Video Halls (or "bibanda") are often no more than small huts where viewers pay a few cents to watch pirated DVDs on diesel-powered television screens. In the majority of villages and towns, they are the only form of popular visual entertainment, reaching millions of Ugandans every month and hundreds of thousands each day—more than television and newspapers put together. "VJs” (or "video jockeys") translate Hollywood actions, Nollywood dramas, Bollywood musicals, cartoons, and porn into the primary local language of Luganda. Acting as translators, stand-up comedians, and carney barkers, VJs thus operate as nodes of distribution to the bibanda.
Initiated by media ethnographer Paul Falzone and artist Marisa Morán Jahn, Video Slink Uganda began with translating and burning — "slinking"— experimental art by contemporary African diasporan artists onto bootleg DVDs, seen by millions of viewers as previews to the main film, and circulated throughout Uganda's bootleg cinemas.
The pilot project, funded by apex art Franchise Exhibitions in 2013, involves VJ Junior, VJ Emmie, and VJ Jingo adapting/translating/re-interpreting the works of Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky, Rashaad Newsome, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Kamau Patton, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Hank Willis Thomas/Terence Nance, and Saya Woolfalk.
The project, supported by Creative Capital, continues in 2016 onwards as ongoing cultural exchanges, exhibitions, presentations, and slinks that further reflect upon the architecture, memes, and semiotic economies of formal and informal markets.
"A parasite, physical, acoustic, informational, belonging to order and disorder, a new voice, an important one, in the contrapuntal matrix."
Artwork produced within a Western paradigm of commodity production typically controls the distribution, reproduction, and profits of the work. In doing so, a certain stability is ensured; this system of exclusion in fact produces what Jacques Derrida refers to as the ‘bastard’: “Bastards appear and (disappear) to enact impropriety. Accordingly, the bastard might be named 'impropriety itself' [...] Bastards, however, cannot be named properly and the one thing impropriety cannot be is one thing.”
By comparison, cultures built upon a largely informal or blackmarket economy thrive on piracy and derivation as an inevitable force with its own set of tacit rules. Here, the illegitimate (the bastard) is not disavowed. Instead, the copy, bootleg, or knockoff becomes the currency itself, and increasing degrees of degradation, remove, or infidelity in fact heighten the work’s authenticity. Privileged here are translation and adaptation — skills honed in the Ugandan blackmarket — as opportunities for disruption.
Video Slink Uganda uses artwork to forge a dialogue among diasporan cultural producers. In so doing, the project questions specific ways and moments in which narratives (and therefore power) are transmitted, translated, regenerated, and forged anew. How can we share power and expand who gets to create meaning?
Of Chinese and Ecuadorian descent, Marisa Morán Jahn is an artist and the founder of Studio REV-, an art + media + social justice non-profit organization. Her work has been presented at The White House, Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and more. A graduate of MIT, Jahn has edited three books about culture and politics, was an artist in residence at MIT's Media Lab; and was a CEC Artslink Fellow to Tajikistan, Estonia, Kaliningrad, Armenia. She has received awards from Rockefeller Foundation, Creative Capital, Tribeca Film Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and CNN named her Domestic Worker App one of "5 apps that could change the world." Her work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Art in America, Hyperallergic, and more.
Paul Falzone is a scholar, artist and award-winning media producer whose short and feature length documentaries, television programming, viral video, public service announcements and experimental films have been featured in festivals, galleries and other venues including the Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. He has taught at the undergraduate and graduate level and his writing has appeared in many peer-reviewed journals and academic books. He is currently the founder and director of Peripheral Vision International, a nonprofit organization that produces and distributes human rights and advocacy media in East Africa. Paul holds an MA and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
Melanie Butler, Alan Hoffmanis