Afrika Arts Kollective (AAK) promotes social change through art in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. They train people from the slums to make products out of recycled glass and connect them with students and artists in the city centre. Founder Gisa Brian and his team are starting a movement by tackling the waste problem with marginalised groups, artists and students.
The art gap
In Kampala, the city and the slums are divided literally and figuratively. They are separated by a road, and residents of one area hardly ever go to the other.
Gisa wants to bridge the gap between the slums and the art world by focusing on the relevance of art. He connects self-taught artists from the slums with a wider public and brings artists from the city to the slums, making art more accessible for everyone and fostering cultural exchange. Searching for materials to work with that were readily available in the neighbourhood, he soon decided on glass, one of the most wasted materials in Kampala. With little attention paid to waste or recycling, discarded glass is everywhere. A lot can be done with it artistically, and it’s easy to work with.
In 2016, Gisa approached the DOEN Foundation hoping to start a glass recycling project in the slum of Kyebando. AAK wanted to train people in the hot and cold working of glass – blowing and cutting, respectively – and, in the process, to connect the slum community with artists and university students from the city. DOEN approved the funding, and the Glass Works Project was born.
In AAK’s workshop, the Ekilawuli Community Art Studio in Kyebando, people from the slums are trained to process glass and turn it into products such as drinking glasses, light fixtures and jewellery. Everyone is welcome, and the studio organises various activities, such as guided workshop tours for school groups. The university students bring education and art to the slums while gaining practical experience.
AAK also helps other social start-ups and NGOs to reach their target audiences through art. For example, a partnership with GiveLove has led to the construction of compost toilets from glass bottles in the neighbourhood and at the studio itself. Artists are also involved in other activities, such as painting murals in the neighbourhood that highlight social issues.
Accelerating the transitions
AAK fits in with the DOEN transitions in every way: it creates space for radical imagination, puts the commons first, makes circular use of materials, and works to create a socially inclusive world. Besides financial support, DOEN shares knowledge with AAK and provides access to its network. This is how Gisa got in touch with projects outside Uganda to learn about glass processing, team management and business. DOEN partners he has had contact with include AtelierNL, Batalo East and Festival sur le Niger.
The Covid-19 pandemic and upcoming Ugandan elections led to tensions and uncertainty in the slums in 2020. Businesses closed, and artists were unable to sell or perform their work. AAK’s participants either stayed at home or left for the countryside. Only five people could work in the studio instead of the usual 10. But the project rapidly found new ways to keep going and avoid losing participants.
“At the beginning of 2020, everything was ready for hot glass processing training sessions to start. This was a new phase for AAK, which had only worked with cold glass until then. They needed a building extension to work with hot glass, partly for safety reasons. The municipality was going to finance it but unexpectedly withdrew due to the coronavirus. This put AAK in a precarious situation. We quickly decided to use our contribution for the renovation and that participants would be able to help so they could stay actively involved.”
Merel Oord, creative programme manager
You will soon read the complete impact case about Afrika Arts Kollective, which was made in collaboration with Avance Impact, in the DOEN annual report.