Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa: Promised Lands
- David Pollock
- 28 October 2019
Artist and researcher's film examines differing world views in the wake of colonialism in East Africa
There are multiple rich and wide-reaching ideas about colonialism, and how Western eyes perceive, romanticise and adapt the narrative of other lands, in this 18-minute film by Glasgow-born artist and researcher Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa. Although the meditative simplicity of the single, locked-off shot she displays, and the voices and text she uses within, mean this is one of those artworks whose meaning can't be fully ascertained simply through experiencing it. In the accompanying material is where meat is placed upon the bones of her expansive ideas.
We see one single image in the frame, a dusky horizon in which far-off hills and clouds are glimpsed through rustling, silhouetted trees. The sound of wildlife and muted birdsong can be heard in the background, while the on-screen text prompts us to consider the meaning of the word 'fiction'; not just an untruth, but something which is known to be untrue but accepted for the sake of expediency. What Wolukau-Wanambwa is showing us is intentionally unclear. The artist states within the piece that it isn't the wild jungle of the Buganda region of Uganda, on the shores of Lake Victoria – the region which the film is about – but rather the human-cultivated set of the 20th century cowboy show Bonanza.
Which view is fake and which is real? The association with Bonanza establishes for the viewer a connection with the way such fiction appropriated the colonial mission of American discovery as a great adventure on behalf of Europe; similarly, Wolukau-Wanambwa's voiceover reading of 19th century Austro-Hungarian economist Theodor Hertzka's flowery description of the East African scenery – overlaid with text denying the truth of his interpretation – exposes the fictional narrative which colonisers (In Hertzka's case with 'Freeland', his attempted utopia or 'promised land') laid upon the land they took.
Finally we hear the artist's uncle Patrick, talking casually to her in the background about that which lies within her shot; appearing – to this viewer, at least – to emphasise that the only truth about an area of land which might be viable lies within the memory and experience of those who live within it.
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa: Promised Lands, Collective, Edinburgh, until Sun 24 Nov.