Poetry might be the most difficult art medium there is out there. It is something I intentionally avoid. When reading a poem, so many thoughts run through my head: the urge to make something tangible out of it, to understand it, to get the meaning and the intention of the writer. Thinking so much about the meaning of the words, I fail to read them entirely.
However, this time, it was different. At an exhibition in Kampala called The Woman: Art Exhibition, I came across a table were cute little booklets were neatly placed next to each other. Before I could think: oh it’s poetry, I don’t read that because it makes me feel dumb, I thought, well this looks nice. It was a collection of 12 poetry “zines” part of a collection called SOLD OUT the artist told me. Ugandan Gloria Kiconco has been a poet for 10 years and has created an accessible way to present poetry. She puts the poems and drawings on one page and then cuts and folds it into a booklet of 8 pages including a front and back cover. It truly makes it a more intimate experience. You can really crawl into the flow of the words in your own little world.
I asked her how one can become a poet. She said that on the one hand, it can be something that urges from inside. However, one can also learn. Not in the old fashion way though, but by reading, listing, and writing. For her, poetry is about was she is feeling, issues that she wants to discover and understand. It’s like an eternal dialogue.To me, a significant insight was the difference between personal expressive poetry or personal expressive visual art is that it can’t be a mindless expression of your feelings. You can’t just throw paint on a canvas, or thoughtlessly let your hands mold clay. One has actively make sense of stuff and put it into words. She observes and uses poetry to make sense out of it.
When I asked her whether she thinks if her work has a social impact, she replies that she thinks that artists initially start for themselves and when one finds out it has an impact on others, it becomes more political. One has to think about what you’re putting out there when one knows it affects people. Plus, political and social art is currently hot and sells better.
I asked her what enabled this trend. She thinks it is something that happens every once in a while. Mostly as a reaction to a polarization within society. In Uganda, she explains, there is a polarization happening between the rural and metropolitan areas. Within the rural area, people are struggling to satisfy basic needs. Because they rely more on the government, they tend to be more conservative. While in the city, people are more exposed to other ideas and ways of life and this might enforce a more progressive attitude.
So how can art bring these people closer together? I wondered how social impact would look like on a practical level. What kind of specific workings would enable social change? She says that she is pretty skeptical about potential social change because when one puts controversial work, which could be feminism or queer identity, one is very likely to preach to their own choir. How often does it reach the streets? One can create social change by setting a good example and put it out there.
According to Kiconco, public art is effective because it makes it almost impossible to not talk about it. I think the difficulty is getting it to the people who are on the other side of the spectrum in terms of perspective without repelling them. Does one have to tiptoe around it without upsetting people? And how does one get the message across? Kiconco believes that controversy could be more effective because it can spark conversation between audience members, and this debate can change people’s opinions. And of course, the internet and making it accessible. This is when the format of these little zines comes into play. It was a way to bring the craft to the people because she couldn’t depend on the old medium all the time. One has to be playful. And it works, because this playfulness has made m turn a new leaf.