A new painting hangs on the recently repainted first-floor wall of Founders’ Hall that acts not only as a beautiful piece of art to admire but also as a tacit social commentary and a showcase of immense student talent.
The piece, titled “Hannan” after the subject of the painting—Augustana student Hannan Mohamud—depicts a “different representation of what black women can be,” according to artist and former student Destiny Kirumira. Destiny’s project demonstrates the ways that black women have been painted historically and offers a social commentary on that representation.
The collection includes five paintings in total—the one of her friend, Hannan, one which incorporates a portrait of her sister, and the other three using self-portraits, all imposed on top of historical paintings where a black woman is misrepresented or barely represented at all. Destiny’s friend and sister were told to wear whatever they wanted to pose for these portraits in order to give them a sense of agency. They are each presented wearing a strong, assertive facial expression.
By imposing influential black women with whom Destiny personally identifies on top of famous paintings, she hopes to reconcile the misrepresentation or lack of representation of black women in art in the past and present. The collection is titled Okuvoola Ekintu Mundaga Yaakyo or O.E.M.Y, which is a Ugandan phrase that translates to “presenting something in a way that undermines it”.
Destiny is no stranger to reconciling what may seem like competing narratives. Born in Germany to parents from Uganda, Destiny moved to Canada when she was nine, and only now feels like she’s at a place where she feels comfortable with both locations as home, integral in shaping who she is today. Destiny thought about returning to Germany to study architecture after graduating from Augustana in 2018 but decided against it due to the racial tensions there. “I didn’t think it would be a safe place to start my life,” she explained.
Instead, Destiny opted to pursue architecture at the University of Calgary after completing a bachelor of arts in only three and a half years here at Augustana. Her program of study was as unique and seemingly contradictory as they come—she completed her BA with a major in math and physics and a minor in art. Painting has always been Destiny’s passion, and she credits her German roots and culture for training her in being analytic and meticulous, which led her to math and physics. Destiny sees an even greater connection between the two disciplines.
“I think both artists and physicists are some of the most tortured creatures alive since we’re both enveloped in the things that we study,” she explained. “If you’re starting a new painting and have no idea where it’s going to go or if it’s going to look good, it’s a very daunting task. It’s the same situation with physics; you’re often trying to study a system and setting up an experiment where the results aren’t what you predicted and you don’t necessarily know how to explain them.”
For Destiny, the all-consuming nature of her projects kept her fulfilled. As a self-driven student, it was important to her to finish O.E.M.Y before her last year at Augustana ended so that she could present it to the Augustana community. It represented not only a way to connect with her heritage but also a way of offering powerful and assertive depictions of black women in an arena that rarely represents them.
An even wider community will now get the chance to consider those representations of black women as they study “Hannan” hanging in the lobby of Founders’ Hall.