Acaye Kerunen (b. Kampala, Uganda) is known for her multidisciplinary practice encompassing visual art, curation, activism, acting, poetry, writing, and performance. Her works often meditate on the intricacies of natural systems and the impact of climate change, as well as enactments of labor and emancipation.
Kerunen’s installations are forged from natural materials locally grown, harvested, dyed, and woven in Uganda, including banana fiber, raffia, reeds, and palm leaves. Through her work, she seeks to dismantle the hierarchies of fine art and craft, elevating women’s labor within socio-political systems. She often commissions primary women to create baskets, tablemats, winnowing trays, and other functional items before reimagining them as assemblage installations. Materiality is central to Kerunen’s artistic practice, and her mutable, expansive installations can be understood as living artworks. Through her intuitive use of material, color, and form, the artist creates enthralling biomorphic abstractions that envelop viewers into their folds.
Kerunen’s installations are deeply engaged with their environments, at once rooted in history and emancipatory in their resistance to colonialist, patriarchal narratives. Constructed using embroidery, hand stitching, knotting, and weaving techniques she learned from her mother, Kerunen’s artworks embody ancestral knowledge. The labors, songs, and identities of the women in her community reverberate through the fibers of the artist’s finished works.
The impact of climate change is a central concern of Kerunen’s multifaceted, activist-minded practice. With her regenerative artistic process, Kerunen imagines a future that facilitates and encourages communal living, working, and art making. Her use of natural fibers and dyes, locally sourced from the wetlands surrounding Nalubaale (Lake Victoria) as well as the Great Lakes Region, is testament to the artist’s strong relationship to the land and people of Uganda. Kerunen has said that her incorporation of banana fiber, banana rind, and raffia in her work “speaks into a very resilient culture and practice of cultivation and living with a conscious relation to the land and regenerating an environment that is being depleted.”
Kerunen’s work was showcased in the two-person exhibition Radiance: They Dream in Time in Uganda’s inaugural national pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2022), and she presented her first solo exhibition, titled Iwang Sawa, at the Afriart Gallery, Kampala, Uganda (2021). That same year, the artist participated in a curatorial fellowship supported by Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; 32 Degrees East, Kampala, Uganda; and Afriart Gallery, Kampala, Uganda. In 2018, she showed her interactive, collaborative installation Kendu (2018-present) at the Nyege Nyege Ugandan culture and music festival. The artist holds a BS in Mass Communication from the Islamic University in Uganda, Mbale. Kerunen lives and works in Kampala, Uganda.
Acaye Kerunen and Collin Sekajugo: Radiance, They Dream in Time