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Sculptural Installation of Nakayima at Makerere Art Gallery

Updated: Jun 28


Pre-colonial Buganda's Nakayima tale, about a royal princess who vanished behind a tree, has long piqued the interest of scholars and artists from all over the world.

Based on traditional mythology in Buganda culture, cultural studies have found that the princess had mystical powers that allowed for her ability to give life. Consequently, the title "The Giver of Life" or "the goddess of fertility" is given to Nakayima in Buganda. People from all over Uganda come to her shrine, a huge tree perched atop a hill in Mubende district, for spiritual blessings and healing. Cultural and artistic heritage are of interest to both visual artists and academics when studying the tale in an academic context. In spite of its long history, the folktale represents a vibrant indigenous culture with distinct customs and beliefs that persist to this day. To see such a diverse array of spiritual activities taking place at the shrine justifies the diverse exploration and examination processes undertaken by artists from a variety of different backgrounds.


Sculptural installations by third-year fine art students from Makerere University School of Fine Art were on display at the exhibition. Bark-cloth, beads, baskets, and gourds were used in the artworks on display to recreate the Nakayima folktale's main characters and plot points. This exemplified both the story's traditional elements and its esoteric nature ( Nakayima). As a traditional clothing item, barkcloth has taken on new significance in the postmodern era as a symbol of cultural preservation. Nutrition was represented by the arrangement of gourds in a variety of shapes. However, it is widely accepted that the goddess Nakayima eats and drinks to keep her vitality. Because of this, she is fed primarily milk in milk gourds (Ebyanzi). Gourds of various sizes found in her abode represent other deities, such as Mukasa, Bamweyana, and Lubowa who are thought to share similar mystical attributes and are her allies.


The relationship between the "guardian saints" and the spiritual goddess was clearly demonstrated in a mid-sized installation that occupied the center of the gallery space.


Gourds bearing the names of deities were placed at the base of the installation and surrounded it in a circle. This was a metaphor for the belief that the other gods and the goddess Nakayima share a spiritual bond. It also suggested a hierarchical structure among the shrine's gods. As Nakayima's home, other gods follow in her footsteps, but they are equally important in providing spiritual support. The installation, on the other hand, was constructed with bark-cloth wrapped around the three metal legs that supported the shields from the top and two aluminium shields at the top. The shield is a symbol of the goddess's love and protection for her children.


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