Gallery  October 17, 2022  Megan D Robinson

Ugandan Artist Acaye Kerunen's Storytelling of Heritage

© Acaye Kerunen courtesy Pace Gallery Photo: Acaye Kerunen Studio

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

Ugandan multidisciplinary performance and installation artist, Acaye Kerunen, is making quite a splash on the international art scene. Combining storytelling, writing, acting, and activism in her art, Kerunen designs and creates ambitious, beautifully rendered biomorphic textile installation pieces. These works are crafted of components meticulously produced by African craftswomen and artisans, which subvert Western ideas about the primacy of certain art genres, deconstruct colonialist, racist and sexist ideas, and center art making and environmental connection. 

Long considered an artist to watch―in 2012, she was featured in Vogue Italia as a person of note―Kerunen is currently part of an award-winning collaborative exhibition with Collin Sekajugo at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Part of the Uganda Pavilion’s inaugural installation, their piece: Radiance – They Dream in Time, is having quite an impact; the biennale jury awarded the Uganda Pavilion the Special Mention award for Best National Participation. Kerunen and Sekajugo’s exhibition deconstructs Western tropes about Africa and the othering of African art, juxtaposing Kerunen’s textile installations―hanging, wall mounted and sculptural―with Sekajugo’s paintings, which artfully combine stock images with bright colors and patterns. Pictures of the installation illustrate a wonderful harmony of pattern and line between the artists’ work and the pavilion itself. There is also an accompanying playlist.

© Acaye Kerunen courtesy Pace Gallery Photo: Acaye Kerunen Studio

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

Kerunen considers the process of making and unmaking to be central to her work. Her installations reposition heritage craft art, including textile art, embroidery and basketry―the artistry of which is often downplayed―firmly into the realm of fine art. She collaborates with skilled utilitarian artisans, most of them women, from the Great Lakes region of Africa, of which Uganda is a part. 

The titles of her pieces are also deliberately chosen to reflect and honor her African culture and heritage. She uses regional languages Alur, Swahili, or Luganda for her titles, which reflect both her family background and the languages of the artisans she works with. Kerunen utilizes a number of traditional natural materials, including raffia, banana fiber, stripped sorghum stems, reeds, and palm leaves. She deconstructs colonialist, patriarchal narratives, centering and honoring history, women’s labor, the importance of community, nature, and artistic making.

© Acaye Kerunen courtesy Pace Gallery Photo: Acaye Kerunen Studio

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

Kerunen is now being represented globally by a trio of major galleries: Pace Gallery, Blum & Poe and Galerie Kandhofer. Her first exhibition with these galleries will be a joint presentation in October at Frieze London, entitled VPN (Very Personal Network) (2022).

This new mixed media installation evokes the synergistic, constantly renewing natural systems, with a spiraling constellation of loops, circles, and intricately woven curves. Kerunen’s title playfully references the internet and online privacy software; her installation speaks about human interconnectedness and the emancipatory potential of technology, especially for women.

© Acaye Kerunen courtesy Pace Gallery Photo: Acaye Kerunen Studio

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

Kerunen debuts with Blum & Poe at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022, as well as with a solo exhibition in Los Angeles in 2023. She has a solo exhibition hosted by Galerie Kandlhofer in Spring 2023. Pace, Blum & Poe, and Galerie Kandlhofer are also working closely with Kerunen’s independent manager who has worked with her since 2021.

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About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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