|Article by Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Pictures by Morgan Mbabazi
Published April 18, 2007
If someone gave you a free piglet, kid or lamb and asked you to legally adopt their surname as your middle name in return for the gift, what would you do? The government of Uganda is threatening to ban such a project that questions Western theories of development and African cultural naming system through art power branding on the grounds that it is undermining the dignity of Ugandans besides being run by a morally-bankrupt individual. BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI reports.
Registered as a community-based organisation (CBO) by the ministry of gender, labour and social development on January 12, 2006 (registration number MG/2006/14/256), this Hornsleth Village project stands on a one-acre piece of land, surrounded by a fence and poles painted in black, yellow and red with the word “Hornsleth” cutting through the colours on each pole.
The project was launched on June 29, 2006 and more than 100 Ugandans registered to participate in the project that requires any one above the age of 18 years to adopt ‘Hornsleth’ as one’s middle name in return for a female pig, goat or sheep, the following day. Some 213 pigs, 25 goats and a sheep were given to the villagers. Participant undergoes the official legal name change process and a Uganda national identity card issued to show their new ‘Hornsleth’ name. Each person is photographed holding one’s new Hornsleth ID. The portraits, measuring 120 X 100 cm, are considered original art work to be presented in selected international galleries. The pictures also ensure that the new ‘Hornsleth’ do not sell their livestock.
The government is threatening to ban this project and arrest its initiator, Danish artist Kristian Von Hornsleth on his return to Uganda. But Hornsleth dismisses the threats, insisting that he will continue with his new art of fighting poverty in the Developing World.
Hornsleth Village is a business deal between Hornsleth and some village opinion leaders through which 5,000 people will in five years have received an animal from the project if it runs as planned.
The Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs condemned the project on September 20, 2006 saying it was all right for Hornsleth to help the people but that he should not change their names.
“I think everybody has a foreign name,” said David Hornsleth Kateragga, coordinator of the project in Uganda, said. “We gave Hornsleth the name Birungi, why aren’t they raising dust over the same? Our pride will be returned when we get out of poverty.”
Uganda’s minister of state in charge of ethics, Dr Nsaba Buturo, describes Hornsleth as satanic, gay, racist and mad, adding that his project is an insult to the sovereignty of Uganda.
Saying the project should be suspended immediately, Dr Buturo says “Hornsleth is abusing the dignity of our people because he says ‘in exchange for a pig you have to adopt my name’. You see at that moment the person loses his or her identity because Hornsleth’s name is patented. In effect the people will become a property of this man. We take this man’s efforts as racist.”
Dr Buturo says Hornsleth “is a known homosexual who lacks respect for God. We are fearful that his interpretation of life is not what our people need. His form of art is satanic and morally unacceptable.”
Saying his project is not an insult to the sovereignty of Uganda, Hornsleth says “It is just an art project. The Ugandan Constitution says clearly that any one can take any name he or she wishes to have. Insults and accusations directed at me are groundless and driven by envy.”
Ugandan leaders of the Hornsleth project have vowed to defend it should the government make good its threat. They insist the project is not owned by Hornsleth but by Ugandans who came together to fight poverty and that the Dane is only assisting them with the start-up capital. They are threatening to sue the government and Member of Parliament Betty Kamya for interfering with their livelihood.
Kateragga says: “When we need aid we don’t look for angels, and the government has also failed in this regard. Otherwise we would be getting aid only from the Vatican.”
Henry Hornsleth Kayondo, coordinator of the Hornsleth project in Buteyongela says, “What the government doesn’t know is that the founders of the project aren’t the owners; the beneficiaries are the ones to lose if the project is banned.”
Stroking the belly of his piglet in Buteyongera Village, Nakifuma County in Kayunga District, Jimmy Hornsleth Ntalo will not hear of threats by the government to ban the controversial animal-for-name project.
“The government has never assisted us. Can you give me USh10,000 (US$5.7) to show that you care for the poor?” Ntalo challenges ArtMatters.Info “Why should someone want to ban this project just because Hornsleth has given us free animals? When my pig (sow) multiplies, I will be able to feed my family and pay school fees for my children.”
Zaituni Hornsleth Nampungu, on her part, says: “This project is great because it is meant to pull us out of poverty. I was given a goat and if it gives birth I will take back a kid to benefit another person.”
“Hornsleth’s is a developmental and not political project,” Nampungu says. “Where are the projects of government? We have attended the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) training programmes for the last six years and paid for its demonstration programme annually but have not benefited at all.
Upon delivery, the beneficiaries of the Hornsleth project are supposed, as a condition for taking an animal, to return the young ones. Anyone who takes a pig returns half the number of piglets.
However, for the sheep and goats, a beneficiary takes back only the first kid delivered. The animals taken back are given out to other registered members upon attaining four months. Members whose animals die are compensated. Though the project started with rearing animals, plans are underway to teach members the basics of modern farming, handicrafts and sculpture.
So far 300 out of 727 registered members have benefited from the pilot project that is targeting six sub-counties in Nakifuma county, Kayunga District. Out of these members only four goats and one sheep have been returned. There were thirty goats, ten sheep and eight pigs in the project’s demonstration and breeding farm when ArtMatters.Info visited the project.
So how did this project begin?
“I try to expose the hypocrisy and the taboos in our time. I push for new ways of thinking in order to find new solutions for old problems,” Hornsleth says. “Throughout my childhood I was forced to look at images of starving African children vitimised by war and corruption, and we were forced to feel sorry for them. After 50 years of aid to Africa from the West, Africa is still poor.”
“So I come to Uganda and what do I see? A beautiful green and fertile country with lovely people. So I think to my self: ‘What is the problem? 150 years ago my ancestors in the north were starving in the ice-cold winters and fighting for civil rights against crazy dictators. So what went wrong in Africa? Why don’t they just pull themselves together like we did here 150 years ago?'”
“The Hornsleth Village Project is a double mirror of society. On the one hand we want to help because we feel ashamed that we have it all and Africa has nothing. On the other hand we make it impossible for Africa to rise from poverty because of stupid old trade laws,” says Hornsleth. The Hornsleth Village Project is about showing how absurd the world is. With a little effort it is so easy to make a sustainable change. The western and African governments could lift poverty in three years, but they have no will. They are greedy and too proud to say ‘sorry’. Africa lives off Western donations like new slaves. So I only say: ‘More free trade and more business investment is the only way. Stop Donations – Start Free Trade.”
Hornsleth says “Art cannot change the world but art can change the way we look at the world. Poverty reduction should be called wealth-making that sounds better. Our project is a media art project. The media makes the world and we inspire the media to tell the people about the project. Our project is a cultural demonstration of a simple free trade deal.”
He argues: “The villagers sold a service to me and I paid with live stock. Only through free trade can people rise from poverty. No donations from bad conscience from super rich governments can change anything in the long run. My project is just about inspiring people to act.”
Hornsleth argues the slogan of his project,”We want to help you, but we want to own you.”is a cultural provocation in order to begin discussion as to how Africa can get out of the commitments to the rich countries and begin to do more free trade. It was good to hear that The Chinese government is making big investments in Africa now. Let’s hope that African leaders will build more schools and roads with some of these moneys as long term investment.”
The Mukono Resident District Commissioner, Deo Nsereko, has lauded Hornsleth for setting up the project. “You have to come down to Mukono to realise how popular this project is. What I have seen is encouraging. I urge other people to invest in the district,” he said. Nsereko urged the beneficiaries to back up the project with farming in order to increase their household incomes.
Hornsleth held a four-day art exhibition November 17-20, 2006 at the Politikens Hus in the Danish capital, Copenhagen of the pig project at which 100 new African Hornsleths, 100 portraits, a book and a film were displayed and shown. It ran for another 42 days from November 21, 2006 to January 1, 2007 at the Hornsleth and Friends Gallery, Copenhagen, by appointment. A show of the photos was planned to open in Shanghai in March 2007 when he spokke to ArtMatters.Info.
“The show started in Copenhagen because I want to tell the story here first, and because Copenhagen is my base and my family, my wife and three children live here. We have plans to show the exhibition in Kampala just as soon as we have found a huge space to do it. It takes a minimum 200 metres of wall,” Hornsleth said.
Wolf-Günter Thiel, an art historian based in Berlin, Germany, writes in a paper titled, The Hornsleth Project Uganda – A Unique Project in Art History, Part 1, published on the project’s website that, Hornsleth does this project which is in this dimension and in its straightness a unique project in art history.
“The idea is to invite the people from this village to change their name to ‘Hornsleth’. Driven by his idea of power branding and of the artistic concept of realizing this with real people is unknown at all in contemporary or historical artistic discourses. The idea is to exchange the names of the people for the purpose of investing the money he gives and the money he makes with the project back in improving their short term life conditions along with a long term programme of infrastructure education and health care,” Thiel says.
The participants profit directly from their investment in Hornsleth by getting direct help. They sell something to him. They really like the idea because the needs for them are more essential than their name. They argue anyhow that nothing changes in terms of their identity anyhow, Thiel argues.
“The possibility of profiting through an upcoming worldwide famous artist name is so abstract for them that they neglect the implications. The political meaning of the work is not only to help this village in many ways, but also what is happening in Africa through global political and economical powers who take Africa as a resource of energy, labour or other reasons.”
“The project shows at the same point that the people’s attitude is so different than the comparable attitude of people in Europe or North America. The idea is brilliant to illustrate the idea of contemporary colonialism through art. Hornsleth uses his fame in order to show in his work the dirty way of global capitalism and confront it with the humane and ethic thinking of his art,” Thiel adds.
In an Open letter to the people in doubt about the Hornsleth Village Project published on hornsleth.com, Kateregga writes that one of the ideas of the art project is for people around the world to understand that aid is given to poor countries with one hand and demands are given with the other. “In other words the aid is conditional, it is pure business and not really something that will benefit the poor countries in the long run.”
“The people of my village are participating in the Hornsleth Village Project of their own free will,” Kateregga says. “Absolutely none are forced into doing something that they do not want to do. They fully understand the aim of the project, and they are participating “not only to get a goat or a pig” but also because they approve to the aim of the project.”
Hornsleth “is not ‘having fun’ embarrassing people from any poor country. He has an idea to open the eyes of the rich world, and his aim is to focus on a fairer world in terms of resources and rights to the wealth of the earth,” Kateregga argues.