Haute Living Sits Down With Visionary Actor & Photographer Ntare Mwine

Kirombe, Lira, Uganda 2003

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine is not only a prolific playwright and an award-winning actor, recently coming off of HBO’s Treme, he also a photographer whose work has graced the pages of Vanity Fair and the halls of the United Nations. Haute Living’s Gloria Huwiler recently sat down with Mwine, who spoke to us about his early inspiration, the relationship between his work as a visual artist and performer, and the evolution of his work from still to moving images.

Mary & Josephi's wedding, Maputo, Mozambique, 2006Mwine’s work, he tells us is that of a storyteller, be it as a performer or visual artist.  This he believes is the reason his work has focused on portraiture rather than landscapes or abstract photographs, “As an actor I’m drawn to personal stories.” While he grew up in the United States his work has focused primarily on Africa. Mwine’s describes Uganda as his muse, and photography as a way to connect back to his roots.  Describing himself as a child of both worlds, Mwine credits his artistic passion for pushing him to “further excavate or document a country I’m from, but have lived part from.”

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine’s work as a performer has been pointedly political. His self-penned one-man play Biro, which was performed for then Secretary General Kofi Annan, focuses on the plight of HIV victims, while his more recent production, A Missionary Position, explores Uganda’s LBGT community in the wake of the Anti Homosexuality Bill. His photography, however, he believes has no conscious intention, rather he shoots for the love of shooting, capturing whatever strikes him visually be it political, or simpe acts of people getting on with their lives.

However, Mwine’s work goes beyond simply capturing an aesthetic, and the evolution of work has seen the merging of both his crafts. Working both in front and behind the camera, Mwine’s last play evolved into a multimedia piece, incorporating his gift for storytelling through the depiction of characters as an actor and his visual work as a photographer and videographer. The result was a fascinating work described as a ‘searing reposte at Uganda’s anti gay bill.’ Mwine’s vision in the piece was to give a voice to this marginalized community, honoring their fierce resistance amidst the drowning clamor of fear and hate.

Ntare MwineHis latest endeavor as a visual artist will be a short art film. Once again the boundaries are collapsed as he works both as a subject and creator, shooting stills, video, and placing himself in the piece. While shooting the film was an organic haphazard process with images inspired by the changing landscape, a consistent persona in the piece will be Mwine’s character dressed a priest. The art film will differ from the play, however, the idea of the priest and Anti Homosexuality Bill are inextricably linked. Priests have played a central part in both the support and opposition of Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality bill.  Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, a straight priest who stood up against the proposed measures and ultimately met with excommunication from the church, was a character Mwine hoped to explore through his footage. The visuals of the piece span various communities in six different Africa countries, while the audio, taken from local radio reports and found footage will hanker back to the theme of resistance.

Whether on stage or through his photography and video work, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine’s work shows a consistent commitment to shedding a light on human stories allowing his subjects to express their truth. His work immortalizes the struggle of numerous under represented communities’ efforts to be seen and understood.

Untitled, baptism, Maputo, Mozambique 2006