Acaye E Pamela_Banange_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Banange, 2021, Mixed media, 270 x 170 cm (106 ¼ x 66 7/8 in.) © Acaye Kerunen

Acaye Kerunen


Photography by Ethel Aanyu

b. Kampala, Uganda

(opens in a new window) @acayekerunenart

Acaye Kerunen’s radical repositioning of heritage artisanship into the league of fine art has established the artist, storyteller, writer, actress, and activist as a resonant voice in contemporary artmaking.

Kerunen's art is rooted in continuous engagement with women's issues, from liberation and the dismantling of colonial and patriarchal structures to poverty, domestic violence, and women's struggle to embrace their artistic selfhood within these oppressive systems. She is recognized for her multidisciplinary practice across media and performance as well as advocacy. Her continuous engagement with women’s issues, from liberation and the dismantling of colonial and patriarchal structures to poverty and domestic violence, is embodied through her many artistic activities. In 2012, Vogue Italia featured Kerunen as a social activist to watch in Africa. Throughout her life she has performed in plays and musical theatre and is a poet and writer, published in multiple outlets both in her native Uganda and worldwide. She graduated from the Islamic University in Uganda, Mbale with a BSc in Mass Communication, and earned a Diploma in Information Systems Management from Aptech.

The processes of unmaking and remaking are central to Kerunen’s practice. She has explained that African women’s artmaking has been confined to utilitarian practices, for example weaving to produce mats and baskets rather than weaving for the sake of artmaking. Kerunen collaborates with primary artisans, mostly women, to produce the woven, dyed, and hand crafted materials in her work. Her practice incorporates the many cultures of the Great Lakes region, of which Uganda is a part, in order to represent a deep involvement about the connection to making and being as a manifestation for change. Drawing on the natural environment, Kerunen’s work utilizes materials including raffia, banana fiber, stripped sorghum stems, reeds, and palm leaves. The titles of her works are in Alur, Swahili, or Luganda, representing her family background and the women artisans she employs, many of whom speak Luganda.

Ayera (2021) is Alur for “the chosen;” Alur is a regional language spoken in parts of western Uganda and neighboring countries. This title references Ayera, a traditional stew made from cow offals which is historically served at weddings and funerals. This title is doubly significant, as it alludes both to the importance of the stew as tradition, as well as to the materials present in the work, which Kerunen chose specifically due to their high quality and because the work itself resembles intestines. Ayera was shown as part of Iwang Sawa (Alur for “in the eye of time”), Kerunen’s 2021 exhibition at Afriart Gallery, Kampala, for which she received a curatorial fellowship from Newcastle University, United Kingdom. Centered thematically around temporality, the show highlighted manifold vistas of time in Kerunen’s work. It takes time to grow the natural materials the artist works with, and further time for skilled craftspersons to meticulously weave the components of her installations. Crucially, the show makes reference to the idea that time spent producing art is wasted because the product is not functional; Kerunen’s body of work necessarily subverts this capitalist narrative, demonstrating the urgency of artmaking for women in Uganda and beyond.

Acaye Kerunen represented Uganda at the 2022 Venice Biennale alongside Collin Sekajugo, resulting in the Ugandan pavilion receiving the biennale jury Special Mention award for best national participation together with France. This was Uganda’s inaugural participation in the Venice Biennale, for which Kerunen and Sekajugo collaborated on Radiance – They Dream in Time, which showcased their shared interest in deconstructing western tropes about Africa and the othering of African art.

Acaye E Pamela_Kakare_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Kakare, 2021, Mixed media, 370 x 860 x 50 cm (145 5/8 x 338 5/8 x 19 ¾ in.) © Acaye Kerunen

Acaye E Pamela_Ayera_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Ayera, 2021, Mixed media, 210 x 155 x 28 cm (82 5/8 x 61 1/8 x 11 1/8 in.) © Acaye Kerunen

Acaye E Pamela_Bamutenda!_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Bamutenda!, 2021, Mixed media, 275 x 118 x 40 cm (108 ¼ x 46 ½ x 15 ¾ in.) © Acaye Kerunen

Acaye E Pamela_Waani Ee!_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Waani Ee!, 2021, Mixed Media, 55 x 41 x 33 cm (21 5/8 x 16 1/8 x 13 in.) © Acaye Kerunen

Acaye E Pamela_Eeh eeh!_2021

Acaye Kerunen, Eeh eeh, 2021, Mixed media, 70 x 56 x 72 cm (27 ½ 22 1/8 x 28 3/8 in.) © Acaye Kerunen