Samra Mayanja is an artist of Ugandan descent and this is her first major solo exhibition. It is amazingly varied with video installations, drawings, photographs, sculptures and reconstructions of significant settings.

During the preview night the artist undertook an interview with The Tetley Artistic Director, Bryony Bond, during which she said that she was searching for a travelogue linking the UK and Uganda but the only one she could find was a diary by Ham Mukasa, written in 1902 when he accompanied the Bugandan Prime Minister to London for the coronation of King Edward VII. Buganda is the name of the kingdom of the Baganda Tribe of Uganda.

One of the exhibits is a photograph of the two men with a report of the visit on the reverse. There is also their impression of the British people. How times have changed!

In 2021 Samra Mayanja went on a journey to visit the area from which Mr Mukasa came and encountered the previously unknown interior world of her deceased father. This is when she produced the exhibition which combines the two travellers’ personal experiences.

Whilst wandering around the Atrium I came across a pair of headphones hanging from a pillar which transmitted the story of a trip to a crocodile tour on the Kazinga Channel in Western Uganda. Crocodiles crop up throughout the exhibition, thankfully only in artistically represented form.

Some of the rooms were quite chilling in their subject matter. Abba’s Eyes (in this case abba has nothing to do with the band, but means ‘grandmother’ in the Nubian language) was inspired by the story of a young boy who rid himself of his possessions for fear of their being stolen.

Another striking installation was the video presentation.

During the interview with Ms Bond, the artist told how she lived in York and then moved to Leeds for 4 years as part of an Arts Foundation where she got a job in the Art Gallery which enabled her to make connections with painters and sculptors who would otherwise have moved in different circles to herself.

Her long-term goal is to open a studio in Uganda.

On the whole I found the exhibition to be stimulating, although I can’t pretend to have understood all of the symbolism and nuances. The presentation was extremely effective in the way in which it flowed, whilst at the same time throwing in the occasional shock.

The Living and the Stale is part of The Tetley Jerwood Commissions programme, supported by Jerwood Arts’ Development Programme Fund. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00am to 5.00pm until 4th June, 2023 and entry is free.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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