Rodney Kiggundu on Art and Empowerment

Ahead of the second YELP seminar in August, we tasked our Class of 2019 Fellows to reflect on the kind of change they would want to bring to their sector/industry through a performance speech.

Ahead of the second YELP seminar in August, we tasked our Class of 2019 Fellows to reflect on the kind of change they would want to bring to their sector/industry through a performance speech. The speeches would borrow from the four principles that underpin the YELP Fellowship: empathy, clarity, knowledge and volunteerism. Below we have reproduced some of the speeches.


Distinguished Guests

All Protocol Observed

Good afternoon

Art has evolved overtime from the times of the Da Vinci’s, who did  their art in isolation to the times of Banksy, an English based graffiti writer whose art since the 90’s has been  painted almost everywhere has created a lot of controversies all over the world. In Uganda, Artists were regarded as close to the royals as their craft  was prestigious to the indigenous culture. With the coming of Christianity, artists transcended to the back as their artifacts and beliefs were regarded evil . Currently, this has grown into little priority towards the arts from top to bottom. Thankfully overtime Artists are coming out to express themselves so that there voice is heard. This is because art in itself has power.

I like to call myself an artivist because my journey with art has not been any different. Raised by a single mother from the age of 9, I have always drawn inspiration from her hard work. Without a father figure, drawing on book covers and anything I found was always my go to. The struggle was to find something fun to do in addition to my mother’s mentorship in other aspects like leadership, compassion and selflessness. Fast forward,  I now empower lives through art. With art, it’s is a series of self doubt, anger, disagreements, depression, set backs just to be understood. Reflecting on my current work, starting Streetlights Uganda with my fellow artists in 2014  to empower street children in Kampala remains one of the things I Cherish a lot. A journey  still  revealing a lot of possibilities of not just what art can do but what I can do with it, the power it has influencing society and the benefits it brings to them.

Empowering Street children is never easy. Its like crossing the road with closed eyes. But with art, through Initiatives like the Unseen Me Exhibition, a platform for these children to express their talents, Street Monster Comic book highlighting the plight of street children in Uganda and how they can be helped, Mwalimu mentorship Program linking Visual artists as mentors to  Street  children as mentees,  the Ntunga project empowering young mothers in slums within Kampala and girls who have been affected by Street situations with tailoring skills, I am constantly reminded that the road can be clear and  Africa’s future is up to something great. From sharing voices of hope, to creating platforms for expression,  I am able to tell my own African story my way. And a voice of not just a street child, but also a school going child through Reminac Comics and  Refugee youth through Young Disaster Resilience Leadership (yDRL) somewhere in Africa can be heard and celebrated.  These are all avenues were art has manifested it’s power to me.

The biggest percentage of parents in Uganda today regard art as a risky venture. I have fallen victim of that just as most Ugandan artists have. But with the evolving times,  the narrative has changed and we are creating avenues for art and creativity to flourish so that art reclaims the pedestal where artists are regarded important to society. Thankfully  with support from initiatives like LeO Africa Institute under YELP,  this power of art can be manifested by contributing to the Africa I want one step at a time through my work at Streetlights Uganda and other initiatives..  As a visual artist, I will continue creating opportunities to engage the young people I work with in creative thinking, expression and self discovery through art and that’s how I intend to bring dignity to our world.

Thank You.

Rodney Kiggundu, YELP Class of 2019.

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