Richard Ketley


0 | 32

O | 32 (or to be more precise 0°00’ : 32°00’) are the co-ordinates for the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria. The Ssese islands serendipitously lie at the centre of the geographical triangle of the cities in which I live and work and that inspire my work – Johannesburg, Lagos and Dubai. I first visited the Ssese islands in 1993, which at the time involved a day long journey from Kampala on a decrepit streamer. Then, as now, the islands represent a romantic enigma – the 84 islands scattered across a huge shallow lake that lies at the heart of Africa. Partly cloaked in forest, that give way to grasslands and sandy beaches – they are tropical islands that would appeal to any latter day Gauguin. But these island are also home to densely packed and desperately poor villages, the people rife with malaria, HIV, and the blue waters of the lake are un-swimmable due to bilharzia. The villagers fish, but smuggling is a more important economic activity. When I last visited the islands, fish stocks were falling due to the invasion of water hyacinths plants that were reducing oxygen levels in the lake, and the income of the villagers. This does not prevent the villagers revelling late into the night to Nigerian afrobeat, their faces illuminated by the blue screens of their phones. The location and this duality - reality v/s romanticism became an important inspiration for this series of works. Although isolated, the islands are as much part of the modern world as any other part of Africa. The images presented here are both maps worked till they are unrecognisable and imagined maps formed by the flow of paint. They reflect the experience of the world from the air but are also experiments in paint, which forms shapes that are indistinguishable from the shapes eroded and formed in nature. The works for the exhibition are worked on drafting film and printed photomontage on Sepia film. Given the lightness and durability of the works, they are suspended and “float free” from the ground as I often do – being at once paintings and installations.

Tales of the uninhabited isles by Richard Ketley
Another country by Richard Ketley
Where do we come from? by Richard Ketley
Spirit of the Islands by Richard Ketley


This exhibition of paintings, photographs and installations is about the 1860 km long Tazara Railway - that links the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia's Central Province. The governments of Tanzania, Zambia and China built the railway in the 1970’s to eliminate landlocked Zambia's economic dependence on Rhodesia and South Africa, both of which were at the time ruled by white-minority governments. The railway provided the only route for bulk trade from Zambia's Copperbelt to reach the sea without having to transit white-ruled territories. The spirit of Pan-African socialism among the leaders of Tanzania and Zambia and the symbolism of China's support for newly independent African countries gave rise to Tazara's designation as the "Great Uhuru Railway", Uhuru being the Swahili word for Freedom.The Tazara railway represents the People’s Republic of China’s oldest and historically most important contribution to development in Africa. At its completion, the Tazara was the longest railway in sub-Saharan Africa, and the largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time, at a construction cost of US $406 million (the equivalent of US $2.62 billion today).The Tazara is sometimes regarded as the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World War. Today the Tazara remains an enduring symbol of the solidarity of the developing world and Chinese support for African independence and development. When Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the starting point of the torch relay in Tanzania was the grand terminal of the Tazara. The artists developed the concept of the exhibition for a number of reasons. Firstly Richard Ketley comes from a long line of railway engineers and has always been interested in the visual properties of railways and the structures that support them. Secondly Richard’s work explores themes in development and following visits to Zambia and Lusaka he realised the importance of the Tazara line. Thirdly there is a lot of discussion of China’s current contribution to economic development and this exhibition would highlight this legacy back to the era of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Inaction leads nowhere by Richard Ketley
Grand Roam by Richard Ketley
Clickerty clack II by Richard Ketley
The Grand Tazara : III by Richard Ketley
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