If there is one artist on the Kampala art scene who might perplex you, it’s Canon Griffin. The first time I met him, I instantly made a connection between his work and Salvador Dali’s. To me, there is no better honesty and purity in an artist’s practice than when their persona is in holy matrimony with their creativity. Griffin uses photography, montage and drawing, making connections with 1940s surrealism, which he explores, through his signature juxtaposition, automation and the nonsensical. He digs deep into his subconscious to present us with witty and invigorating art. Having recently showcased a selection of his pieces at South Africa’s inaugural Stellenbosch Triennale as well as previously being at a number of other noteworthy platforms, he didn’t want me to conduct the interview at his studio (he has never let me go there), so we did it with the technology.
Did you always think you’d be an artist?
No. Like every infant human, I was fascinated with general (re)creation, drawing, carving, scale models, histrionics, and as expected of an infant, being interested in what’s happening in the closest affective moment. Later on, in my early teens, I started to actively seek my own Holy Grail … and ta da! Here we are.
How would you describe your work, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
My work is what it is. I hope that it’s a contribution to the conduct of our existence and our society, starting with individual intrigue. Everything starts with you anyway, so it’s about what you get from it. Otherwise the dialogue could break down to simple exchange. Would you like to hear that I want to re-police the world with it?
Your work is usually composed of nudity, a no-go area in Ugandan society, which is very conservative. What kind of responses do you usually get?
The works that include nudity are not aimed at the Ugandan Society. They are like one per cent or less of my practice. So, this is an idée fixe of yours Sire. I make it clear that they are for a niche who are interested more in meaning than appearance. This of course includes certain Ugandan scholars and other private individuals, but I hope you get it and get over it that I am not interested in challenging the laws and cultural norms of my country. The application of nudity is a trivial trope used to signify severity, intimacy with the self, and to break visual complacency, which laughably it can’t, especially in the uncensored visually saturated worlds such as academia. Images from ethnography, medical education, war, and surveillance are seen all the time, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about my use of the nude human. Besides, why should nudity be prohibited? As you can see, that’s a global debate on morality, rationality, and tradition striking deep into the core idiosyncrasies of contemporary civil society. The works, which include nudity are not on any mass media. I wouldn’t authorize it as doing so would be a violation of inter-human contractual provisions such as privacy and freedom within private bounds. It’s in private installations where you have the choice to seek it or not. So, viewer choice and discretion.
Your work is witty and playful, for example, the collection, Posers at Afriart gallery in 2018. Do you ever get worried that people will question your sobriety when looking at your work?
That’s the price I have to pay. Besides, who’s sober? We are all in “life-trance… We are all born into the fight, so I would like you to ask yourself, “Who are these PEOPLE?” The first one is you, next is me, then him, her, them … they all are able, if given chance, to discern what’s meant to harm them or what is only part of today’s anthropology where the individual is again saliently empowered.
You seem to have enjoyed Stellenbosch, how was the Triennale?
It was amazing. A step forward. It’s on ’til April so you still have time to process a visa and go over there! Things will get more awesome. Keep believing. Kun Faya Kun.
Do you think art is necessary and that we as artists in Uganda deserve to be treated the same way a doctor is here? Would you support your child being an artist?
I don’t have a child, yet. And I hope in the event that I make one, that they will damn well be what they want to be and can be. Contemporary Society runs a lot on division of labour or more broadly, specialization. So, Doctor (Veterinary and other specialties in there), Boda Boda Operator and others in the Transport Industry, Artist, Nurse, Farmer, Lawyer, Mechanic, Teacher, Soldier, Trader, Diviner (Pastors and Witchdoctors plus the more formal Clerics), Housewives and nowadays House Husbands too … everyone is necessary.
All images courtesy of Canon Griffin