By Natasha Museveni Karugire
My name is, or (as we say in Uganda) my names are (because there are many) Natasha Lynette Nyinancwende Kainembabazi Museveni Karugire. “Natasha” because my mother had read War and Peace, the literary classic by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, while she was pregnant with me. Natasha was one of the main characters. And also because I was born in a time of war and instability in Uganda. “Lynette” because my godparents thought it was a good idea at the time of my baptism way back when. This is probably the first time that name is seeing the light of day. “Nyinancwende” because that was the name of my Father’s grandmother whom he loved dearly, and who loved him just as much. “Kainembabazi” because of the love I have for my mother who is my friend and mentor. I gave myself that name. “Museveni” because it is the name of the father I love and whose family I am honored to be a part of. And, finally, “Karugire” because it is the name I acquired when I married my friend and was covered by his mantle.
That is my name. Those are my names. Like everyone, my name is just part of the story. A piece of the mosaic of a life.
I am an artist. My job description usually says “Fashion Designer ” or “Creative Director”, but I say “Dreamer”, inspired by what I see everywhere. The sometimes violent colors of a sunset, rain and wind, the imagined life of a passer-by or the beads adorning the long neck of a warrior dancer. I sometimes see the images of an entire outfit in my sleep, wake up and put it on paper. I have inspired trendy outfits hanging in my store before such trends became known globally. I see the same traits in my daughter.
My passion, however, is the back story. The story behind the art. In my head, most forms of art are just tales. One’s perception of a thing told using brush strokes or writing or sewed into apparel. Therefore, it is not so much the making of an outfit that excites me, but the art of life.
That being said, I am very happy to see the progress being made in fashion in Africa. I am overjoyed to see our young people proudly wearing our local fabric and clothing made in Uganda and in other parts of the continent. It was a dream that seemed so very distant when I was just starting out in the late 1990’s. My prayer is that we will quickly grow in this regard so that our industry is supported by us. The time has come for Africa to tell her own story from her own mouth! May this be true in every sector of the arts.
Growing up, my family spent many years wandering in exile. I was born in Tanzania on the foothills of Kilimanjaro and lived there until age four, came home for a short spell, then went on to Kenya, and lastly Sweden. Returning home to Uganda has, to this day, always held a lot of beautiful meaning to me. I am Ugandan! No matter where I am coming from in the world, when I see the glistening Lake Victoria, and the lush green, and the red earth, I think, “Eden.” I think “Home!”
When we returned from exile our father was heartbroken when he discovered, as we all rode in a car together, that his children did not know what cows looked like. He was aghast! We believed them to be buffaloes. I only knew Fresian cows, and they have one basic look, and it definitely does not involve horns. So he soon packed us all off to our home in the village, Rwakitura. There, he set about re-educating us about who we are and our heritage as cattle people. He introduced us to the land. We would spend long mornings walking the land, herding the cattle with him and bush clearing by hand. Walking “in single file”. I came to love the land! So I and my siblings take our own children home to the village as often as possible in the hope that they will be joined to the land as we were.
So, who am I? I am a Dreamer. I am a poet. I am (sometimes) a nuisance. I am a Ugandan. I am an African. I am a friend. A sister. A daughter. A mother. A wife. And I am not done yet.