Rundu – Blessed with an unparalleled gift of using pencils to immortalise faces in the form of portraits, 30-year-old Antonio Siwawa from the north-eastern town of Rundu has found a balance between following his passion without sacrificing the need to make ends meet.
Siwawa, a resident of one of Rundu’s oldest locations called Kehemu, took up drawing as a hobby in his early years as a learner at Sarusungu Combined School, winning the school’s drawing competition sponsored by the Rundu Town Council.
After winning the competition, Siwawa, more affectionately known as Zeka, continued to hone his skills until he started his secondary education, where he realised that his passion could not offer him much in a way of a career and shifted his focus to the completion of his secondary schooling.
The lack of a proper market for fine arts in Namibia forced Siwawa to find himself an occupation that would sustain his livelihood, leading to his employment in 2010 as an officer in the Namibian Police Force, four years after completing high school.
Despite his gainful employment, he did not discard his passion for the arts, choosing instead to use his free time to pursue his love for drawing.
“I started drawing again during my spare time when I knocked off from work. At first I started drawing with a pencil and the more I practised, I realised that I still have the skill and I moved on to draw with paint,” Siwawa tells Nampa as he adds some final touches to a sketch he was commissioned to do by a client from Windhoek.
He said he kept on drawing for people but the market was not that promising and he often could not set prices for his artworks and clients would just pay what they could afford. Despite this limitation, Siwawa continued to hone his skill, remaining optimistic that his passion would one day bear fruit.
“After knocking off from work one day an idea came to me to do a sketch of the Founding President, Sam Nujoma, which I did in pencil. I don’t know if it was luck or destiny; the former president was also invited as guest of honour to the Rundu Trade Fair’s 2015 edition,” he said, adding that it was at this juncture that he was fortunate enough to present his sketch to Nujoma.
“I managed to talk to my commanders for me to present my gift to him. To my surprise, they agreed to my request.”
After posting the picture of him presenting the sketch to Nujoma, Siwawa’s business really took off.
Before long, the artist was receiving requests on Facebook from as far as Walvis Bay to do sketch portraits for clients.
“Since that day, people started following me on Facebook and this has also boosted my marketing. Even well-known people call me asking for drawings of themselves,” he adds.
Siwawa explains that the continued pursuit of his passion, coupled with the use of social media platforms, has allowed him to create a market for his art beyond his native town of Rundu.
The artist has so far completed portraits of individuals such as award-winning musician Gazza, Governor of the Kavango East Region, Samuel Mbambo as well as the founder of Trustco Group Holdings, Quinton van Rooyen.
The self-taught artist said his sketching has sparked so much interest that he often receives random calls from people asking for drawing lessons and he would encourage them to keep on practising and to not give up on their dreams.
Despite his success, Siwawa expressed disappointment in the fact that fine arts are not really promoted as career fields in Namibia, saying that not everybody is destined to be a doctor or engineer and that, as other countries have shown, the world needs artists too.
He feels there is a need for an arts institution to be established in the north-eastern part of the country to cater for those talented in arts.
“An arts school in Rundu would help kids change their lives as it will keep them busy and prevent them from bad social activities such as alcohol and drug use. Art will also help them shape their futures.”
Looking ahead, Siwawa hopes to see his art pieces recognised globally, saying he wishes to be the Leonardo da Vinci of Namibia and inspire many Namibians to pursue a career in fine arts.
He would also like to build a studio in Rundu one day, where he can paint, sketch, teach and hold exhibitions to create a market for future visual artists’ work. ‑ Nampa