Vulnerability and strength during the poly crisis

by | Apr 10, 2023

Borderlands Co-Founder reflects on Shiela Nakitende’s work for Gallery Brulhart

We are in turbulent times, facing a number of inter-connected forces that threaten our wellbeing and life on the planet. By centering wind, Geneva based Gallery Brulhart’s group exhibition ‘She Who Spreads the Winds’ draws our attention to one of the most powerful forces of nature. The impact of changing climate results in more dynamic weather systems including hurricanes, tornedos, and flooding. Displacement, destruction, and loss of life becoming increasingly regular aspects of our lives. 

And yet the wind brings us life and comfort – carrying seeds far and wide, bringing rain, coolness, enabling movement for both human and non-human. The Saharan desert dust bringing life-enriching phosphorus to the Amazon rain forest via winds that carry the nutrients. In this period of poly crisis, Sheila Nakitende highlights this inter- connection between all living beings. Her work speaks to our place as protagonists but also our fragile marginal existence within the complex web of life.

The materials that Sheila uses informs her artistic relationship with nature. Lubago, sustainably harvested bark cloth, carries spiritual and historical meaning. In the Central Region of Uganda, the Buganda people have used backcloth since time immemorial. Sheila further transforms backcloth through a laborious process that creates an intricate paper. In this work, the artist evokes connections between the forces of nature, specific place and inner being. The works presented by Sheila in the exhibition further reinforce a creative attachment to the environment.

Exploring her relationship with the force of the wind, Sheila presents a very personal series of works. The works initially encapsulates a range of symbolic gestures moving from clouds to fish to queens. Within the series she journeys from a dreamy ‘Mother Cloud’ to energetic ‘Kawonawo’ (Survivor), presenting inner reflections of the artist as a woman. She is Mother Cloud, bringing life forces; the Fish, surviving despite the forces of the tide; the Wing, soaring above it all. 

Her intentional use of the female as a force that brings and nurtures life is one of many recurring manifestations in her practice. Her choice of material and how it is transformed through movement and experimentation suggests interconnection between the physical and the spiritual. Embedding other locally sourced materials such as raffia through weaving and stitching, and carefully burning the fragile paper, Sheila’s process is mediative, bringing healing and repair and surfacing vulnerability. To Sheila, vulnerability is a sign of strength, much like the power of the wind.

In Tree Dance, the movement of the piece reflects constant motion whilst being rooted. Somehow a sense of duty is evoked but often in the face of challenge. As human beings, we are often in tension, creating motion whilst pushing against barriers. Sheila is a representation of the wind as much as she is a representation of the tree. She is both ‘rooted to what I do’ but ‘sometimes I can move with it, dance with it. It could be a song, an emotion, a friend’. By exposing her vulnerability, and integrating herself in the works, Sheila is asking us to be vulnerable, to acknowledge our fragility, and ask ourselves who we truly are. 

It is perhaps through this process will we find the strength to make the changes the world so desperately needs, and create meaningful futures of co-existence amongst ourselves and the forces of nature. These works present a manifestation of the turmoil of inner dialogue that we all carry but also a manifestation of the outer turmoil we all now inhabit.

by Helga Rainer

She That Spreads The Wind is on show from 13 April to 20 May 2023 at Gallery Brulhart