Hornsleth: Danish Artist and Ugandan Village
Monday, November 5, 2007.
I have just stumbled into Mr. Kristian von Hornsleth, intrepid Danish artist known for audacious works such as the Fuck Me Daddy Bikini and his generally dark view of the art world and art lovers (see his poem, ‘FUCK YOU ART LOVERS.).
Now his war against global capitalism and consumerism (take a look at his Fuck You Art Lovers dildo) has moved to Buteyongera in Mukono district, a small village north of Kampala, Uganda.
The project was to give 108 villagers pigs and other farm animals if they agreed to legally add Hornsleth to their name. Each of the villagers has now been issued a national Uganda ID card showing their new Hornsleth name and their photos holding this ID are to be works of art exhibited around the world.
In five years, the plan is to paid five thousand villagers to become Hornsleths. (Read more here) A Ugandan colleague tells me that newspapers in Uganda and government officials have lambasted the show - calling it a neo-colonial plot - while the new Hornsleths, in possession of their newfound animal wealth, have been largely supportive.
All I can do is laugh. This is the funniest art project that I have come across since I tried making one in my high school art class and failed miserably. Kristian von Hornsleth cannot be satirised, he is already satire. I actually think that this project is doing exactly what art is meant to do, which is to provoke.
Kristian’s intention ‘to show in his work the dirty way of global capitalism and confront it with the humane and ethic thinking of his art.’ The work’s ‘political meaning’ as his website puts it is to highlight the depredations and manipulations that Africa suffers at the hands of global capital.
But its real thorn, the real controversy is in the willingness of the villagers to change their names and the reactions by their leaders. As the website expresses it, the new Hornsleths are so removed from the world of (Danish/international?) art that their profiting by taking on the name of a ‘worldwide famous artist’ is so ‘abstract for them that they neglect the implications.’
Predictably from the rafters of the Ugandan politician came the howl of condemnation, the singed racial pride, the invocation of anti-imperialism. From the villagers will be silence and emails like this one quoted enthusiastically on Hornsleth.com
you havedone a wonderfull job in Mukono district and am from wakiso district from a vertain village called Nkowe. But can you please do some helping in my village so that we can be rescured out of poverty that my people are facing now. I am a student of Makerere University doing a Bachelors Degree in development studies.
The email says it all assuming that it is a real email actually sent by this Roger whose representations are truthful.
The development student at prominent Uganda university, as hopelessly addicted to donor monies as so much of Uganda seems to be - ready to prostrate himself in whatever fashion in return for ‘development’ which is the result of an externally driven, handout based process.
The ‘fight against poverty’ such a constant refrain, the poverty itself so biting and unrelieved by hope from any other direction other than government and donor.
While Roger thus pleads, his State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Dr James Nsaba Buturo, comes from the other end of the spectrum with a dose of national pride. Or at least that is what he believes it to be:
“The government cannot allow such a project to continue. This man owns a cult and he is a homosexual. His agenda is not good for the country. He uses obscene language and has no respect and kind words for God. As soon as he arrives in the country, police will catch up with him to investigate his activities,” he says.
This happens just a few days before he is cited by the press for misappropriating government funds. Yes, that’s right, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity accused of stealing government funds. Makes you wonder what documents are on his desk: in the in-tray lies and theft while the out-tray carries truth and virtue?
The comedy, because you have to laugh not to cry, becomes even more hysterical when you consider that this same minister who would have the project closed down serves a government that receives over fifty percent of its budget from Western countries like Denmark, where Kristian von Hornsleth hails from.
So the circus wheel turns. Hornsleth who thinks he is exposing global capital is instead revealing a lot more than that, more than the ‘ignorance’ of the villagers to the art world.
He is actually drawing the lid on the painful contradictions on Ugandan and African nationhood; the absurdities buried in our ideas of citizenship and development and leadership.
More could be said on this subject and in fact it will, but first I must consider yet another of Kristian von Hornsleth’s worthy projects, namely Futilism. As in the Futilistic Society which is based on the manifesto that this philosopher, artist and architect has written.
Hornsleth has declared war on ‘boredom, routine, institutions and traditions’ and this is a struggle that will be waged so that its result, hopefully when you, the bored reader, have taken in the ‘blinding clarity and a hazy overload’ of his words, will be to reach into chaos and darkness and away from what is meaningless and futile.
Isn’t it all quite wonderful?
Main picture: Pupils from Manchester Grammar School on a visit to an Ugandan School. (Picture by: Manchester Grammar School, England.)
MMK is a London-based academic and writer.
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