Ugandan artist Ethel Aanyu uses digital layering techniques of positive and negative black & white images to create intriguing artworks that she likes to describe as “visual self reflections”.
We talked with her about the performative process involved in her work,
self-reflection & growth, and her interest in the human condition.
For those who don’t know you: who are you and how did you get into art?
I’m is a Ugandan photographer and painter born in 1994, living and working in Kampala. In 2018, I completed a Bachelor in Industrial and Fine Arts from Makerere University and majored in painting, sculpture fabrication and jewellery making. In 2020, I presented my work in the Kampala Art Biennale as an apprentice in Andrew Tshabangu’s studio, where I started my photography journey and started developing my artistic style as time went on.
Please tell us more about your work.
My work employs digital layering techniques of positive and negative black and white images. Mainly using myself as a model, staging scenes that portray visual self-reflections. Taking myself as an entry point to the conversation, I am interested in human conditions and how they influence behaviour, connection and relationships.
The technique you use is quite distinctive and specific. As for myself, I haven’t seen anything like it before. How did you start using that technique and fascinates you about it?
It all started while I was at Andrew Tshabangu’s studio in the Kampala Art Biennale 2020, where we were told to think outside of the box, so that the works look like more than just a photo. It started with merging two images and afterwards turned into inverting them and merge them together.
Your work centers on your own self-reflection and growth. Has this always been of interest to you in your art practice or is there a story/ process behind it of how you “ended up” focusing on these self-related topics?
Yes, this has always been a major interest of mine in my work because I talk to myself most of the time, or I take time to think about something while making gestures and expressions that are different on the outside from what I feel inside .
Please share some of your creative process with us, from an idea to a finished piece.
The creative process begins with a question that arises or that I intentionally call to my mind. I describe what you see in my work as similar to talking to oneself to mentally conversing in various ways. Sometimes in form of a heated dispute, other times as a gentle conversation.
The negative and positive layers in the photographs each represent one of the conversing parties. During the staging process the mind enters the emotion(s) that inspire the particular work.
Then, it becomes a performative action made up of recollection, introspection, staging and eventually editing the final image. The performative process creates a space for my own self-reflection and growth, providing moments of unapologetically being myself , being inquisitive without having to present solutions. “I am behind and in front of the camera”, I always say, and being that person is a fulfilment to me. I feel more attached to the image, because it is me. I am being myself.
Could you please talk a bit more about your day to day life as an emerging artist in Uganda? How is the art scene where you live/ what are the challenges you and fellow artists face?
Well It’s challenging since there are few art collectors in Uganda, the visual art scene is still growing and small, too. The few galleries in the country do not take the initiative to sell and publish artists’ works as much as they could and there is favouritism .
Would you like to share what you’re currently working on, if anything, or any upcoming projects?
Yes, I am working on a new body of work that includes a bit of color. In addition to that, I’m working on mixed media piece on canvas, too.
What advice would you give to fellow emerging artists starting out?
Do everything with gratitude in your mind.
What are your hopes for the future?
Keep doing what I love most and see what my art career becomes.
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All Photographs courtesy of
Written by Ethel Aanyu & Nina Seidel
Edited by Nina Seidel
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