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Samra Mayanja: The Living and the Stale

  • 10 Feb – 4 Jun 2023
  • Wednesday – Sunday, 10am–5pm
  • Atrium & Galleries 1–8, First Floor Galleries, The Tetley
  • Free entry

The Living and the Stale is artist Samra Mayanja’s first major solo exhibition, exploring what it means to lose and be lost.

Mayanja presents a new body of work in the form of installations, drawings, a score and moving image work.

Mayanja’s research centres on secretary-scribe, Ham Mukasa (c.1870–1956), a central figure in brokering relations between Uganda and other nations. In 1902, Mukasa wrote Uganda’s Katikiro in England, one of the first published travel diaries written by an African person coming to Europe. The text documents the journey of Buganda’s prime ministerial figure to England to attend Edward VII’s coronation.

In turn, in 2021, Mayanja went on a lone expedition to Uganda, visiting sites significant to Mukasa’s life, and at the same time encountering the previously unknown interior world of her deceased father. During this journey, Mayanja produced her moving image work The Living and the Stale.

One key site Mayanja visited was Namugongo Cathedral, built upon a historic execution site in Buganda. Mukasa was nearly killed there in the 1886 massacre of Christians by King Mwanga II. As such, Mukasa himself was nearly lost, a recurring theme of the exhibition.

Mayanja is also interested in Mukasa’s ability to poetically frame – for himself and the reader – things he was seeing for the first time. The images he constructs in the text oscillate between rolling observations, absurd (mis)translations and compelling diaristic accounts.

The exhibition brings together the artist’s personal experiences with those of Mukasa. You are invited to enter into the galleries – treated as the inside of a dispersed film – that play out Mayanja’s autobiographical journeys as scattered, stuck and expanded narratives.

Samra Mayanja: The Living and the Stale is part of The Tetley Jerwood Commissions programme, supported by Jerwood Arts’ Development Programme Fund

With thanks to Sam Lanchin, Jess Sweet, Richard Harris, Baile Bayai, Will Rose and to Karanjit Panesar for technical design and fabrication.