Margaret Trowell (1904–1985) founded one of the first schools of ›fine art‹ for Africans in the Uganda Protectorate in the 1930s. This essay argues that both Trowell’s arguments for introducing fine art into the ›indigenous‹ curriculum and accounts of her teaching methodology reveal that, despite her extensive and sophisticated knowledge of the material cultures of East Africa, and despite her emancipatory intentions, the vision that underpinned her approach to art education was one aiming at the extension of colonial governmentality into the aesthetic realm.
The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.1
When Margaret Trowell began campaigning for the formal teaching of arts and crafts to British colonial subjects in the Uganda Protectorate in the 1930s, she was partly motivated by her concern for the apparent decline of the region’s ‘native’ cultures. Unless something was done, she warned,
“one whole side of the life of the African people will, at best, be submerged under western materialism for several generations, at the most it may even go altogether.”2
Trowell had reasonable grounds for making such a prediction: in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christian missionaries had set out to undermine and to dismantle the indigenous cultures of East Africa so as to demolish the ‘pagan’ belief systems within which they were embedded. Producing Christian converts entailed, as they saw it, the obliteration of “native claims to culture”,3 and thus swathes of indigenous cultural production and practice were destroyed, confiscated and outlawed.
Until the 1930s, in the handful of schools in the Uganda Protectorate that offered a western-style education to the children of the indigenous elite, arts and crafts occupied the most inferior position in the hierarchy of subjects. To a certain extent, the parents were responsible: they sent their children to school “to learn the skill of the European”:4 they saw no sense in schools offering subjects that could just as easily be taught at home. Trowell also observed that handwork was something the students themselves seemed to feel was beneath them: “During those early years”, she later recalled, “any attempt to arouse interest in the indigenous crafts was met with a deep suspicion as an attempt to keep [the African students] down to a lowly level”.5 This was a reflection of local class politics – as Trowell herself explained, “[i]n Uganda there is a definite native aristocracy, and crafts are considered to be the work of the peasants”;6 but it was also perhaps an indication of the perceived superiority of a European ‘academic’ curriculum.
It should be noted that the colonisers’ wholesale reorientation of local economies, in particular the creation of a peasant class and an urban...
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Wissenschaftsnahe Arbeitsweisen von Künstlerinnen und Künstlern – oft als »künstlerische Forschung« bezeichnet – werfen Fragen der Produktion, des Teilens, des Dekonstruierens und der Wiederaneignung von Wissen auf. Verhältnisse von Objektivität und Subjektivität sind dabei stets untergründiges oder auch explizit angesprochenes Thema: Während von »den Wissenschaften« oft noch eine »objektive« Herangehensweise erwartet wird, reklamieren die Künste die Freiheit und das Recht auf »Subjektivität«. Es ist aber genau der schmale Grat zwischen diesen beiden Extremen, auf dem Definitionen künstlerischer und wissenschaftlicher Praktiken ausgehandelt werden. Der Band versammelt Positionen von Expertinnen und Experten aus Wissenschaften und Künsten sowie von Künstlerinnen und Künstlern zu diesem Thema.