Ethel Aanyu is a Ugandan photographer living and working in Kampala. In 2018 she completed a BA in Industrial and Fine Arts from Makerere University. In 2020 she presented her work in the Kampala Art Biennale as an apprentice of Andrew Tshabangu’s studio.
In her work she employs digital layering techniques of positive and negative black and white images. Mainly using herself as a model, she stages scenes that portray visual self-reflections. Taking herself as an entry point to the conversation, she is interested in human conditions and how they influence behavior, connection and relationships.
Aanyu’s creative process begins with a question that arises or that she intentionally calls to her mind. She describes that what we see in her work is similar to talking to oneself, mentally conversing, in various ways, sometimes in form of a heated dispute, other times as a gentle conversation. The negative and positive layers in the photographs each represent one of the conversing parties. During the staging process the mind enters the emotion(s) that inspired the particular work. It becomes a performative action made up of recollection, introspection, staging and eventually editing the final image.
There is no final answer presented to the questions she asks. Rather, the artist is carving a space in which one doesn’t have to be one or the other – a space in-between within which one can find comfort and calmness amidst tension, ambiguity and hybridity. She dissects complex emotions in visual form, creating piercing and proud images that give a human face to intricate topics.
Having grown up in Teso, in Eastern Uganda, and migrated to the capital city Kampala during school years, the artist’s biography entails a level of hybridity which oftentimes manifests as inner conflict. Having to learn a new language, new ways of living and adapting to peers after moving to the capital city, has left Aanyu with layers of experience and knowledge as well as the ability and challenge of oscillating between them. Not to mention the experience of being a member of a formerly colonized society still grappling with the aftermath of the structural, emotional and physical violence caused by the colonizers.
The performative process creates a space for her own self-reflection and growth, providing moments of unapologetically being herself, being inquisitive without having to present solutions. “I am behind and in front of the camera”, Aanyu says, “Being that person is a fulfillment to me. I feel more attached to the image, because it is me. I am being myself.”
Beyond the artist’s personal connection to her work, her photographs act as a reminder that we are all connected through the struggles we face as human being, through the manifold layers within our personalities and life stories, and through the questions we seek to answer throughout life.