Jessica Karuhanga, being who you are there is no other, 2018, 2-channel video installation, 15 minutes. Image courtesy of the artist. Onsite Gallery, OCAD U Photo: Yuula Benivolski.
Jessica Karuhanga is an Ugandan-Canadian artist who works through writing, video, drawing and performance. She has presented her work at The Bentway, Toronto (2019), Nuit Blanche, Toronto (2018), Onsite Gallery at OCAD, Toronto (2018), Museum London, London (2018), Goldsmiths, London, UK (2017) and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2016). Her writing has been published by C Magazine, Susan Hobbs Gallery and Fonderie Darling. She has been featured in iD, DAZED, Visual Aids, Border Crossings, Toronto Star, CBC Arts, filthy dreams, Globe and Mail and Canadian Art. She earned her BFA from Western University and her MFA from University of Victoria. She lives and works in Toronto, Canada.
AGO: What was the inspiration for this artwork or series?
Karuhanga: I was inspired by filmmakers from Djibril Diop Mambéty to Julie Dash. I think of being who you are there is no other (below)as a filmic poem that is meant to be both witnessed and experienced. I wanted to explore notions of the wilderness and wildness through the guidance of two Black subjects. Their movement points to an alterity in moments of grief or despair. There is a Gil Scott Heron lyric where he says, “the blues was built on the American wilderness." I wanted to stretch this out toward, what Katherine McKittrick has described as, the absented presence* of Blackness in Canada. This project is a refusal of our disappearance and asks who gets to revel w/here? In what ways can Blackness as urbanity be questioned? The subjects move in response to one another, the scene, and a third unseen body. Their spectral traces speak to those of you who choose to gaze back.
AGO: Tell us about a place or a space where you most love making your work?
Karuhanga: I most love making work in a space of collectivity or collaboration. At present it feels like the most honest space. In 2017 I made a sound-piece, titled All of Me, which featured the voices of Black women, non-binary and gender-non-conforming folk I care for immensely. I asked them to speak to loss and longing. Then I layered their voices with gospel choir samples, electronic rhythms and trap beats. When I conceived of this piece I knew I wanted it to be experienced as a listening booth. I wanted whomever chose to listen to feel the safety of that intimacy and intently listen. Generally, when I'm composing a performance score I am always thinking of friends who could activate or enact the movements and choreography for me.
AGO: Are you in dialogue with any other artists or creative peers about your practice? If so, how does this dialogue feed your work?
Karuhanga: I'm pretty quiet when things are still in the dream phase. I need to take my time and let things germinate. I have been reading lots of poetry and I'm sure thats feeding something that is yet to be birthed. As for dialogue - my friends, family and I mostly talk about living and the necessary conditions to thrive. I feel fed by the practices, wisdom and work of Esmaa Mohamoud, Kim Ninkuru, Maandeeq Mohamed, Sarah-Tai Black, Sydanie, Lido Pimienta, Nehal El-Hadi and others.
* Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Follow Jessica @iamkichoncho