Critics’ Picks

Pamela Enyonu, Ikwamin I, 2022, acrylic and marker pen on canvas, 63 x 51 1/8."

Pamela Enyonu, Ikwamin I, 2022, acrylic and marker pen on canvas, 63 x 51 1/8."


“Njabala: Holding Space”

Njabala Foundation
Lugogo House, Lugogo Bypass Plot 42, Wing C, 4th Floor.
March 8–April 8, 2023

“Njabala: Holding Space” is the second iteration of the annual exhibition program for the Njabala Foundation, which was launched in 2021 by Ugandan curator Martha Kazungu as a means to increase visibility for women artists. The folk tale that the show takes as its point of departure concerns a lazy girl whose parents are so rich that she never has to do anything for herself. Helpless upon their death, she gets married and summons the ghost of her mother to till the land and handle her chores. The exhibition opens with Mable Akeu’s hyperrealist charcoal-and-colored-pencil drawings, which linger on the intimate act of a mother tending to her daughter’s hair. The curatorial choice to follow this scene with Pepita Biraaro’s paintings mirrors the anguish the fictional Njabala must have felt at the loss of her parents. While Biraaro’s canvases are primarily abstract, in Abandoned, 2022, one can make out a lone, desolate figure curled in the fetal position. This thread continues with Birungi Kawooya’s trio of wax pastel drawings on bark cloth and banana fiber, in which she works through familial trauma and the pain of isolation. The British-born artist, who has been in residence in Uganda, emphasizes the use of local materials like the banana fiber (the fruit is a staple of the country’s cuisine).

For Pamela Enyonu’s installation A Few Burning Questions, 2023, woven baskets, traditionally used for food, hang from the ceiling. Suspended within each is a copper-coated gourd inscribed with questions like “Do I love?” On the ground below them are raised winnowing fans with bean seeds, a reference to the kind of gendered labor that Njabala never learned.