Serubiri Moses: The School of Anxiety

Public performance with Awuor Onyango, Nyakallo Maleke, and Sanyu Kiyimba-Kisaka, within Serubiri Moses’ The School of Anxiety #2: Chebomuren, February 16, 2018, Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park, Nairobi

The School of Anxiety (SoA) is an unteaching environment focusing on subjective anxieties. SoA is based on processes of learning and exchanging ideas. The project includes members Awuor Onyango from Kenya, Nyakallo Maleke from South Africa, Sanyu Kiyimba Kisaka from Uganda, and 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art curatorial team member Serubiri Moses from Uganda, who initiated the project. SoA has taken the form of workshops, excursions, a panel discussion, and performances in Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Berlin. SoA aligns itself with philosophical debates on terms such as becoming, refusal, obsessional doubt, mourning, and unlearning. Anxiety is defined within this context as being precipitated in the home; that is, home is considered as a space of contestation and experiences that are both traumatic and intense. While nineteenth-century definitions of anxiety are parsed through hermeneutics and psychology, SoA aims to focus on artistic practice and artistic investigations into social and historical forms of anxiety.

Historian J. C. Ssekamwa’s study of Ugandan education in the 1870s and the era of early colonialism provides a potent reference for SoA. In his study, Ssekamwa refers to a form of Ugandan education that consisted of learning at “home” in native African languages. He provides an analysis in which the concept of home as the site of education in the early twentieth century was replaced by the colonial education policies of 1925, though not completely. “Home” education did not die out in the wake of this development, especially for those who could not attend colonial state schools. Many students who went to such schools also received a “home” education. Forcing students to abandon the use of their native African languages in state schools created fundamental anxieties, including the fragmentation of subjectivity. This fragmentation and the formation of subjective anxieties is the departure point for SoA.

In trying to establish a framework to view subjective anxieties, the idea of the unknown as it occurs within various works of philosophical literature plays an important role: the unknown is a space characterized by continued aggression—a space of continued contestation in which subjectivities are formed. This spatial dimension relates to the period between 1870, when European missionary teachers began to arrive in Uganda, and the end of World War I. According to the work of J. C. Ssekamwa, the anxieties of this period connect directly to the development of colonial education and the abolitionist movement in Europe that developed in the nineteenth century. Competing to see who could put an end to the Arab slave trade first, European missionaries provoked hostilities between Catholic, Anglican, and Muslim subjects. In 1899, British armed forces captured King Mwanga II of Buganda (who had converted to Islam) and sent him into exile on the Seychelles, thus creating an unprecedented trauma. This event, which coalesced into ethnic violence, mirrors the seismic condition of the period. The period of 1870 to 1915 is an intense era of unknowns that has colored contemporary subjectivity. These historical unknowns and present subjectivities underlie subjective anxiety and its connection to education processes.