BIBANDA: UGANDA’S BOOTLEG CINEMA

Avery 200
Apr 7, 2016 - May 6, 2016
Video Slink Uganda: A Pilot
Commercially pirated Hollywood actions, Nollywood dramas, Bollywood musicals, cartoons and porn reach millions of Ugandans every month. VJs (or “video jockeys”—think interpreters + carney barkers + stand-up comedians) play a unique linchpin in this media ecology: they liberally translate these films into the local language. In 2012, Jahn began collaborating with Paul Falzone, a tactical media organizer in East Africa, and three VJs to insert artwork onto commercially pirated DVDs, into the blackmarket, and into bibanda (public video halls where bootlegs are shown). Each artwork shares a theme of diaspora, displacement and mis/translation to foreground how meaning is both lost and gained in each successive copy. Viewers’ commentary overlays the film which visually accumulates as layers of meaning.

In Uganda’s video halls (or “bibanda”), visitors pay a few cents to watch pirated DVDs on television screens, often adjacent to a monitor featuring British Premier League football with the sound turned off. In the majority of villages and towns, these modern day nickelodeons are the only form of televisual entertainment and are estimated to reach millions of Ugandans every month. On screen, the recorded voices of “VJs” translate Hollywood action films, Nollywood dramas, Bollywood musicals, cartoons, and porn into the primary local language of Luganda. A combination of translators, stand-up comedians, and carney barkers, VJs operate as nodes of distribution and meaning-making for the bibanda audience consisting of students, boda boda drivers, fishermen, young working-class men, and a few women. Children peep through holes in the walls and loudspeakers play the audio portion of the film to people outside, where men play Ludo around tables often lit by the only electric bulb in the village.

From the estimated two to three thousand bibanda located across the country, media ethnographer and cultural producer Paul Falzone documented these examples of bibanda from the Katwe neighborhood of Kampala. Emerging during the Abote regime of the 1980s, “Radio Katwe” is an expression that describes word-of-mouth networks used to spread information on politics, corruption and the latest government atrocity. In 2016, the worst of the atrocities have passed and the bibanda have come to operate within this temporary autonomous zone in order to evade the control of government censorship or corporate copyright. Here content is dictated not by politics but by the demands of commerce and pleasure.

In 2013, Falzone teamed up with artist Marisa Morán Jahn (Studio REV-) to create Video Slink Uganda, a series of works, including this exhibition, that documents bibanda and double bootlegging (slipping or “slinking” artwork to the pirated dvd’s) to prompt dialogue. Both processes reflect upon the architecture, memes, and semiotic economies of formal and informal markets.