Robinah Nansubuga: My main drive is to always create alternative spaces

The African art scene in Africa is growing, developing and more exciting than ever.

With many African artists making a name for themselves – both at home and around the world – how does one get into the art scene when not being an artist yourself?

Robinah Nansubuga is an Independent Curator and Set Designer based in Kampala, Uganda. She implements strategies to promote artists and develop the artistic network in East Africa.

She has curated and led artistic projects across the continent and the world. Robinah was the artistic director of MTN Nyege Nyege 2018 – a festival organized with grants from the British Council.

This Motherland Mogul is also a former committee member for Laba! Street Art Festival, Arterial Network Uganda Chapter, a judge curator at the National Civil Society Fair art Competitions (CSO), co-curator of the Kampala Contemporary Art festival – and much more arts festival across the region.


How did you become an independent curator of arts festivals?

I have always been a huge fan of festivals they were my get away from everything that one place that I felt included and happened to forget the things happening home and in my life at that time.

After having worked for two galleries in Kampala (Afriart and fas fas gallery) I became an independent curator in 2012. I wanted to experience art in a space where audiences and makers get to meet.

Therefore I started curating ‘’EKYOTO UGANDA ‘’ during the Bayimba International Arts festival. Ekyoto was a bonfire project that I curated to bring together people through games like ‘’Dulu’’ – which today would come close to being a pool table.

Integrating the social aspects with Ugandan traditional ways of entertainment turned out to be a big success.

From there, I started to think and focus on how to create arts and cultural events that are inclusive and show a variety of art forms.

What skills do non-artists need to make it in the arts sector?

Organizational skills! Arts festivals usually do not have big budgets. So being efficient, conscious of costs and committed to timelines are key to make any festival a reality.

Also, it’s very important that you are good at collaborating. Festivals are all about collaborations, not only with the other people on the team – but also with the artists and don’t forget the audience.

Successful arts festivals can only be realized by listening to all involved because in that way new ideas can develop.

I would also suggest that it’s good to develop some creative skills yourself. This will help you understand who you are working with and it will help you develop your own creative vision.

And finally, practical skills – from basic electrician know-how to carpentry and designing – will always come in handy during the actual festival.


Tell us how you develop your own vision and execute that vision?

I am fortunate by now I get invited by festivals to work with them because I have built a name for myself through my vision.

Through the exhibitions, I created my main drive is always to create alternative spaces. My vision developed over the years.

Whenever I would attend arts of the cultural festival I would look for the things I felt were missing and that would have been of added value to the festival and the audiences.

However, when being approached by a festival you usually have to work in teams meaning that the vision is not yours alone.

What have been your biggest challenges in the cultural scene? And how did you overcome these challenges?

Being a woman who looks really young definitely didn’t help. I really had to push hard to make sure my ideas were not being undermined, but actually listened to.

It’s a very male-dominated sector so as a woman you have to bring yourself to think like a man, be able to do all the physical and mental jobs they can do in order to have a smooth working relationship.

Another challenge that needs political navigation is that the cultural scene can be very much of a clique scene at times.

This can mean that collaborating with on one project, might mean you are not able to be involved in another.

That is one of the main reasons why I became an independent curator as I’d like to focus on the work instead of potential conflict of interests.

I believe that sooner or later, every challenge can be overcome. You can start by educating yourself, trying to surround yourself with the right people who believe in your goals.

And, at times you have to be ready to compromise while staying passionate. plus let your work speak more for you.

I am lucky I earned my respect in the industry and for that am still very thankful to many artists and people that still believe and believed I could do more than I was doing.

You recently curated the Kigali Photo Fest. How did you decide what to include in the exhibition?  

Kigali Photo Fest has a vision and mission that really resonated with me. It’s about celebrating Africa’s diversity through photography as a medium of art.

The theme of the first edition was ‘In search of relevance – locality and remediation’ – which is about sharing and navigating ideas of identity, memory, experience, intimacy, presence, and connection, in order to co-opt a narrative through a selection of subject matter and presentation.

They present a historically, socially significant moment and can frame the conversation around those moments, therefore, it wasn’t so difficult to include.

We approached artists with the vision and the theme of the festival and many responded positively.

It is a special project that hopes to include many African photographers and teach photography as a medium of art to earn its respect, to start looking for new audiences and to mostly tell stories about other places in Africa that one might not be able to visit but have an idea through images.

Therefore it is about the continent sharing with each other.

Was your family always supportive of your dream to pursue a career in the cultural and arts sector?

My dad and mum met in drama school, but my father ended being a Mechanical Engineer.

So my father understood the appeal of arts and culture to be he said you also have to be able to look after yourself financially.

We really need to educate our families to be our first fans, audiences and to be the next big support systems we can depend on.

We also have the responsibility to take the effort and be patient to teach them so that not only our families but also our societies, can better understand.

In this video, Robinah shares more about collaborations within the East Africa art sector, establishing a creative vision during the last Nyege Nyege festival in Kampala.

This video was produced in cooperation with the British Council.


This article was written by Marthe van der Wolf

Mona Faces: Taking over makeup artistry in Uganda one face at a time

“The future is female and African”- is a phrase I’ve heard many times but it was only after my conversation with Mona that I had the feeling of having met a true embodiment of this phrase. Mona is the young entrepreneur behind the brand “Mona faces” which has taken the Ugandan makeup artist scene by storm and is certain to leave an everlasting mark on the entire African continent. I had the opportunity to conversate with Mona about her business, her life, and her future.

Who is Mona?

Umutoni Monalisa, also known simply as Mona, is a self-taught makeup artist, a self-proclaimed perfectionist and a connoisseur of beauty. Mona is a 25-year-old entrepreneur whose passion has led her to the path to mastery of makeup artistry and who is set to take Uganda and indeed Africa by storm, one master class at a time. Mona holds a degree in Office and information management which she obtained from Makerere Business School. I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube - @monafaces Click To Tweet

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Shortly after Senior 6, unfortunately, my father passed on leaving me with the formidable responsibility of taking care of myself and my siblings in whatever I could. I remember thinking to myself that it was now my responsibility to take care of my family. In my senior six vacations, I started working for Bold in Africa- an upscale fashion boutique in Kampala- have I had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by the founders of the brand, Nunu Mugyenyi, and Angel Kalisa, who taught me how to run and manage a business. Having learned the fundamentals of business from these two ladies, I partnered with some friends in my first year at university and opened a retail outlet- buying clothes from downtown and reselling them to clients in the urban areas.   With all this taking place, I still nursed a deep passion for beauty and makeup. I started reading lots of magazines, watching tons of YouTube videos, following makeup artists on Instagram and learning from them with the dream that I would be able to someday turn this passion into profits. With the help of a friend who worked at blush media, I organized my first ever photoshoot showcasing my talent, to my surprise and delight, my work went viral within a short amount of time and as they say, ‘the rest is history.’ I officially started Mona faces in October 2014, which is when the pictures from my first professional shoot went viral.

Women have often been told to choose between work and family, what are your thoughts on this? Can a woman have it all?

Women can have it all- but not all at the same time. I think a woman can have a wonderful career as well as a great family, what matters is the timing. A woman might decide to first focus on her career or her business until it grows to the point where she can step back from it a little and give her attention to her family and vice versa. But then again, I’m single so I wouldn’t know. All I’ve known for a long time has been work, work, and more work, but I do believe that it’s all about timing. Women can have it all- but not all at the same time - @monafaces Click To Tweet

If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be and why?

Invisibility. I’d like to be invisible because I love working behind the scenes.

What would you say African entrepreneurs should keep in mind to grow their brands?

African entrepreneurs must stay hungry, that’s the most important thing they should keep in mind. I think a lot of female entrepreneurs get comfortable very easily- if she can pay her rent, and look good in the process, maybe buy a car- then she is satisfied. I think the goal is to achieve as much as possible and never let yourself get comfortable. At the time that I started Mona faces, there were no recognizable makeup studios in Kampala, I had to learn and build my brand and in the process sort of paved the way for other makeup artists to be able to join the industry as well.

If you could have anyone in the world as your mentor, who would it be and why?

I have been blessed with so many people in my life that I count as mentors already, right from my very first bosses, Nunu Mugyenyi and Angel Kalisa, who still mentor me to this day, all the way to friends and family. Ann Kansiime also plays a huge mentoring role in my life, I admire her success and ambition. Internationally, though, I’d say powerful women like Oprah Winfrey are a great inspiration. Honestly, If I could have every successful businesswoman mentor me, I would. I admire powerful business women across the world. You can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn - @monafaces Click To Tweet

What is your greatest business lesson?

Like a lot of people, change terrifies me and it wasn’t until I realized- you can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn- that I finally started getting comfortable with change. My greatest business lesson so far has been the fact that you never know whether what you are doing is going to succeed or not, but you should keep in mind that at the end of the day, you cannot fail and you cannot fall, you can only learn.  

Tell us about your toughest day in business, what challenges did you face and how did you solve it?

First, there have been so many tough days, I almost fail to pick one. My business is extremely people-centric, which basically means, people’s opinions matter a lot. On my toughest day, I’d done the makeup on a bride and she was very happy with my work. However, during her function, someone took a few unflattering pictures of my bride- it was a case of a bad camera, poor angles, and very bad lighting- and posted those pictures on social media. Social media can be great for business but in some instances, it can also be the cause of great anxiety, especially if you are being bullied. I got a lot of negative feedback and my brand was vilified, it was very heartbreaking because I knew that my bride had been very pleased with the work I’d done for her. Eventually, though, some beautiful pictures were posted and my brand was exonerated which proved to me that when you do good work, that will always stand as a witness.

What’s the next step for Mona Faces?

Mona is going to be doing many more master classes. At the start of this journey, I didn’t know that my brand would grow to this level, and right now, I feel that there are many more young people that are now where I was two years ago and I would love to be able to teach them how to get to the next level. I also see myself producing my very own makeup line in the future.

As a bonus question, Mona was asked what advice she would give to all those hoping to follow in her footsteps and start their own makeup artistry brand; here was her inspirational advice…

“Start where you are with what you have. When I started, I literally had a little bag with one tube of lipstick, one eyeliner stick and one small box of powder, and with that, I was able to book my first bride and slowly add to my inventory. I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube and by following international makeup artists on social media. You can never know until you start, so you need to just start. Do not fall into the trap of waiting for the perfect time, the right amount of startup capital, the right client etc., just start and slowly you will see yourself move from one level to the next”.
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Webinar with Jacqueline Nassimbwa: Becoming a leader in the health sector (May 25)

Jacqueline Nassimbwa is a public health specialist and project manager who is extremely passionate about advancing sexual and reproductive health rights in Uganda. Join us for a webinar with her on May 25th as she shares with us how she’s moved up the ladder to a leadership position in the health sector.


When you think of a career in health, what comes to mind? If it’s an image of doctors, nurses, or community health workers, you’re not alone!

But it turns out we need more than medical professionals to improve and save lives. There is a need for finance experts, design gurus, communications bosses, IT whizzes, and more.

Join this webinar with @ghcorps alumni on Thur. May 25 and learn to become a leader Click To Tweet

Before you count yourself out of the running for a job in the health sector, join us for a webinar on Thursday May 25th with Jacqueline Nassimbwa. She is an alumni of Global Health Corps and is #SLAYing without white coats or stethoscopes. Learn how Jacqueline built her career around her passion and get inspiration and advice for your own journey!

Register below to get the exclusive link to the webinar.

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • Building a career in the health sector
  • Developing your unique leadership style
  • Integrating leadership with professional development

 Webinar Details:

  • Date: Thursday May 25th 2017
  • Time: 8am NYC // 1pm Lagos // 3pm Kampala

Watch here:

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline Nassimbwa  is skilled in scientific writing, research, project management, and quality improvement. She currently leads research efforts for advocacy teams focused on sexual and reproductive health issues at the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development in Kampala.

As a 2011-2012, Global Health Corps fellow at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, she assessed government structures in the delivery of maternal and child health (MCH) services and designed interventions to integrate HIV and MCH services.

Combining her expertise in technology with her passion for improving maternal and child health (MCH), Jacqueline designed a cloud system to improve data quality and service delivery in clinics.

Jacqueline holds an BSc in Food Science and Technology from Makerere University, and an MSc in International Health from Charite Institute of Tropical Medicine, Berlin; University College, London; and Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

Stacey’s “big move”: Tips for when you’re a repatriate

stacey mwesezi repatriate
@Staceyy_Stace traded London for Kampala and was welcomed with open arms Click To Tweet

Born and raised in London, I’d never imagined living anywhere else —until I graduated from University and joined the working world! The rising cost of living, poor work-life balance and miserable weather (which I will never get used to) slowly made me lose love for my home city.

Meanwhile, the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative was opening my eyes to the opportunities on the continent, including Uganda, the land of my parents. My holidays to Uganda became more frequent —and boarding my flights back to the UK became more of a battle! With my parents indicating that they would move back to Uganda within a few years, the idea of joining them became an attractive option.

By early 2015, I was certain that I would try living in Uganda at some point, but I had no idea it would be this soon —even before my parents! The opportunity arose earlier than I expected and I couldn’t pass it up.

Getting into Jumia Uganda

I’d been applying for new jobs in London, until one day, a tweet advertising an attractive marketing role with Jumia (Africa’s biggest e-commerce platform), appeared on my timeline —and it was based in Kampala.

I reached out to the Country Manager through LinkedIn expressing my interest in the role. A couple of Skype interviews later, I was offered the job and was on a flight to Kampala the next week!

It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to over think the move or discourage myself. If things didn’t work out, I could easily be on the next flight back to London —so it was worth the shot!

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At times, I was made to feel like an expatriate and at others, a local Click To Tweet

Life in Kampala

Generally, Kampala welcomed me with open arms. My job has been exciting; the sunny weather makes days more pleasant; the social scene is popping and although my immediate family are in London, the majority of my relatives are here, dotted in every corner of the city.

I felt new to the city, but I also felt at home. At times, I was made to feel like an expatriate and at others, a local. I wasn’t quite sure what to refer to myself as, until I learned the term ‘repatriate’: one who has returned to their country of birth, citizenship or origin.

I’ve met a few other repatriates which is encouraging, however I wouldn’t say there’s much of a ‘repat’ scene here just yet, unlike in places like Lagos and Accra. As of now, returnees and repatriates tend to blend in with Uganda’s local middle class and expatriates.

It’s also important to mention that absolutely every one has a side hustle! There are many opportunities to make (legal) side money and it’s the way people overcome the challenge of earning a weak currency. Now that I’m in Uganda, I’ve been inspired to utilise my time better and actively seek paid opportunities beyond my job!

Us Londoners tend to speed walk, it took some time to get used to the laid back way of life Click To Tweet

Main challenges

Note: Having a generator and a mifi means I do not have to complain about power cuts or lack of consistent WiFi.

  • Money: The Ugandan Shilling is not the strongest of currencies, especially in comparison to the British Pound. Travelling abroad now requires more careful consideration than I was previously used to, due to how weak the Ugandan Shilling is when exchanged. Furthermore, a lot of business in Kampala involves dealing in US dollars, which isn’t always easy! However, although I’m earning less than I was in the UK, the cost of living in Kampala is a lot less —so my money does go a longer way in Uganda.
  • Friends: As expected, most people in Kampala have friends whom they’ve grown up with —and having never lived here before, I did initially feel disconnected in that aspect. I had to actively try to make new friends, but I never wanted to come across as desperate! Nonetheless, with the help of cousins, colleagues and people I’d met on previous visits, I’ve networked, met and continue to meet some great people.
  • The laid-back culture: Us Londoners tend to speed walk regardless of whether we’re running late and get frustrated if our train is delayed by any more than 2 minutes. It took some time to get used to the laid back, less time-conscious way of life in Kampala. At first, I criticised it, but later realised it probably contributes to how happy and stress-free most people seem here. The slower pace isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just different and requires a lot of patience if you’re not used to it!