Inspiring change through arts. As we commemorate the International Women’s day, Edgar R Batte reflects on the role women have played in the arts, by telling the stories of some of the women who have made a name for themselves in the industry.
MARIAM NDAGIRE, PERFORMING ARTISTE
The is a Ugandan film maker and entertainment entrepreneur. Ndagire joined the film industry in 2006 and within a year, she had her first film out- Down This Road I Walk.
Prior to joining film, Ndagire dreamt of making great screen content and since she had studied drama at Makerere University, an education sojourn that shaped her already existing skills in film, her dream was easily turned into reality.
To her name are films she has written, acted in, produced or directed. These include: Down This Road I Walk (2007), Strength Of A stranger (2008), Hearts In Pieces (2009), Tendo Sisters, a television series of three seasons (2010), Where We Belong (2011), Dear Mum (2012), Anything But Love, a series (2013), Belated Trouble (2013), You Can’t Break My Will, a short film she is working on for NGO Raising Voices.
Ndagire’s films usually centre on family dramas and the basic message is about women emancipation and their rights.
This filmmaker’s journey has not been all smooth but importantly, she has used all the ups and downs to learn more in this field. “The challenges are many but I am a strong woman and a go-getter. That is what has kept me going. I believed that it was possible and indeed it has been possible.”
She is the director of Trendz Studios and recently began The Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre, where she offers skills to young filmmakers.
Her message this Women’s Day is for women and men to take responsibility for their lives and be true to their dreams by deciding what they want to be and working towards that.
“Happy Women’s Day,” she concludes.
STELLA ATAL, FASHION DESIGNER
Stella Atal is a professional artist and fashion designer. She says designing is a talent which she realised at a tender age when she started falling in love with cutting and stitching little dresses for herself and children in the neighbourhood.
“Fashion is a talent, but I am also passionate about it so I would always do it with or without money,” she says.
As an artist, she makes artwork that is wearable. Her work has a unique artistic touch that sets her apart from the rest. Atal equates her journey as a fashion designer and entrepreneur to climbing Mountain Kilimanjaro.
“I feel I am half way and still have more energy to get to the top soon. I have achieved a lot so far and with my new projects kicking off, I feel so proud of myself,” she explains.
She started the Atal Fashion Academy this year.
Her advice to women is that they should embrace the challenges of their careers but also respect their home responsibilities as mothers and wives.
BEVERLEY NAMBOZO NSENGIYUNVA, POET
To describe her work, you will need to appreciate that she represents quite a handful of artistic genres. Beverley Nambozo is an activist, poet and writer, but she is more known for her creative entrepreneurial work.
Nambozo does not remember when or where it all started. It should have been at home where her father and mother encouraged her to read at a very tender age. The teachers did the same at school and there, her desire began to develop. She thought she could grow into a performer.
Nambozo is that artist that believes in art for social change. She yearns for that art that transcends boundaries, shatters dogmas and releases readers from patriarchy.
In 2010, she emerged first runner-up in the annual International Erbacce Press Poetry Award, the same organisers also published her first poetry collection, Unjumping.
Her work covers various subjects. “I also write about the many expeditions of eroticism, which have hardly been explored between married couples either because they did not get sufficient marriage counselling before wedding or because they have been raised to believe that sex is dirty, which unfortunately infringes on its full gratification in marriages,” she says. She adds: “Currently, I am working on my collection of poetry entitled Sebo Gwe Wange, which explores the destructive elements in fanaticism on many vulnerable believers who have been led to share their resources and their hearts with an uncaring system,” the artist discloses.
To fellow women her message is of encouragement.
“Let your voice be heard. Allow yourself to scream if you must with your mouth open, not shut.”
DOREEN BAINGANA, WRITER
She is a short story writer and in her works, she says she is not out to carry specific messages.
“I see myself exploring issues that interest people. I have explored girlhood, womanhood and the transition of girls into women, and the untold stories of our everyday life,” Baingana explains about her work.
Her book, Tropical Fish, won her the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize as the ‘Best First Book’. While at University, she was an active member of the Uganda Women Writers Association (Femrite) where she horned her skills as a professional writer.
“I have just received a scholarship to write a book. I am now focusing on writing that book. Otherwise, I have been publishing short-stories online since Tropical Fish came out,” Baingana explains.
Her message to women is simple: “Right now I am all about self-love. I would tell women to learn to love themselves and to discover who they are. My life has been a journey of self-discovery and I would wish that for every woman.”
SUSAN KERUNEN, MUSICIAN
In the music fold in Uganda, Kerunen stands out. To this she adds her ambassadorial work as National Tourism Goodwill Ambassador, founder and Executive Director of Know Your Culture Foundation.
For Kerunen, music is an inborn passion. “It is where my heart lies after all the hustle of life is done. I also get inspired by what surrounds me like life, people, society and God,” she says.
Her music is a blend of authentic African sounds and western influences. Kerunen’s music has an Alur bias, since its where her roots are.
To her name are three Albums; Nimefika (2006), Lek (2008) and Acher Achera (2011). She is currently in studio, working on her fourth album due for release in August.
“I sing about real life issues. I also love to address society causes like health, gender issues, culture and other inspirational topics,” she says.
“The start is normally rocky. You never know what comes next. It is kind of a washing machine sensation. However, after a year or two, it all starts to settle, then reality sets in when you have to start planning, create a real lasting brand, develop your product, demonstrate growth, remain relevant to your audience, balance with your private life and above all, make money,” she elaborates.
Her message to women this Women’s Day is for them to believe in themselves and make their contribution.
“You do not have to be a man to be noticed. Add value in all that you set yourself to do and lastly, do not forget to always get up on your feet, straighten your clothes, comb your hair and step out as a lady,” she advises.
REHEMA NANFUKA, ACTRESS
She is an actress, a writer, producer and director. Nanfuka joined film in 2008 after she auditioned for a short film during the Maisha film lab. Maisha is an organisation that teaches upcoming filmmakers in Uganda.
Watching films inspired her a lot.
“Whenever I watched bad films, I said I could do better. Whenever I watched good films, I said I want to do something like that,” she explains about her inspiration to start doing film.
She has acted in 13 films and five theatre plays. The films include Down Cast (2008), Imani (2009), The Pardon (2009), Estranged (2009), Kakibe Ki (2011), Dolls (2012), The Pardon (Imbabazi) (2012), Haunted Souls (2013), The Road We Travel (2013), Nico The Donkey (2013), Wombs (2013), A Strange Kind Of Love (2014) and Life Is But A Moment (2014).
In theatre, she has starred in productions like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The God of Carnage, which is forthcoming, Jean Sartre’s No Exit, The River and The Mountain (2012), The Cow Needs A Wife, for the BBC in 2010.
Nanfuka says her journey has been as bumpy as the roads in Kampala, with potholes that threatened to sink her. “I have met obstacles. These are just like the speed bumps that force you to slow down.”
Her message this Women’s Day is that women should not apologise over being women. “Embrace the curves, the emotions, the hormones, that make you woman. And never say never, that you cannot do something just because you are a woman.
ELIZABETH PAMELA ACAYE, CREATIVE ARTISTE
She is a creative artist, whose body of work includes writing, stage performances, designing and composing. Acaye is fired up by the diversity of society and womanhood. Acaye’s passion for the arts began when she was a child. Watching her mother “transform vegetables and ingredients into amazing edible art pieces” mesmerised her.
“My mother constantly hand-stitched our clothes and the portraits she made to sell and raise us,” she explains about her initial inspiration as an artist.
She is the author of Dawn The Pearl, and a collection of poetry.
The artist also worked on ‘The Girl Friendly Campaign’ with the Ministry of Education and Sports in 2005 through the Basic Education and Policy Support Project.
“Mostly, I try to ignite dialogue with the various layers of our socio-culture. And to promote diverse images of women, we need more role models as women. A new image and experience for us to self-actualise,” she says of her works.
The role of Femrite in developing creative writing
Femrite has since 1996 opened doors for Uganda female creative writers. The organisation has published 31 books by Uganda women writers. It has organised five regional women writers residences for African women.
Stories written from the residences have been published in anthologies. Currently, Femrite has about 100 members, and some of the members have started other literary organisations; Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva started Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, which runs the BN Poetry Award.
Femrite has nurtured women writers who have gone on to win national and international literary prizes. Some of these include Monica Arac de Nyeko who won the Caine Prize in 2007; Glaydah Namukasa, who won the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa, Senior Category in 2005, Jackee Budesta Batanda, who won the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, Africa Region in 2003, Goretti Kyomuhendo’s novel; Secrets No More, Susan Kiguli’s poetry collection, The African Saga, Mary Karoro Okurut’s novel, The Official Wife and Mildred Barya’s poetry collection, Men Love Chocolates But They Don’t Say, won the National Book Trust of Uganda Literary Award.
“Women should use the pen to tell those stories that they may never tell. There are a lot of stories women can tell with their pens. Written words are not limited by space and time; they travel and they can change lives wherever they go and make an impact,” says Hilda Twongyeirwe, Femrite Coordinator.