October 16, 2018, 10 min read
Interview by Ronja Wagner
For this week's interview, Ronja got together with Louise Deininger, who was born in Uganda and grew up in Kenya in a large family of 27 children. She eventually found her way into conceptual arts and is now leading efforts to build a new generation of resilient young leaders in the post-war region of Northern Uganda.
In this deep conversation, Ronja and Louise discuss unimaginable war experiences, the right balance between external and internal motivation as well as leveraging the power of our reticular activating brain system to discover that everything we need for success is already here.
Louise, you are originally from Kenya with Ugandan roots, how did you end up in Austria?
I was born in Uganda, but I grew up in Kenya. When I was nineteen I moved to the UK. This was because my siblings were already living there. After school, we joined my father in the UK, so most of my family ended up there. I studied psychology, sociology and communication in the UK. Then I started a family and moved to Salzburg (Austria) with my then husband and my son.
You are a conceptual artist, how did you decide to become an artist?
I was in my twenties and a young mother. I just had my baby son and asked myself where he came from. I mean, of course, before he was born he was in my stomach but I wondered where he really came from. At that time, my dad didn’t feel so well, he passed away about eleven weeks after my son was born. And my dad was a wealthy person, very successful, entrepreneurial investor, a businessman. He had 26 children and eleven wives. And he had a very, very strong personality. When I saw his dead body, I thought “that is not my father”. So I asked myself some fundamental questions: What happens when you die? Why are we here? How do I find happiness in life? How do I find my purpose and how do I fulfill my full potential? I started a journey of researching all those things and it became my lifetime commitment to find the answers. It was mainly theoretical stuff that I was reading and attending seminars. In the end, I had to leave my family in England because as part of the journey I had to leave my comfort zone. I ended up in Austria. Throughout the journey, I have had many experiences, including loss, fear and challenges. After all, it has lead me to see the big picture.
And during this time you decided to become an artist?
At the beginning I was not sure about it: Should I write books? Should I teach? I ended up in the art world. I met a master who was an artist and I started work with him. During this time I was also studying multidisciplinary subjects such as consciousness, spiritual science, metaphysics, quantum theory and personal development.
Later I went back to school to study art and that is how I ended up at the academy of fine arts of Vienna University, majoring in contextual painting. But I am a conceptual artist, whose mission is to inspire as many people as possible to become the best version of themselves, which is done through the artworks that I produce.
You decided to become a conceptual artist to express yourself. Can you explain this direction of art?
In conceptual art, the idea is what makes the art. Everything in conceptualized and planned in advance before you bring it out this can be in form of film, paintings on canvas, objects, sculpture, new media or even writings and text. This is how I depict my artworks as well covering different topics.
You founded the organization GYCO (Global Youth Conference). What made you do this?
I wanted to bring about positive change in the world because I strongly believe that is one of the big purposes of life and why we are here - to change or contribute something to humanity. In 2016, after answering to an open call by IAEA, a competition on peace building and conflict, this resulted to my first art film called ‘The DNA of War’. I focused on modern Uganda and Rwanda and travelled to both countries to shoot the documentary. The art film mainly revolves around the causes and effects of armed conflicts, resilience and innovation. I also tried comparing intervention efforts in Rwanda and post-war Northern Uganda. Both countries have a very young population due to war. Of course, the wars were different in that in Rwanda it lasted a hundred days but almost a million people were killed. In Northern Uganda, the war lasted twenty years. You can imagine its impact on the population and especially on those who are left behind - the majority of them young people.
What was special about this war?
The war in Northern Uganda was very, very brutal, beyond human imagination, and one of the worst the world has ever experienced in history. Not many people are aware of it. Also, the conflict in Northern Uganda was very complex.
I give you some examples of the brutality of this war: One of the survivors narrated to the family of the older sister of our organizations’ lawyer that her arm and legs were cut off before being killed, simply because she was trying to protect the girls from her school. They had all been abducted by rebels. In one of the villages a group of people, who was suspected for having snitched on the rebels, were cut up to pieces and body parts put into cooking pots as villagers looked on while on gun point. Luckily, the army came and dispersed them before villagers were forced to consume the bodies. The hideous stories are endless so you can imagine the tremor which we are dealing with.
How did you start your project?
In the beginning I had resistance from within myself. I thought ‘This is too big for me. I am not ready, let me wait for maybe three to four years, until I am done with my career and then I will go for it.’
But HE had different plans for me, so things started happening in such a way that it was moving me towards doing something in Northern Uganda. I visited a seminar by Bob Proctor (from the film by Rhonda Bryne ‘The Secret’), during this seminar he said something that changed my viewpoint: “If you are thinking of the right moment, to have the needed amount of money, to have the right people to start your project – you are in the wrong seminar. We are going to think into results. You are going to get out of your comfort zone, go through that terror barrier. That is where magic happens.” When I came back to Vienna I started working with my coach on the project and within six months I was able to achieve my goal of having the biggest youth conference in Northern Uganda featuring Nobel Prize Nominee Victor Ochen, himself a survivor of war, as keynote speaker.
Were there any hardships you experienced during that time?
I would not call it hardships: During the planning and execution process, whenever we were faced with issues we asked the right questions such as "what is this experience teaching us?".
Our main focus was on the goal, i.e. organizing a successful youth conference with the aim of motivating our young leaders in Northern Uganda through sharing experiences mainly by the speakers.
What is the vision of GYCO Global Youth Conference?
To unlock the full potential of our youth, by working on the mindset and develop them into leaders. That is very important because you can imagine the amount of anger, negativity, desperation and resentment in the hearts and minds of these young adults considering the intensity of trauma they had to go through during the war. During our conferences we aim to bring all youth leaders from Northern Uganda of the post-war area together. So that they can interact with each other and exchange ideas. At the first event we had more than 500 young participants and it lasted for two days.
What are the biggest problems that Northern Uganda is facing today concerning the youth?
One consequence of the war is that many of the young adults grew up in an environment surrounded by violence and destruction from the past. This has led to alcoholism. A large number of these young adults drinks a lot of so alcohol abuse is a challenge. 38% of girls drop out of school and enter into early marriages and this also leads to domestic violence. Another one is gambling. Betting is a form of addiction. We are working on their mindsets in order to mitigate against these negative effects.
You said it is important to be the best version of yourself. What is your advice to become the best version of oneself?
The first thing one does is to look inside. Being true to you, being brave, being comfortable in your own skin, being courageous, being creative - this comes from within you. So most of the work is on oneself, others call it 'Inner Engineering', it involves working from a place of authenticity.
How can you be brave enough to really listen to yourself?
Within each and everyone of us there is always an inner voice that wants to know. So if you have the desire it is possible to begin the journey. We live in a very interesting time, where there are more than enough tools available - a mobile phone and internet. The only thing you have to do is type. Therefore: You have to know what you want! What do you really want? Do you have a vision of yourself? How do you see yourself twenty years from today? You have to identify what you want first. At GYCO, we encourage our youth leaders to write down their goals both long-term and short-term, focusing on all areas of their lives so we divide them into different categories. Your personal development goals, your career and financial goals, your reward goals (e.g. What am I going to buy myself after I worked so hard?) and also go through sessions where they write down their personal mission, purpose and vision including core values.
Why do you need to write down your goals?
We have this part of the brain called the RAS reticular activating system, which acts as a filter of information. So when you programming it starts attracting what you are focused on, for example if you wear a yellow dress all of the sudden you start noticing others with the same. We are surrounded by so many things. The RAS distinguishes those things you need to focus on, meaning when you write down your goals you start bringing them into your experience. And that is exactly how I inspire people: Know what you want, write down your goals and set a time frame – 20 years, ten years, five years, three years – one year from now, then you are not just living, you are not just reacting. You must walk towards the direction of your dreams, wishes and desires with a purpose. And this inspires you to wake up every morning knowing exactly why you are here on this planet.
You are such a joyful person, you are always smiling, always happy, how do you do that?
It takes a lot of work, discipline and determination to oneself, especially the act of meditation which I practice daily and is a lifetime commitment. And also whatever I am doing right now with my team in Northern Uganda gives me so much joy. Moreover, I have a wonderful support system, a great marriage, a wonderful family, great friends and loved ones whom I care for so deeply. Actually, when you are very engaged, you are too busy to be anything else but happy most of the time.
What is your biggest advice for young people, if they have an idea and they want to make it happen, but are too afraid to do it?
First of all, when you have an idea, you need to sell this idea to yourself. Commit it on paper. Write down 35 reasons why you should go for that idea. You have to convince yourself first before you can defend it to others. Furthermore, the idea has to come with a vision. How do you see yourself on top of that mountain with that idea? Know your ‘why’, . Apart from vision you have to have a purpose. How is it going to impact other people positively? And then you need to have faith, you need to strongly believe that this vision of yours is the right one. And that you are going to make it happen – no matter what. Lastly gratitude is the glue that holds all those things things together. And then act, faith without action has no value.
Louise, thank you for the interview!
Louise Deininger was born in Uganda but grew up in Kenya. Having a wealthy father, her family was able to move to the UK early on.Today, Louise works as conceptual artist in Vienna, Austria. She is the founder of GYCO, an association focusing on African youth who have been affected by traumatic events of armed conflict. The organization is partnering with local youth centers and organizes youth empowerment programs based on self development. GYCO serves the goal to empower young adults through mindset transformation, stop economic dependency and to build a more sustainable, positive and peaceful society.