Approach to the work of Valerie Asiimwe Amani

A central theme of Valerie Asiimwe Amani’s work is how we continue to exist amidst the realities of the past and present. The Tanzanian artist and author was born in Dar es Salaam in 1991 and currently lives in the UK.

When Valerie Asiimwe Amani works with different media, she deals artistically with both the materials and the result and also understands her work in a metaphysical sense.

Is there a leading theme?
I am interested in the aesthetics of truth. In other words, how truth can subjectively reconstruct and regenerate itself through belief systems. And then what effects these systems have on virtual and physical bodies inside and outside the community. In short: how we continue to exist in the midst of realities of the past and present.

Which sources provide impetus and inspiration?
My work is often influenced by how the interchange of images and language have altered our perceptions of each other and of reality. I often incorporate folklore, history and conversation into my work and am then driven by the counter-narrative. I consider the implications of language, mistranslation and the complexity of existing in diversity – what exists in the cracks, the unsaid and implied that shapes our sense of belonging.

The context of Valerie Asiimwe Amani’s latest work dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Yes, my latest work refers to events that began in the early 1900s. At that time, a healer named Kinjikitile claimed to have been immersed in water for 24 hours and encountered the Hongo, a snake spirit. The healer is said to have emerged from the water completely dry and in possession of a special “water medicine” called Maji Dawa, which turns bullets into water. News of this “water medicine” spread quickly among the tribes in northern Tanzania. Maji Dawa brought the feuding ethnic groups of the locals together and mobilized their resistance to German colonial rule. A bloody rebellion began. The Maji Maji uprising lasted from 1905 to 1907 and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans, but Kinjikitile and the Maji Maji War became cornerstones of nationalism in East Africa. This later inspired a woman named Alice Auma to develop her own ideas of magical war tactics and convince villagers to form a rebel army in Uganda. They believed that they could turn stones into grenades and that invoking James Bond during battle would give them extra strength.

To conclude: My works use historical events as a starting point and are part of a group of works entitled Maji na Roho, “Water and Spirit”. It explores the relationship between war and magic, myth and the supernatural. The works reflect the belief systems that develop when we are confronted with extreme vulnerability. Also included are concepts dealing with how our bodies are in a constant state of reconstruction, repair or rebirth.

Works of Valerie Asiimwe Amani in the Forster Gallery


Valerie Asiimwe Amani has a degree in Economics and Fashion and her MFA from the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University. She will begin her PhD in 2024. She is the recipient of the 2021 Vivien Leigh Prize for a work on paper, which led to the acquisition of the piece by the Ashmolean Museum. She was shortlisted for the Henrike Grohs Award and the Dentons Art Prize in 2022.