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You can’t eat pride THE HORNSLETH VILLAGE PROJECT Words failed the Ugandan Minister of Ethics to vilify his Hornsleth Village Project; all over the world newspaper comments and bloggers added fuel to the fire, and things even came to a head, on a diplomatic level, between Denmark and Uganda. Which was exactly what DanishScottish conceptual artist Kristian von Hornsleth was aiming for when he convinced over 300 inhabitants of the south Ugandan village Buteyongera to officially change their family name into ‘Hornsleth’. In return he gave each one of them a pig. This led to a work of art, subtitled ‘we want to help you, but we want to own you’. Hornsleth: neo-colonialist, Samaritan or starryeyed idealist?

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Text by Veerle Devos, images by ???




Facing page: Illustration for a newspaper by Siavosh Fani, 2004. This page, above, from left to right: Visuals from video installation by Amirali Ghasemi, 2002. This page, far left: Protest poster against pollution by Pamsa Tashakori, 2003.




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His ‘a-pig-for-a-name’-project is not Kristian von Hornsleth’s first foray into controversy, but never before has the Dane managed to attract such international attention. The artist is known for his contentious art in which his own name and person are a recurrent theme. Hornsleth puts his ego into perspective: ‘what is all the fuss about? The art business is always about names! When I was a kid, my parents took me to museums. All they ever cared about was names.’ On his website, he sometimes spells his name Horn$leth. The man likes to play games and launch statements. ‘Art presentations should be loud, fun and alive, instead of quiet, boring and snobbish. Art is fun and helps you to understand the world,’ he says. Hornsleth has declared war on ‘boredom, routine, institutions and traditions’ and in his ambition to create intelligent entertainment that arouses discussions, Hornsleth sees himself as a cross between a priest and a jester. ‘The great philosophers use humour as a tool. That’s what I do too. Today, art is too much about lifestyle. I want to pull faces at all those serious art collectors. Art should criticise the social, economical and cultural situation of the day. It has to set something in motion, reach out and touch people. When people in his time saw a Rubens, they fell apart. They travelled 100 miles to see his work, and it tore them to pieces. I want to have that kind of intellectual and emotional effect on people’s mentality. Don’t forget that I’m actually an architect and that I look with a sense of wonder at a world of art that has degraded into ‘art = lifestyle’ and to expressions that are labelled art but which don’t bring about anything.’ But is what Hornsleth does something different from the life-style art, which, he says, horrifies him?

A PIG IS A COW Hornsleth says that his Ugandan project - which has led to a travelling exhibition with 100 monumental pictures, a documentary about the process behind his work and a book - is a denunciation of the hypocritical relationship that the West has with developing countries. ‘After 50 years of development aid, Africa is still poor. In my project, the result is that all parties are satisfied. They get a pig and a beautiful name; I have my art. It’s not a donation; it’s a service. I don’t believe in aid, I believe in free trade.’ Even former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has said that Third Word countries have more to gain by trade than by aid. ‘Aid doesn’t help, because it keeps the poor countries in a state of dependency.’ Which is why Oxfam, 56

the international aid organisation, in cooperation with other NGO’s, sent Ugandan farmer Aaron Siu and his cow to the European capital Brussels, to plea for support for small-scale family agriculture in the Third World. Of well over 850 million people living in hunger, the great majority are farmers; therefore, support for agricultural development is crucial in order to halve hunger and poverty by 2015, which is the number one UN Millennium Development Goal. Farmer Aaron not only supports his own family, but also the wife and children of his brother, who died of Aids; and on top of that a couple of other Aids orphans - in all 21 people. His living conditions are typical for Ugandans, including the new Hornsleths. Ugandans suffer from the destabilising effects of a civil war that is neglected by international media, but is still very much the order of the day. They are squeezed between the rebel army and a corrupt government. Nine out of 28 million inhabitants have to survive on less than $1 a day; the average life expectancy is 45 years… One could argue that against this background, the question whether or not the Hornsleth project is a form of exploitation, is less significant than the international attention the art project garners for Uganda. This argument, however, is ‘nonsense’ according to Africa specialist professor Koen Vlassenroot of the Conflict and Research Group. ‘The attention is drawn only to his own person and art. To me, he abuses people for the sake of his own ego-tripping, which is humiliating to Ugandans.’

WHO CARES ABOUT A NAME? Farmer Aaron Siu’s cow not only supplies milk for his own consumption and his trade; the animal’s manure was used by Aaron to fertilise his own piece of farmland. Soon, he had his own farm; with the sale of his chickens Aaron pays school money and he traded his mud hut for a brick house. This goes to show that investing in agriculture, unlike charity or traditional development aid, is a durable solution to poverty. Farmer Aaron’s cow is a symbol for that. The same can be said for the Hornsleth pigs: they enable the inhabitants of Buteyongera to raise their standards of living through their own efforts. No wonder, then, that the new Hornsleths, who in the exhibition pose with their new identity card, and are thus turned into some sort of an extension of the artist, are satisfied with the transaction, and brush aside our Western indignation. One participating villager, Kabaalu Muyiwe Hornsleth, has been quoted as saying: 57



‘Who cares about a name? We’re poor and he helped us. We’re no artists; we’re just trying to survive. He gives us pigs for free and all we have to do is advertise his message. That’s a good deal.’ That the Ugandan government nonetheless speaks ill of Hornsleth, fails to impress even the artist’s Ugandan adversaries - one reason for that being that the Minister for Ethics himself faces corruption charges. ‘It’s a reflection of the state of hopelessness Africans have been pushed into by their uncaring governments keen to sound and act right only during election time. This Hornsleth story tells how low Ugandans’ self-esteem has sunk. And also how unpatriotic Ugandans have become, especially over the past 20 years,’ so goes one of many bitter laments. Hornsleth doesn’t quite agree with this reading: ‘On the contrary: in Buteyongera, I’ve met very self-conscious, proud and strong people who knew very well what they were doing. People, who’ve survived dictators like Obote and Idi Amin, aren’t impressed by some fuss. They’re not easy to fool. These people know damn well what the project is all about; they are making a statement for the whole world to hear. They are my partners in this project.’ Professor Vlassenroot is not convinced: ‘The question remains, whether the poverty-stricken Ugandans are really in a position to negotiate - their options are few and the power of the two “partners” in this trade is very uneven. Ugandans, like many other Africans, are desperate to such a degree, that they are willing to do anything to raise their living conditions.’ One journalist from the independent daily The Monitor put the project into stark context ‘You can’t eat pride’. The paper’s editorial stance goes on to say that ‘the truth is that Honrsleth could have pulled this off in most Third World countries. As proud as Nigerians are, he probably could have pulled it off even there - with that difference, that Nigerians would probably have negotiated much better terms - perhaps even leading Hornsleth to adopt a Nigerian name himself.’ For Hornsleth to adopt an African family name - how many pigs would that take? # Hornsleth Village Project Uganda - The exhibition has already been shown in Denmark, Norway and the UK and travels throughout Europe. In the autumn, the pictures will also be shown at the DDM Warehouse Gallery in Shanghai. A book and a documentary are also planned. - - -




Words failed the Ugandan Minister of Ethics to vilify his Hornsleth Village Project; all over theworld newspaper comments and bloggers added...


Words failed the Ugandan Minister of Ethics to vilify his Hornsleth Village Project; all over theworld newspaper comments and bloggers added...