decent accomplishments but they are not necessarily high achievers, some are just ordinary women going about their daily lives in a quiet or mundane manner. It is these women whose challenges in the area of sexuality are often hard to overcome because they hardly have anywhere to go to have their voices heard. They often find themselves in spaces in which patriarchy rules and disadvantages them; spaces where they are often viewed as sex objects and then become tools of men’s erotic adventures. Too many are sexually abused, molested and used without ever being able to defend themselves or speak out, or even find platforms where they can talk about their plight without suffering further abuse. It is these women for whom there is still much that needs to be done so that emancipation does not stop at the top.

Thomas Michael Blaser: You explain that the exhibition aims at exploring intimacy and erotic desire, and by doing so, you intend to contribute to the emancipation of women in sexual relations and intimate encounters. Why did you choose this focus and why do you think art should play such a role in society?

Violet Nantume: The creative industry, in any setting, is a forum of expression that could be reflective of what prevails in society. Art is a tool to communicate, educate and it creates awareness by asking questions. One objective was to create a project that allows us to talk about sex and sexuality. Our wish was that when we broke a silence in the public it would become a catalyst for women to undertake a journey towards emancipation. But we also hoped to create a space for every man and woman to express their sexualities. We are aware of many activists in academies and non-governmental organizations


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that have researched sexuality in Africa and explored issues dealing with eroticism before.

Additionally, there have been a couple of exhibitions on nudity staged in Kampala. However, the focus of our exhibition was not nudity. Rather, it was for people to interrogate the ownership of their bodies with the help of art and to bring their bodies in relation to the influences from their traditional cultures, Christianity, and gender, and how these influences have shaped and framed the choices they make intimately in their relationship and their erotic life.

Peter Genza: Sex talk in public spaces is something lots of Ugandans are uncomfortable about. Public displays of affection between couples are usually frowned upon and can fetch many unsavory comments from onlookers. You may easily wonder why they cannot seem to mind their business but then you remember that most matters related to sex are taboo subjects, viewed as things that should be confined to the privacy of the bedroom. And it is partly because of these views that most sexual abuses against women go unreported and undocumented. They are considered bedroom matters and are better left there. This only serves to compound an already bad situation. The show sought to highlight the plight of women and their sexuality and how this can be expressed through art in the public arena. One aim of feminism is the liberation of women from sexual tyranny and slavery. As curators we felt strongly that the theme of the exhibition feeds directly into these efforts. Art is one of the most vociferous platforms for the expression of views and ideas that are often rather not be talked about publicly. Eroticism and female sexuality is one such subject that art can communicate better than most other media. Together with the Body Pedagogy workshops, the curators felt that society would have the opportunity to see the bigger picture of eroticism and intimacy, and ultimately, that of female sexuality.


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Thomas Michael Blaser: It seems to me that the art you present here also shows eroticism, pleasure, and desire as positive aspects of sexuality - does this focus mean that there are many negative views of sexuality in society, that are perhaps even dominant, and hence the need for a different vision?

Violet Nantume: There are several ways and paths to intimacy, but society’s expectations of our social relations challenges these ways. The expression of sexual desire and fantasy has been hijacked by social norms leading to repression of sexual expression. As a result, we often choose a traditional code of intimacy usually indicated by religion. We do away with alternative or adventurous paths and spaces of eroticism and intimacy to follow the beaten path. There has been an active criminalizing and censoring of sexual pleasure in the public. A great number of those affected by these legal measures have replaced sex education with pornography. One woman who came to the show asked if we had talked about pleasuring. She said that “these men always rush to thrust it in, and completely ignore the clitoris”. This made me wonder about communication between couples before or during sex. In a recent New York Times article ‘When did Porn Become Sex Ed?’, Peggy Orenstein insists that “while we are more often telling children that both parties must agree unequivocally to a sexual encounter, we still tend to avoid the biggest taboo of all: women’s capacity for and entitlement to sexual pleasure…when do we explain the miraculous nuances of their anatomy? When do we address exploration, self-knowledge?”

Peter Genza: To a great extent, the answer from me will be yes. Sex is a huge topic and its consumption is even bigger. The appetite for sex and sexual material will never be satiated for the simple reason that sex is consumed, and most probably enjoyed, across all manner of divisions, including ethnic, economic, religious, and so on. And it is precisely because of the


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nature of its force that sex is often greatly enjoyed, abused, misused, loved and reviled all in

equal measure. More often than not, just as with so many other things in life, the negative views about sex in our society tend to be the most dominant. This means that the good side of it gets lost in the negative. Eroticism and Intimacy: Faces, Places and Paths sought to focus on the positive energy of sex and to help other people to come out of their shells to share and talk about something that brings so much joy but has been unfortunately vilified because of avoidable misconceptions.

Thomas Michael Blaser: The scholar and gender activist Sylvia Tamale writes that “[b] ecause in Africa many acts associated with sexualities are criminalized or highly stigmatized, analysts need to tread the territory with care and sensitivity.”2 Would you say the same applies to artists – what response did you get so far to your exhibition with your focus on sexuality?

Violet Nantume: I am glad my country was engulfed in politicking and elections during the opening, otherwise at one point I worried that someone would report us to the police or that the Minister of Ethics and Integrity — have you heard of such a government ministry before — would shut down the show, not unlike the way in which another exhibition Precarious Imaging was shut down in Senegal. The police did not intervene, but among our audience, some suggested that we put down some artworks that, to them, were too graphic.

“The police did not intervene, but among our audience, some suggested that we put down some artworks that, to them, were too graphic.” Art could conceal to reveal, or to draw in an intended audience. It is one of the


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possible strategies any artist can use. Moses Izabiriza’s paintings show a culture among the

Rwandese in which the elongation of the labia is said to enhance sexual pleasure for both men and women. He says that perhaps when young adults meet for the ritual there is a lot of self exploration, discovering each other’s’ changing bodies that could make the process itself pleasurable. Our aim as curators was to draw out the poetics of sex and the artist could have chosen to offend or not offend but both methods speak to various audiences. It is important to note that the consumption of art is also subjective so then how can one tread with care and sensitivity? A one-off conversation to talk about a taboo subject in a public forum is usually not sufficient. We hope to have more follow up projects to interact with artists and audiences over a period of four years, and over this period it would be interesting to see how the artists evolve with the same idea.

Peter Genza: Dr. Tamale is obviously right in her analysis and it is not in anyone’s best interests to offend just for the sake of freedom of expression. This is especially true of matters relating to sex and sexuality, especially female sexuality. So, yes, even artists need to be sensitive about how we portray sexuality in our creations but this does not mean that we should not talk about it at all or go into hiding when we do. We are lucky that Ugandan society, especially in urban Kampala, the capital city has become quite liberal about sexual expression due in part to the growth of the tabloid industry but also because of the explosion of internet usage in the last decade or so. Erotic material is now available at the swipe of a finger and when an artist expresses sexuality in a painting or installation, it does not shock the system as much as it would have 10 years ago. Most viewers came to the show because the title caught their attention and they wanted to see for themselves what it was all about. From our interaction with some of them, they were there because they wanted to see who dared bringing into a public space something that is considered very private and to see what the show looked like. Others came because they wanted to speak out about the same subject but had never had the opportunity or platform to do that without being judged. Needless to say, some people found


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the exhibition an affront to whatever their sexual beliefs were, and made their sentiments

known to the curators. But the show went on, the response from the public and the media was fantastic and it was a great time all around.

Thomas Michael Blaser: In addition to the exhibition of paintings and performances, you also featured workshops on black feminism and gender theory. Can you tell us a bit about the workshop and what happened there?

Serubiri Moses: I designed the workshop in response to a curatorial framework on women’s sexuality. I felt it was absolutely necessary to try and get into theoretical knowledge with East African issues. I selected the texts and co-facilitated the workshop with the editor of Mon-pi-Mon (Women for Women) blog, Rebecca Rwakabukoza. The workshop was attended by people with a range of opinions on gender and sexuality. The most exciting parts were witnessing the more inflexible participants argue their views only to be tested with both Bell Hooks and Judith Butler. Bewildered with concern, a participant said “Guys (sic) there is no male gaze ... because biology says men and women have the same pair of eye sockets.” Obviously, this participant came to be schooled, and those who could teased out the definition of the male gaze. I personally gained a renewed sense of purpose with feminism and its potential to destabilize political structures. Although I felt that over the five days, we could not exhaust the issues that were raised such as the laws on rape, and using sex narratives as court evidence in the case of Uganda vs. Bad Black, as well as customary law on rape and violence between married couples. I felt that more needed to be done to address local forms of violence inflicted on women and queer bodies.

Peter Genza: Difficult terms in feminism literature were discussed and dissected and then


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responses to the selected text of the day were debated. As was expected, participants made impassioned cases for their views on female sexuality using their life stories and needless to say, many were quite controversial. At the end of the five days, the general feeling was that the discussions should continue regularly to give people the opportunity to not only interact with useful feminist literature but also to have their views heard as well as be educated on those things about sexuality that people would generally rather not talk about publicly.

Thomas Michael Blaser: You address in particular young people whose sexuality is influenced by pornography that is easily available through the internet via smartphones – what is your observation concerning young people and pornography?

Violet Nantume: Being involved in pleasure comes with responsibility of safety. And if they to do not own the decisions in which their emotional and physical bodies are engaged, there will be consequences of placing their pleasure in someone else’s hands.

Serubiri Moses: Michel Foucault writes in Truth and Power that it was Sigmund Freud who reminded Europe that children were sexual beings. It was with the Oedipus complex and the various stages of sexual formation, including the early rectal stage. I think that most of our African elites are not in agreement with Freud, because children are not thought of as sexual beings. In fact, children are taught to close their legs and to avoid touching each other. By the time we grow up, we are incapable of a body study that does not involve violence because we have been conditioned to other bodies via punishment. As adults, we have then to relearn the freedom of “playing” sex. The exhibition is an attempt at revealing these kind of curiosities around the body and the intimacy with other bodies.


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Peter Genza: We may regulate how young people access erotic material but we can never keep it out of their hands entirely. The authorities do not have the resources or the will to do that. The best thing to do under such circumstances is to help the young people learn how to handle erotic material responsibly because they have not yet gained the maturity to do that on their own. Workshops like Body Pedagogy where people come and share their real-life experiences in the area of sexuality can be a useful tool in helping young people cope with the explosion of internet erotic material so that it does not harm their own sexuality in the long run.

Thomas Michael Blaser: Some artists have claimed that by showing nudity, sexuality and even pornography, they want the audience to allow themselves to get rid of any feelings of shame they may have – are some artists here working with the same strategy?

Violet Nantume: Commercialism and advertising in Uganda and on the internet for a long time has used both slim and light skinned women to represent beauty. Many young people are not comfortable in their bodies for they might not necessarily be trimmed as the adverts show. You may be aware of the recent stripping episode by a university academic, Dr. Stella Nyanzi when she protested her eviction from office. In the aftermath of the saga, she posted on her Facebook wall saying “…I thank you for bearing and carrying the sight of my umm... big fat flabby breasts, my scarred swollen swanky stomach, and the be-dimpled bare buttocks brought out in my struggle. After seeing my boyoyo, no one has a reason to feel bad about their bodies anymore. Celebrate your bodily beauty! I praise God for my beautiful body each hour.” Ugandans could engage in conversations with nudity as a weapon of protest. Yet showing nudity without a clearly


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articulated intention, can be misleading at times.

Peter Genza: The mind of an artist is often difficult to fathom and that is why many artists are labeled “eccentric”, which some really are. And this is not a bad thing in itself. The mind of a good artist is a hotbed of ideas and concepts that have the capacity to form and shape public opinion on many subjects in both positive and negative ways. When an artist creates a concept on canvas, on paper or in sculpture, it is the end result of a process that has gone through formidable synthesis and development in the artist’s mind. It is the viewers of this end result who then interpret the artist’s creation and form an opinion, whether positive or negative. This usually quite significantly differs from what the artist meant to communicate. It is never that the artist made a work of art in order for the viewer to come up with his or her own particular opinion. Therein lies the power of art. I believe that it is the same thing for the artists who participated in the Eroticism and Intimacy show. They interpreted and transformed the theme into works of art and left it to the viewer to form opinions of their artwork.


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M  ary Jane Sherfey, 1966, The evolution and nature of female sexuality in relation to psychoanalytic theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association.


Sylvia Tamale, 2011, Researching and theorizing sexualities in Africa, p. 17

Dinka Woman with Baby Serubiri Moses

Akot Deng, East African Connect. Nommo Gallery, 2016. Image courtesy of the author.


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I SAW AN ACRYLIC PAINTING at an art exhibition in October of what I could only guess was a South Sudanese woman with a baby rising out of a river. The painting by South Sudanese artist Akot Deng was part of a regional exhibition showing at the Nommo Gallery in Kampala, featured alongside several other paintings and sculptures from the East African region. The painting reminded me of specific tropes in Western Art History, and thus, part of my fascination with the painting had to do with seeing it as a South Sudanese version of the Italian Sandro Botticelli painting of a Venus on a clamshell, from the 15th century, called The Birth of Venus. Given that the emergence of modern painting in East Africa is mostly rooted in colonial education, I was curious about the nature of the painting as a re-imagination or re-production of Western Art History. I had such questions as: what does it mean to represent the black subject as Venus; what happens when African artists appropriate from a Western canon; what is the meaning of the Venus rising out of a river in contemporary times? This painting haunted me. I photographed it with my phone and shared it with a couple of friends, who found it rather strong. They commented on how the South Sudanese woman is depicted holding a child. As a depiction of motherhood, it was hard not to consider a relationship between the South Sudanese artist and the somewhat archaic notion of a motherland. Being that the country in question, and its capital, Juba, has been at war with Photo: Dinka Woman with Baby by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher.

Khartoum, many people have immigrated to the South, and one could see how the painting might reflect this longing for home from the perspective of a displaced person. There were others who noted the physical strength of the woman holding her child in one arm and making powerful strides as she comes out of the water, compared to the Western Venus who seems to hover on top of the water with poise. This comment echoed the essentialism that has marked the black woman within colonialism. However, my initial thoughts revolved around the photographic work of Leni Riefenstahl, the German photographer, most popularly known for her landmark work, The Last of The Nuba (1973). The painting seemed, for me, to have a natural precedent in Riefenstahl’s photography. Although I merely suspected it, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the painting was indeed a copy of a photograph from 1989. The mastery with which the artist recreated the water beads that sat on the body of the woman pointed to a careful study of the


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photograph. There was also the exaggeration of the subject’s breast size, and the darkening

of her skin color, imposing a masculine gaze onto the subject. Riefenstahl’s photograph was taken around 1989 after two women photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher undertook a major survey of what they described as African Ceremonies. Reviewing this volume of photography, the art historian Allen Roberts pointed out the link with Riefenstahl: “Primitivist photography has antecedents and most notably in the African pictures of Leni Riefenstahl, and the photos are marvelous in composition and color, but Beckwith and Fisher make a spectacle of Africa, and many will challenge their artistic project.”I took a special interest in Roberts’s description of the book as primitivist photography, because it paid attention to not only the subject of the book, which was the fantasy of the African as a ritualized being, seen as nothing else if not practicing rituals, but it did what another reviewer described as the careful cropping out of modern life. In other words, this was a subjective depiction of Africa as a place of magic and ritual.

LAST YEAR, THE ART CRITIC ORIT GAT ASKED: “What about the comment section?” She was referring to the way in which Internet users contribute to art discourse via the comment sections of online blogs and articles. This is an interesting digression for me because I wonder if by writing this essay I am rehearsing primitivism. I wrote a review of a photography book by an Italian photojournalist on sex workers in a red-light zone of Kampala. This review, published on Africa is A Country, received four comments, two of which have stayed with me. The first described me as a racist. “The frequency and length with which the author reminds us over and over again that Mr. Sibiloni is photographing ‘black women’ as to just women; and the author’s knack for citing the photographer’s own skin color, makes this piece of remarkable othering and exoticism; while it is in-depth and sheer in the veneer of academic, this bridges the gap between, and breaches, constructive thought into the pretty-much rudimentary racist.” With this response, I reflected on the meaning of exoticism in relation to “black women.” Could it be that by merely writing the word “black woman” several times in the review I had created a sort of literary pornography? Was I, by offering an analysis of the work of Michele Sibiloni, participating in the very genre of primitivism?


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The answer to some of these questions lies in the second comment. “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, what self hate? An African writing about Africans and identifying them as: “black” what ignorance?” Something was happening here. The debate in the comment section had gone beyond the photography itself, or even the “black women” depicted therein. The Internet users on Africa is A Country, wanted to refer to me not only by my writing—which they found “academic”—but they went ahead to profile me as “black” or as “African.” This process seemed familiar. It was the reclaiming of the primitivism genre as a domain for Whites Only. In other words, I was being told, categorically, that my race had no right to comment on an Italian’s photographs of black women. However, beyond their racial profiling of me, as an author, this idea—”An African writing about Africans and identifying them as “black”—demonstrated a lack of knowledge on my part, that naming Africans as “black” was reserved for Whites Only. This was a re-education for me on contemporary visual culture’s linkage to colonial-era segregation, and racism, via a (mostly) liberal website. Readers of Africa is a Country had picked up on the racial discourse in my article. I may have been unaware of the danger of my own exploration of primitivism in the article. The title itself, Pornography and Photography, sought to argue only one side of the argument, which showed ways in which black female sexuality has been recorded on camera since the 19th century. In short, I did not write the much longer article that would show a history of photographing female sex workers on the African continent since the 19th century. I might have shown how exactly racial discourses shaped African colonies in the early 20th century, and how racism—which is called “tribalism” in the modern African context—persists in modern African life.


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ON EXOTICISM AND THE BLACK FEMALE BODY, art historian Deborah Willis describes the “relation between white man and native woman (as) similar to that between colonizer and colonized country, where exotic transgression was seen as a return to primitivism, to an immediacy of passion that Western custom had long since rejected.” 1 The racial discourse was already tied to colonization, especially in the propaganda that led up to the occupation of colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Africa was long exoticized by European colonizers as a “fertile” Negro woman long before Negritude poets depicted “her” as such. The fertility of the black woman symbolized, in colonial propaganda, the richness of the land in the Caribbean and in Africa. The contradiction here, particularly in the field of photography, returns when allegories for colonial wealth in Africa and the Caribbean are conflated with depictions of black women. In this sense, the notion of the Black Venus is detached neither from colonial propaganda nor Western Art History. Photography, often deceptive, creates an exoticism for colonial purposes. In many ways, this colonial legacy is implicit in depictions of the black body in Western Art History. The poet Robin Coste Lewis describes this as white subjectivity; that is, the black person is not the subject, but rather it is the colonial appropriation of the black body. The black body was also the scientific object of much late 19th and early 20th century anthropology. We read about Riefenstahl’s project in South Sudan, and that German photographer’s obsession with the physical body. Susan Sontag, who reviewed The Last of the Nuba describes Riefenstahl’s career as embodying the Nazi idealism of both perfect beauty and the perfect body. “For Riefenstahl is the only major artist who was completely identified with the Nazi era and whose work, not only during the Third Reich but thirty years after its fall, has consistently illustrated many themes of fascist aesthetics.” Sontag readily admits that the Fascist aesthetic has to do with primitivism. But not only that, it has to do with—in relation to the Nuba of South Sudan—”turning people in things.” The subject of Riefenstahl’s work remains the primitive impulse, the glorification of an apocalypse, and these ideas are both easily projected onto the Nuba, in ways that transform personalized experience into grandiose death ritual, that transform aesthetic beauty according to the Nuba into an art of


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submissiveness to the mighty force of destruction (here, it is the “extinction” of a race).

The comment section of Africa is a Country might, after all, be the place to question if the Nuba have any notion of aesthetics. I’ve been asked often if my home country, Uganda, has any art. Subsequently, the shocking realization is that I could even practice art criticism. The artistic traditions of African people have been translated into primitivist discourses, and in the realm of Riefenstahl’s photography, into fascism. Dinka Woman with Baby is therefore a primitivist, if not fascist, title. In the realm of art history, can we speak of the African subject? We learn from cultural theory that “what we call ‘the self’ is constituted out of and by difference, and remains contradictory, and that cultural forms are, similarly, in that way, never whole, never fully closed or ‘sutured.’” 2 In this sense, our cultural history in East Africa may be occupied by the discourses of primitivism and, if not, fascism. However, that is not the full account of this cultural history. Dinka Woman with Baby is part of a larger and growing cultural and political history of South Sudan, which the painter Akot Deng is aware of. The modern Sudanese painter may seek to recreate Riefenstahl’s black Venus rising out of a river, but this is done in contemporary times, in which a civil war in South Sudan has forced thousands to migrate into Uganda and Kenya. The black Venus holding a child, in this sense, also represents not only the Dinka ritualistic submission to the greater forces of extinction, but it also represents the notion of Sudan as a motherland, upholding its citizens, even in the midst of civil war. There is considerable evidence that South Sudan and its people have impacted East African politics. Here, I’m speaking about colonial politics and military nationalism. During the period of Britain’s occupation Dinka, Nuba, and other then Sudanese people, were recruited to suppress insurgency in the region, such as the Kenya emergency of 1952. Many of the soldiers that fought on behalf of Britain in World War I and II were of Sudanese origin. The military regime that led Uganda in the 1970s—consolidating the Uganda Rifles, the colonial armed forces—comprised predominantly of the Sudanese. Speaking about this regime’s attitude towards women, Ali A. Mazrui wrote that: “Idi Amin appointed Princess Bagaya as Uganda’s first woman Foreign Minister. She was really


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a symbol of empowerment, although she struggled to remain a symbol of liberation.” We

now know that the extent of this symbolic act reached demeaning proportions after Bagaya rejected the military dictator’s sexual advances. She was, then, slut-shamed publicly in the national newspaper. Mazrui shows, in the same paper, that the shaming of women in power is typical of colonialism, and particularly the shaming of black women: “In Africa after European penetration, black women have sometimes suffered both as women, and as Blacks. As far back as 1706, a young woman, holding her baby son, was burned at the stake on the border between present-day Angola and Zaire. She was Dona Beatrice, otherwise known as Kimpa Vita.” The racism of colonial governance, as told by Ali A. Mazrui, has exposed itself in its disgust for the nude black body. While anthropologists were drawn to the physical height as well as linguistic “superiority” of Dinka, Madi, Maasai, and other Nilotic people, there is the disgust for what is described in a 1905 anthropological survey of the East Africa Protectorate by Charles Eliot: “The want of decency, in the narrower sense of what we consider adequate clothing, is very remarkable. Natives on the coast, who have any pretensions to be Mohammedans, of course, observe strict propriety in this respect, and some un-known influence introduced similar ideas into Uganda, which is the more remarkable as most of the neighbouring tribes are conspicuously nude. But with these two exceptions, the native races of East Africa show an entire absence of the feelings which elad (sic) the European and Asiatic to cover their bodies. The motive may have a touch of the sentiment of the Greek athlete, and pride in a well-developed form, but most natives appear to be simply in the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall, which is also that of the animals, and to have no idea of indecency.”

Comparisons to Adam and Eve before the Fall indicate primitivism in this analysis. It takes me back to the notion of the black Venus rising out of the water. The black subject


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cannot assume a place in civilization except if she were fully clothed and practicing Western

Image of the painting by Botticelli in public domain.

Christian morality. However, the black Venus painting by Akot Deng breaks those barriers, by reclaiming the Dinka woman from primitivism, and thrusting her into modern Sudanese art. The meaning of Venus rising out of a river is no longer only viewed simply from the perspective of indecency or even from fascist aesthetics, but she is another Kimpa Vita rising out of the ashes of colonial and postcolonial violence.


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Artist Portfolio Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi


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• Concerning Nuditude / Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi


• Concerning Nuditude / Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi


• Concerning Nuditude / Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi


• Concerning Nuditude / Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi



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WOMAN BE Susanne Anique

Woman be wise Woman be witty Woman be strong Woman don’t pity Yourself because You have sooooo much more — than your naked body Woman make friends Woman make money Woman make jokes Woman be funny because You have sooooo much more — than your naked body Woman do tease Woman with ease Woman be sexy Woman be pretty remember You have sooooo much more — than your naked body


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‘And they were both naked, and they were not ashamed.’ – Genesis 2:25

Paula Akugizibwe

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, Engraving


• Concerning Nuditude

As Eve stared towards the sky, a tall blade of grass, pushed sideways by the breeze, tickled her nipple. She brushed it away without shifting her eyes from the animals in flight above. It had been more than a moon since she thought she saw something beyond randomness in their movements, a hint of deliberate motion that both fascinated and eluded her. Since then she had returned to this dip in the hill every time she saw the sun sink towards the trees by the river, waiting to watch the birds as day gave way to night. The last of them had just flown out of sight when she heard the crackling of leaves, and in a few blinks, Adam was behind her. She sensed his presence but did not move for a few more blinks, then relaxed her shoulders. He took the cue and stepped forward, stretching his arms around her waist, and they stood still while their pulses settled into rhythm. “I think you want to be a bird,” he eventually murmured. “Yes,” Eve sighed. Adam’s stomach tightened at the distance in her voice, but relaxed as she leaned backwards and he felt the warm skin of her back press into his chest. His hand trailed down her belly and began to stroke softly through the hairs beneath.


Adam stood behind the dip in the hill, frowning uneasily as he saw the sun sink toward the trees by the river. Eve’s whereabouts were not something he usually worried about, and when needed, they always seemed to find each other with ease. But ever since he saw her watching the birds, something had drawn him here each time the shadows lengthened. He did not know what it was exactly that pulled him back, but he knew his chest would beat differently as he watched her, until the birds disappeared and he could approach gently from behind, press his chest against her back, and reassure himself that she was not hiding a pair of wings in her flesh. But now the sun was about to meet the tip of the river, and Eve was not here. Before the birds, he remembered, she used to meet the night in the hush of the fruit trees. He turned and moved in that direction. Making his way through the falling light, he saw her back first,


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

the smooth curves of her hips forming a smooth blend with the rich, dark brown bark of the tree she stood beside. As Adam realized what tree it was, the only living thing in the garden that they were never supposed to touch, his chest began to thud. He moved swiftly forward, no longer caring for a gentle approach. “Eve –” he began urgently, then stopped as she turned around, holding the fruit in her hand. Even in the dimming light he could not miss the strange shine in her eyes. They stared at each other in silence while the birds piped their evening songs through the leaves. “The serpent gave it to me,” she finally said. Her voice sounded distant the way it did after she had been watching the birds. He stepped closer, then paused as she looked away. His eyes moved from her face to her hand, where the creamy white flesh of the fruit peeked through its punctured red skin. Adam’s stomach tightened, but this time there was nothing to reassure him, no birds disappearing, no feeling Eve’s flesh against his for as long as she refused to look him in the eye. For the first time since Eve had come, Adam felt alone again. A strange feeling came over him, a feeling he would later come to understand as fear. It propelled him forward until he was standing in front of her, reaching for her hand, the hand that held the fruit. As he took it from her, she finally looked at him, her eyes wrinkling slightly as he raised it to his mouth. Darkness found them there, standing at arm’s length, listening for sounds of God. A strong gust of wind blew suddenly and they shivered. It was unusually cold in this part of the garden. As their nipples stiffened, they instinctively drew their arms across their chests, and the synchronized movement caused them to look up at each other. This time, it was Adam who looked away, uncomfortable with this sudden shift in instinct to wrap into themselves, instead of coming skin-to-skin to protect each other from the cold, as they had always done. Again, he felt alone, but when he looked desperately back at Eve, she was staring at the ground again, rubbing her hands against her crossed arms in short rapid motions. What had they done? And where was God? The wind blew again, and Eve tightened her grip around her body. Watching her, Adam found himself overwhelmed with an urge to hide. Suddenly these bodies


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

felt too vulnerable, too exposed. He did not want God to see them like this. They went in

search of trees with broad leaves to wrap around themselves, but later, draped in a clumsy patchwork of green, they looked at each other and found the sight strange, and retreated deeper into the garden to hide from God. It was pointless, because when God called out for them, Adam answered immediately and confessed his shame. But he hesitated at the question that followed, realizing that he did not understand it either – “Who told you you were naked?”


The word ‘naked’ in the original Hebrew of the Torah, the foundation of the bible, is ‘arom’. It is first mentioned in the book of Genesis in relation to Adam and Eve, who were arom, and were not ashamed. One verse later, the Bible’s biggest plot twist opens with an introduction to the serpent – who, in the original text, is also arom. And they were both naked [arom], the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more cunning [arom] than any beast of the field... – Genesis 2:25-3:1 Rabbi David Fohrman, an author and Torah educator, believes that this ambiguity is deliberate. Jewish tradition has long assumed that the Torah employs various techniques to help it “encode” meaning,’ he explains. ‘Twenty-five verses may not sound like a lot [for such a significant story], but it’s plenty if the text is somehow “layered”; encoded so that it contains meaning far out of proportion to its size.’ In the third chapter of Genesis, those layers are spun around the word ‘naked’, though this nuance is swallowed in translation, with Adam and Eve simply understood in English to be unclothed, and the snake, cunning. ‘Why would the Torah take the same word it uses over and over again to mean “naked”,’ asks Rabbi Fohrman, and then, when describing the snake, twist its meaning to convey the very opposite idea -- “cunning”? Instinctively, there is something uncomfortable about the idea of a double entendre that links the innocent nudity of Adam and Eve with the cunning nature of the snake. Religious folklore paints the original state of the garden as one of purity


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

and equilibrium, where only righteous thoughts cross the mind, and everything is beautiful.

Only under these conditions, it is implied, could nakedness exist freely. But the uncomfortable ambiguity hints at a different type of equilibrium – one that is not based on the absence of bad things, but perhaps, the recognition that they are an inextricable part of good things. ‘If “naked” is really the opposite of “cunning”, then it seems to follow that the snake had both, opposite, qualities,’ comments Fohrman. ‘ From one perspective, what he’s saying doesn’t really work for Adam and Eve, but from another perspective – what you see is what you get. He’s just telling it like it is – from a snake’s point of view, of course.’ Adam and Eve, too, are both naked and cunning, and when they recognize and recoil from this after eating the forbidden truth, the seed of shame takes root. From that point on, nakedness in the Bible largely features in a negative and moralistic light, ruining lives in the most extreme cases. Ham sees his father naked in his drunkenness and calls his brothers to look, and is cursed for generations. David sees Bathsheba bathing naked on the roof, and is overcome with lust that eventually leads him to murder her husband. However, this negative light does not apply when nakedness is an action, rather than a vulnerable circumstance. In the book of Isaiah, God commands the Prophet Isaiah to strip. He walks naked for three years, to deliver ‘a sign and a wonder’ – of God’s displeasure and impending punishment. But the children of God do not listen, and when they are attacked and enslaved three years later, their conquerors march them naked into captivity. When Biblical nakedness presents as a deliberate act, it takes on prophetic energy, representing a powerful unmasking of the naked truth.


The king’s chariot pulled up to the temple in a fury of dust. Word had spread of his arrival, and the streets around were eerily quiet, people keeping a safe distance from the carnage that was expected to descend. Three times King Saul had sent messengers with the simple


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

task of fetching the head of young David, who had fled to Samuel, the Lord’s anointed prophet, when word spread that the king wanted him dead. But each time the messengers had entered the temple where Samuel and a large circle of prophets were keeping vigil over David, a strange spirit had seized them, and they would lay down their swords and join in the prophecy. So Saul had come to fetch the head himself. It was a personal matter, anyway. It was his pride that suffered when the people of Israel sang David’s praises in tones larger than those they sang for the king. It was his throne that was threatened by the relentless glory that shimmered around the boy as he grew older, while Saul suffered increasingly in the shadow of the lord’s disapproval. A kingdom had room for only one king. Saul reminded himself emphatically of this as he strode towards the temple doors, trying to use his anger to drive out the fear that was thudding in his head. Even a boy who killed a giant is no match for a king, his lover had whispered to him before he left, but he didn’t quite believe it, and didn’t believe that she did either. He focused his mind on the memory of the song the people had sung the day David returned triumphantly from a miraculous battle – ‘Saul has killed thousands but David has killed tens of thousands’ – and let the jealousy and rage of that day flood through his chest again, then nodded to his men, and they crashed the doors open. Inside, the air was warm and humid, heavy with the hushed incantations of a dozen prophets gathered in a circle around Samuel. None of them seemed to notice the intrusion, except Samuel, whose piercing gaze met Saul’s eyes the moment he stepped into the room. Immediately, as if by silent design, the circle of prophets parted slightly to reveal David standing next to Samuel, naked and looking Saul directly in the eye. Suddenly the king felt dizzy. His stride faltered, as the memory of his public humiliation became rapidly blurred by the forceful intrusion of another memory, that of the day he first saw David through a fog of pain, almost naked with just a white cloth draped around him and a harp balanced against his thigh. Samuel had brought to the boy to Saul’s deathbed on directions from god, who had


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

called for music to breathe life back into the king’s wasting bones. David’s harp first sounded

distant to Saul while he eased back to consciousness, then seemed to take on a life of its own, piping healing through his veins day after day. He thought he could hear hints of those tunes in the soft hum of the prophets’ rhythm now, and the dizzy sensation continued to spread through his body as he stared at the boy, frozen in his tracks while his men stood uneasily waiting for their cue. When the king’s sword clattered to the floor, nobody moved. But when he began removing his armor, his men stepped backward and averted their eyes. Saul moved slowly forward, shedding layers, until finally he reached the center of the circle and fell to his knees in front of Samuel and David, naked as the day he was born and heaving with sobs.


Across Africa, from Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa and many other spaces in between, there is a long history of stripping naked to talk truth to power, especially from women. In her essay ‘Silence is a woman’, Wambui Mwangi writes that “a group of women stripping naked in public is one of our most potent political practices (…) There is no stronger way for women acting together to register political dissent.” Since clothes came on a boat as a civilizing pillar of colonialism, it follows that the act of stripping – even without a common enemy – is a rebellion in itself, a shedding of layers that were never ours to begin with. And when this rebellion is delivered with collective intent to the doorsteps of power, it is impossible to not be stirred. Much has been said about moralistic reactions to ‘naked protests’, but it is harder to articulate the deeper spiritual power that vibrates in these physical assertions of the naked truth, which from time to time have brought kings to their knees. When hundreds of naked Nigerian women took over the largest oil producing facility in the Niger Delta in 2002, they managed to hold 700 workers hostage for a week and stop millions of barrels of oil from being produced. They had no weapons, just their nakedness – their ‘last resort’, and as it turned out, their most powerful one, with the companies


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

conceding unprecedentedly to a number of their demands. Describing the ‘Curse of Nakedness’ that underpins these actions, Sokari Ekine explains that “The stripping off of clothes particularly by married and elderly women is a way of shaming men,” who dread to look at the deliberate nakedness of their mothers – for fear of how it will shape their future, and in the present, what it will tell them about their own naked truths. The power of the curse lies not so much in the fact of nudity itself, but in the shame and fear that it provokes, the running from self that has exhausted human souls since the beginning of time.


In the book of Thomas, a collection of sayings by Jesus which did not make it into the final anthology that later became known as the Bible, his disciples ask, “On what day wilt thou appear to us, and what day shall we see thee?” “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed,” Jesus responds. “When you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children, and trample on them. Then you will become children of Him who is living, and then you will have no more fear.”


• Concerning Nuditude / Paula Akugizibwe

Nudity and Nature

We are all hiding, wearing masks that hide who we really are. Our aversion to nakedness is because the body doesn’t lie. It speaks and tells the stories of our lives. It changes but because we have become so disconnected from the natural world and obsess over bodily perfection we don’t acknowledge its connection to the process of life. Ham was cursed for seeing his father’s nakedness and Adam and Eve became aware

Ife Piankhi

of their nakedness after eating from the tree of knowledge. We carry the burden of Judeo Christian religious conditioning which teaches us that to reveal ourselves is shameful, the body is only to be revealed in the most intimate of settings with a ‘husband’ and that if we do reveal ourselves by wearing tight-fitting clothes or exposing cleavage, legs or buttocks it can only be perceived as a tool of sexuality not of beauty or appreciation of our form.  Alongside our religious indoctrination, we have the colonizer’s views embedded in our psyche. African women are perceived as highly sexed, wild and primitive. Josephine Baker used these stereotypes to launch her career in Paris but through her own agency was able to change this perception. Any feminist will tell you that the body is political. It has been used to subjugate women, to deny her access to her own expression and the choice to exhibit her sensuality and sexuality.

Naked in nature, barefoot on green grass. The laughter of children

I had a friend once who, ironically is now a staunch Muslim, who created a piece of artwork using her menstrual blood.  Why would she do that? Why would she touch her own blood and make paint with it? In Rastafarianism a woman is ‘unclean’ at the time of her period and she is not allowed to cook.

Gazing on natural vistas

The response to her artwork was so much outrage and aversion. I found this hypocritical

Soft lips that kiss

because as women we are taught in order to be desirable to the opposite sex we need to be

– from ‘Purple Happiness’

to celebrate and reveal its presence. Many women think menstruation is a curse and this

fertile, capable of ‘producing offspring’. Our blood is a part of our fecundity but it’s shameful is reflected in our attitudes to this time of the month. However in some precolonial African societies women would voluntarily separate themselves so that they could receive the insights that come during menstruation. Krishnamurti says in his book Education and the Significance of Life (1953), that because most of our relationships are based in sensation (the body is the vehicle for our sensations)


• Concerning Nuditude

we get hooked in the desires for personal advantage, comfort and psychological security. We

use the body to dominate and control.  However I think our bodies are sexualised because during the act of coitus we get to lose ourselves. In the process of orgasm we become one with everything and forget we are an individual prone to confusion and isolation. There is great power in the female form, as Audre Lorde states women who are empowered to go into the deepest and nonrational knowledge that comes from it are considered ‘dangerous’. The historical reality which many of us are unaware of is that the female form was worshipped. As I state in my poem Fly Free to be connected to the Goddess and Feminine is a blessing. When I work with women and I ask them to touch themselves during the practice of Afrikan Yoga, then to connect with other women using eye contact, and words of appreciation. This always results in great discomfort for the women. This is what disempowers us; we need to embrace our nude form and formlessness or soul. The power that comes from the intuitive or the non-rational as Audre Lorde calls it, is one of our greatest gifts. We can use nudity as an artistic tool to agitate and stimulate intense emotions, because most people, men and women, fear it. The result of this is insecurity which brings a reaction. However the artist using nudity must be ready to deal with these reactions because very often they are negative. My friend converted to Islam, I believe, because she wanted to fit into a role which was more socially acceptable. To be a woman who exposes herself she has to be confident, secure and loving because we live in a society where women are solely judged by and reduced to their looks, but this is not all we are.  


• Concerning Nuditude / Ife Piankhi

Fly free and be It’s ok to be flighty Mighty lion is on a quest of discovery I’m in recovery ancestral memories follow me. I see dungeons deep Stained covered walls My blood and urine flow. I offer no apologies For the legacy of slavery But that was only a small point in my story. Before in the time of antiquity I was worshipped as a deity. Hottentot G spot, flowing with creativity. Imagery was made of me Voluptuous hips and mammary glands of plenty As found in the cave art of Zimbabwe and the figurines of the Grimaldi. Temple domes were erected in reverence of me. The queen of Sheba Makeda had Solomon writing love poetry He would sing ‘how black and comely you be, come marry me’. But instead she preferred to move freely giving birth to the Ethiopian Dynasty. Hatshepsut in all her regality Preferred to lead her army dressed as a man in order to implement her battle plan. Universal mother Isis the first ever goddess gave birth to religious Iconography


• Concerning Nuditude / Ife Piankhi

As seen in Italy.


Krishnamurti, J. Education and the significance of life. New York: Harper, 1953. Print. Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (PDF). uk.sagepub. Retrieved December 3, 2015.


• Concerning Nuditude / Ife Piankhi



• Concerning Nuditude

Contributors (in order of publication)

Sylvia Tamale

Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa

Sylvia Tamale is a Professor of Law at Makerere University, who holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree from Makerere University, a Masters in Law (LL.M) from Harvard University and a Ph.D in Sociology and Feminist Studies from the University of Minnesota. She also obtained a Diploma in Legal Practice (Dip.L.P) from the Law Development Centre in Kampala and is an advocate of the Courts of Judicature in Uganda. Professor Tamale was the first female Dean of Law at Makerere (20042008), and founded the Law, Gender & Sexuality (LGS) Research Centre at the School of Law. A leading feminist, Professor Tamale combines academia with activism and adopts a critical approach to the Law that aims at enhancing students’ transformative personal growth and agency. She serves on many international boards and has been a visiting professor at several universities including Oxford, Pretoria and Zimbabwe. Professor Tamale is the author of numerous publications including the groundbreaking When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda (Westview Press, 1999). She is the editor of African Sexualities: A Reader (Pambazuka Press, 2011), and her latest publication is Research in Gender and Sexualities in African Contexts (CODESRIA, 2016 – co-edited with Jane Bennett). She has won several awards for defending the human rights of marginalized groups.

Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa is currently the Assistant Curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and Communication. Muchemwa was a teacher for over twelve years before she made a career change and joined the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in October 2014 as the assistant to the chief curator. She is interested in the history and memory of African storytelling, gender and sexuality in visual art, conceptual art, performance and the history of African art. For her, these areas need to be revisited for us to forge a collective identity and tell the African story from our own perspective. She is also interested in the diaspora, as well as how the global North has influenced trends here in Africa. Muchemwa has worked on the projects Basket Case II, the Mawonera/ Umbono publication, the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) and most recently on the migration exhibition Kabbo ka Muwala/The Girl’s Basket, which is currently on view in Kampala.

Angelo Kakande

Angelo Kakande is a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University and Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. He is a Fellow of the American Council for Learned Societies and Fellow of the Next Generation of African Academics II. He is an artist (ceramist and painter), art historian (with an interest in contemporary African art) and a lawyer (with an interest in human rights law).

Awuor Onyango


• Concerning Nuditude / contributors

Awuor Onyango is a Nairobi-based writer, artist, photographer, filmmaker and gallerist. Her practice is concerned with claiming public space disallowed to people considered black, woman and other, whether the space is intellectual, physical, in memory or Historical. She’s currently exploring the transgression, shame and discomfort of the black feminine.

Wairimu Muriithi

Wairimu Muriithi longs to be able to write a biography beyond the professional; she is a reader, writer, scholar and lover. She tries to spend more time inside fictional worlds than outside them, but that’s becoming increasingly hard these days so she just drifts most times. Bhajia are her sustenance.

Martha Haile

Martha Haile was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2005, she was awarded her Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design from the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design (ASFAD). While there, she participated in art/curatorial competitions, exhibitions, and workshops, such as the Experimental Video Art Collaboration with Olafur Eliasson’s Institute of RaumExperimente in 2012. In 2014 Martha enrolled in the ASFAD Fine Arts Master Program. Her artistic experimentation expanded there through projects on the representation of the female body. One in particular, Fighting to Fit, focused on mannequins and their reflections of the complex hierarchies of race, gender, sexuality, and beauty standards in Ethiopia’s urban landscape.

Thomas Michael Blaser

Thomas Michael Blaser has a Ph.D in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand, was a researcher at the African Futures Institute in Pretoria and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University. He has written on South African politics and education, as well as race, gender and youth identities in South Africa. For his post-doctoral research project, he is working on Afrikaner nationalism and identities after apartheid.

Moses Serubiri

Moses Serubiri is a writer, researcher, and curator. His essays are published in Chimurenga (South Africa), Kulturaustausch (Germany), and C& – Contemporary And (Germany). His research and curatorial projects include ‘Life mu City’ (2014) on urban language held at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala; the biennial contemporary art festival, KLA ART – UNMAPPED (2014) on urban mapping and social classification in Uganda. As research intern for C& – Contemporary And, he wrote short essays on African cultural producers on the international art scene. Serubiri is an alumni of the Asiko International Art School, and was awarded the 2015 Stadtschreiber residency at the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies.

Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi


• Concerning Nuditude / contributors

Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi is a Ghanaian-Togolese multimedia and performance artist born in 1981 in Ho, Volta Region and living in Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana. He holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts - BFA (Painting) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana. In his work, he embarks on an endless journey of investigating and questioning social constructivism of human existence. The belief in unconditional love for humanity, regardless of one’s sense of belonging or identity, pushes his art to question socio-political cultures, religious doctrines and social injustice. He uses his own body as a material, tool and statement that explores the spontaneous reactions and indecisive involvement of his audience as co-performers, investigating the limitless boundaries between art, artist and the audience. Suspense, ambiguity, energy and the fluidity or flow of the behavioural patterns of his audience are

used to achieve a collective, interactive performance in both public and traditional gallery spaces.

Susanne Anique

Sue ANIQUE is an international singer/songwriter based in Kampala, Uganda. Before going solo in 2012, ANIQUE served as lead vocalist in various notable Ugandan music outfits, including the world-renowned Watoto Children’s Choir (2003) & Qwela Music (2009-2010). She has also shared stages with prominent International musicians. She recorded a collaborative piece with Burundian world music artist Jean Paul Samputu in 2002 and performed with Austrian soul sensation Lylit at the Bayimba International Arts Festival in 2012. ANIQUE is passionately committed to absolute excellence in all she does. She is an extremely expressive performer who captivates her audiences with charged and emotive live performances.

Paula Akugizibwe

Paula Akugizibwe is a lover of literature who lives in Kigali and writes creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing has been published in spaces such as Mail&Guardian and Chimurenga, of which she was a contributing editor, and over the years she has been actively involved in creative movements around the continent. Trained in pharmacy and epidemiology, she is also a public health nerd and has authored material for medical textbooks.

Ife Piankhi

Ife Piankhi is a Ugandan poet, singer, creative facilitator and educator. She is a veteran on the spoken word circuit starting in 1992. She has collaborated with a number of artists including Geoff Wilkinson of Us3 and Sheron Wray. Touring internationally Ife has performed in Canada, Ghana, Romania, Italy, Holland, Scotland and the US. Ife appears regularly on Colourful Radio and writes for various e magazines and newsletters. Her work has been featured on the Pan-African poetry platform Badilisha Poetry Radio.

Editor Moses Serubiri Editorial Advisor Rebecca Rwakabukoza Copy Editors Kampire Bahana Martha Kazungu Richard Oduor Oduku Design and Layout Tim Katuramu

Copyright belongs to each of the authors and artists. ©2017


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