We Are Not
a conversation with my 30-year-old friends
The infinite trap of being a good feminist:
The more we speak, the less we are defended by our allies; the more we stand up for ourselves, the less we are protected; the less silent we get, the more people want to be disassociated with us. WOMAN rotates around this eternal circle where she's supposed to be delicate, insecure, and "nice" so that society — our friends, family and lovers — can find us worthy to protect and stand up for. If we break out of this circle and choose to speak for ourselves, then we are MAN, and nobody can say what might happen to us. So as we move toward an evolved future, we force ourselves to emulate our mothers and grandmothers and the women before us who were praised and glorified, especially for their ability to withstand oppression. We care to be liked, to be seen, to be validated. Somehow that pitied, helpless woman is the world's forever attraction. Somebody wants to come to our rescue. But if that is to always be the case, that means we have to keep ourselves under yoke and aspire to be the long-suffering woman society loves and that allies are happy to be associated with. We are supposed to appear to live in fear, so that a man can protect us; to appear insecure, so that our friends can reassure us; to act vulnerable, so that society can pity us; all the while being strong and self sufficient, and not actually needing anyone because the world doesn't have that time to indulge us in self recovery. And we can't be too confident about it. We are trapped in our own struggles for approval and desire to self determine, and are forever returning to the beginning, to infinity.
Is that why, even with the rich naming cultures of this country Uganda, we have still managed to cling to patriarchal systems of names that bind us to men that are supposed to protect us? When women begin to call themselves Matembe, Byanyima, Kigozi, Kazibwe, Musisi, etc, what will happen to our feminine names like Namulondo, Kyomuhendo, Adong, Nankabirwa, Letaru, Logiel, etc?
In our effort to be relevant to all manner of feminists around the world, why haven't we taught them that Uganda is more progressive than European and other western countries in areas like naming? While western feminists have to yoke themselves to their husbands or fathers or mothers by name, we have the indigenous gift of an opportunity to self determine from birth, because a Ugandan child, male or female, is given their own name. And in most cultures a name can tell whether one is female or male. Either it begins with an A instead of an O or with N, etc. Why are we wiping out one form of feminism that our culture actually handed down to us where we could experience equality while being different? Our names lately sound Masculine. Is that by choice or because we are buying into the idea of "family names" and the patriarchal concept that our genealogy can only be traced through male roots? If so, do we then agree that Nsibambi's daughter cannot inherit his bloodline? Is Male blood thicker, even to us feminists? Do we want to give our children the burden of fighting for such privileges as getting their own independent name when our grandmothers already didn't have to fight for this? Is this our way of plunging ourselves into the eternal paradox of life where we give up one freedom for another? What are we gaining from this sacrifice? When will we focus on decolonised feminisms?
If we cannot defend and speak about already existing freedoms we are giving up publicly, how do we expect to speak about personal, intimate forms of freedoms and desires? That's why I chose to make this art from a personal and intimate point of view. I interviewed only women I knew, and took pictures of them that I'm using to contrast our experiences with those of our foremothers from whom we inherited our oppressions and liberations in equal measure. My friends and I are thirty and single and content, because according to Ugandan trends at the moment, we are not marriage material. We have to make ourselves less to be attractive to a man who does not wish to marry a "fellow man” and we are trapped in our own need for independence and yet we long for and desire companionship. Do we have to give up some of our freedoms to find that?
The Collage explores that infinite struggle to fit in, the endless journey where woman enters through one door at the edge of progress and comes out through another door at the bottom of conservative and patriarchal systems. She attempts to reenter the door of progress, and comes back out at the conservative end, and this goes on and on and on. Our struggles currently seem to be about the same things women in the 60s and 80s fought for, and in some cases we are fighting for things our foremothers already achieved. Rather than fight for newer freedoms, we are losing the ones our ancestors got us. We are reinventing new ways of fighting for the same thing, and as a result, we are fighting for the same thing.
Meanwhile, new problems are coming up. New forms of oppression. Women are dying over some of the most ignorant and senseless reasons. The new world has come with new challenges for us, but has it brought us any new solutions? We definitely speak out more, but are we speaking out about things that matter to us or about things that are more acceptable? Are we using our abilities to speak to mask the insecurities that we are still so afraid to speak about? Recently I shared my experience being harassed at the Ugandan border for having a sex toy, and someone reminded me that we were on Facebook, and I couldn’t talk about that. But what’s more interesting to me is that our society is not prepared to give women pleasure or to admit that women can find more outside what a man or a traditional heterosexual relationship can offer. What exactly are we running away from? I share more about this in the audio piece and explore some of these questions in a conversation with the 30-year-old women in my life.
Contact me to arrange an exhibition of this project!
Listen to audio from the collage here
Collaborative art holds power to affect social change, and this is exactly what happened when Nitumwesiga teamed up with actors, community organizers, and activists from Uganda and Kenya. Trade unionists employed by abusive Dutch flower farms requested that Dutch diplomats receive a "taste of their own medicine." Activists and actors performed a direct action by bombarding a diplomat's home with the same harmful chemicals sprayed on workers who lack adequate protective gear when working in greenhouses where flowers are grown for European consumption. Following the campaign, some farms replaced toxic chemicals with less harmful pesticides. The script and improvisational stunt were developed and directed by Nitumwesiga, who also lobbied strongly against foreign business, labor exploitation, and environmental destruction in the floriculture industry.