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Deveron Projects

The Town Is The Venue
What is ARTocracy about? What is ARTocracy about?

Xenson Znja / Sanaa Gateja

The Lubare and the Boat


My heart burns for the deliverance of Africa.

Alexander MacKay

An exploration into the life and work of missionary and Africa explorer Alexander MacKay

In Spring/Summer 2014, artists Sanaa and Xenson joined us on an artistic pilgrimage from Uganda, hoping to unearth the legacy of Aberdeenshire born explorer, scientist and missionary to Uganda Alexander MacKay.

Alexander MacKay 's life and work has arguably had a lasting impact on the country of Uganda–Uganda today being a deeply religious country–yet his story is little known back in Scotland. Where in Uganda buildings and roads are named after him, in Rhynie his home town, there are only a few obscure traces of his life left. A legacy not without its problems, the life of MacKay is an interesting lens through which to investigate the spiritual and cultural divide between our country and that of modern day Africa. What does it mean for us to engage with such a legacy, is history itself at stake?


Sanaa and Xenson attempted to in some way re-trace MacKay's journey, however both took quite different approaches and used very different methods, each seeking to explore different dimensions of MacKay's life and legacy.

The intention of Sanaa's journey was twofold; simultaneously wishing to research the area in which MacKay grew up in, its historic and contemporary conditions and traditions, as well attempting to transfuse the cultures of Uganda and Scotland together, briefly, through the celebration of MacKay's life–the man, the explorer, the mechanic, anti-slavery activist, print maker and educator. An Afro-Caledonian celebration took place during the weekend of 14/15th June 2015.

Xenson hoped to be the counterpoint to Sanaa's more celebratory approach, attempting instead to travel through time and reverse the flow of Mackay's teachings; transposing some of his legacy back into Aberdeenshire. Through a series of performances (often impromptu) incorporating fashion, poetry and spoken word, as well as leading workshops, Xenson questioned the lasting impact of MacKay's mission on Uganda, cheekily trying to give back some of the missionary's 'gifts'.

Sanaa and Xenson worked closely with Rhynie Woman, the community of Rhynie, and the charity Books Abroad.

Alexander MacKay

Alexander Murdoch MacKay was born in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire in 1849.  The son of a Presbyterian minister, MacKay's upbringing was both religious and academic, showing signs from an early age of possessing not only a great desire to learn but also to develop a wide set of skills. Fascinated by mechanics and the way things worked, he would later go on to study engineering, maths and natural philosophy.  Leaving Scotland in 1873 for Berlin, where he studied language and became a draftsman for an engineering firm in the city.

Inspired by the likes of Livingstone and Stanley, in 1876 Alexander Murdoch MacKay left Europe to begin a new life as a missionary in Uganda. In what was to be a remarkable journey, MacKay, along with the usual materials taken on such expeditions–paper and cloth for trading–took the unusual, but significant, addition of a printing press. After struggling to navigate the perilous River Wami, MacKay carrying his boat, the Daisy, in sections walked for almost two years to reach the Kingdom of Buganda (now known as Uganda). 

Finally reaching Uganda, he began, in his own way, to spread the Christian word. However MacKay's approach and attitude-although believing deeply in the word of God, was not that of 'convert or be dammed' but rather conversion through making and doing. As well as introducing the Bible, he brought new technological innovations to the kingdom such as wells, carts, lamps, and circulated printed material from his printing press.  Due to his remarkable technical abilities and ingenuity, MacKay was often called by the locals 'the wizard', or the lubare,  the kind of belief his mission was supposed to be fighting against.

MacKay never returned home, he died in 1890 of malaria–14 years after he set foot in Africa.

Shadow CuratorSarah Worden 

Creative Scotland     

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