Ethiopian artist inspired by Ugandan politics

Saturday March 12 2016

Eyob Kitaba shows the Chess his art piece

Eyob Kitaba shows the Chess his art piece inspired by February 2016 elections. Courtesy photo  

By Douglas D. Sebamala

A high black and white structure, the size of a dressing mirror stands at one of the studios at 32˚ East in Kansanga, a Kampala suburb. It is the work of Eyob Kitaba, a multi-media artist from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In February, he travelled for a six week’s Art Residence at 32˚ East/Uganda Art Trust only to be caught up in Kampala’s hubbub amid political rallies for the general elections.
Previously, the 36-year-old worked on a series of works inspired by construction expansions in Addis Ababa where several locations are fenced with yellow and green which are the Ethiopia government colour codes for development.
He had an exhibition last month to a host of art fanatics in Kansanga.

His piece, “Chess” is an installation bearing his experience in Kampala and mingling with her very friendly and hospitable people. It is a 2,000cm by 94com tall wood embroidery with six chambers and a colligated iron sheets back with a mirror and broken chair at the bottom two chambers.
The black and white colour codes are representative of a chess board.

Four faces on the right upper most shelf of “Chess” seem to be fading out behind white paint. This Kitaba says was inspired by the election fete where the environment was full of posters reading londa (vote). “Supporters would have put a poster on me too if I stood at the roadside for too long,” Kitaba said, humorously. It reflects the competition, but as time after the elections has passed, these posters cease to exist.

He explained this with noise coming out of the speakers from a small sound system. It is noise he recorded during the political rallies. He moved around with a recorder to capture sounds of boda bodas screeching past, voters rallying behind their candidates and women shouting their demands of the new leaders. Like the fading faces, this noise has also gradually faded.
Bodas inspired the boda boda helmet in the upper left chamber. It is just below the top fragment of the hair drier - whose bottom is improvised with a plastic bucket and the helmet sits in there like a woman’s head.

“The helmet in the hair drier is like a balance between masculinity and femininity,” Kitaba explains. He had been trying to figure out what kind of project he wanted to create until he walked into a salon and found eight people plaiting one woman’s hair while she was on her phone and at the same time a man giving her nails a manicure.
“I was amazed. That doesn’t happen in Ethiopia. It’s really crazy like an unusual performance,” he says.
Although Kitaba can interpret his work, he says he leaves his work’s audience to make their own interpretations.