In her films and installations Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa examines differing worldviews in the wake of colonialism in east Africa. Her ongoing work excavates structures of coercion and power, collecting material and ephemeral traces of the region’s cultural, political, and aesthetic engagement with Europe.
In the video installation Promised Lands (2015), Wolukau-Wanambwa addresses the migratory flows of bodies throughout Uganda and Kenya at various points in history. Set in the vicinity of Lake Victoria, the installation’s narrative arc shuttles between historical facts and critical reflection. On the soundtrack, one encounters a wellspring of suppressed histories. For thousands of Polish refugees displaced by European warfare and bigotry from 1942 until the early 1950s, the continent was a “promised land”; for others, it was a space merely to be conquered and controlled. These facts are juxtaposed with the artist’s observations of injustice against African refugees in Europe and passages culled from Austrian economist Theodor Hertzka’s 1890 utopian appeal for European settlement in East Africa. Ultimately, the land itself becomes a metaphor refracted in different points of view, representing the contradictory colonialist imagination as a whole.
—Alena J. Williams