The National Art Gallery of Namibia creating space for visual artists

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The National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN), situated in the centre of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, is a state-owned institution that provides a platform to local and international artists to exhibit their artworks in its galleries. The national gallery also showcases the cream of Namibian visual artwork from the permanent collection. As 2018 heads into the sunset, The Southern Times reporter, ANNINES ANGULA (AA) spoke to NAGN Chief Executive Officer, SNOBIA KAPUTU (SK) to share her experience as head of the country’s premier gallery and the expectations for the New Year. 

AA: Please share with us your experience as head of the National Art Gallery of Namibia

SK: It has been an exciting 12 months’ experience as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Art Gallery of Namibia. Exciting in the sense that I am leading the only national institution responsible for the promotion and development of the visual arts in the country and abroad, a passion that I carried over the years. 

Witnessing innovative works of art filling the gallery walls and floors, the vast growing number of visitors from all walks of life during the official openings and duration of exhibitions; the interacting side events that accompany the respective exhibitions on display; and seeing a buyer purchasing an artwork from our local artists, which puts a smile on the face of an artist as they receive their money for their labour in creating unique and valuable work of art make me feel the positive impact that the NAGN makes towards the wellbeing of our Namibian Artists. It thus motivates me on a daily basis to create platforms that empower our artists.  

However, it sometimes becomes a painful experience when the exhibition is over without any artwork being purchased, which become a demotivating factor for artists to continue creating works of art, while experiencing challenges selling their artworks. Except for collections exhibitions, the key purpose of a selling exhibition is to create platforms for the artist to sell their artworks, and make a living. 

The challenge is that although the industry has been growing fast, the artists benefit on a minimal scale from their art because of few art buyers in the market. The sector can grow when the works of art are purchased, which will motivate artists to create more artworks. However, the current situation is that there is no equilibrium between the supply of artworks and the demand. 

AA: The year 2018 is coming to an end, and it has been a busy year for NAGN. Please share with us the highlights and activities that took place during the year?

SK: NAGN exhibited several group and solo exhibitions. Some highlights worth mentioning are the film documentary exhibition from prominent international acclaimed British artist, Julie Brook and TERRA: Mining and Earth Matters Exhibition by Jeannette Unite from South Africa. Cats and Dogs Group exhibition featuring a collaborative body of work by Namibian and German artists using multiple media.  In partnership with the Goethe-Institut Namibia and IFA, we hosted a travelling exhibition titled “Future Perfect”. Giving our local artists free exhibition space and curatorial services during the layout of their exhibitions continue to be our support for their creativity. 

Namibian artists participated in the booth group exhibition, which was an open call exhibition where each exhibiting artist received 2x2 square metres of freedom to display their work. In collaboration with our local tertiary institutions that offer visual arts disciplines, we hosted the New Beginnings Exhibition showcasing artworks by graduates of the College of the Arts. 

The University of Namibia is currently exhibiting the artworks from the graduates who are majoring in various fields such as Art for Advertising, Ceramic Studies, Creative Expression, Fashion Studies, Textiles Studies and Visual Culture. The exhibition reflects the outcome, dedication and creative products by the students throughout the academic year. In celebrating Namibia 28th Independence, an exhibition titled Na/m(e)/bia Independence exhibition, an exhibition celebrating Namibia Independence through the eyes of the artists was one of the highlights showcasing artworks from NAGN Permanent Collection and artworks from contemporary artist. 

Isabel Katjavivi, an overall winner of Bank Windhoek Triennial 2017, was given an opportunity to showcase a solo exhibition titled “They Tried to Bury Us”. Pre-Tulipamwe, a retrospective exhibition displaying some of Tulipamwe collection artworks and some contemporary works from artists whose artworks are part of the collection were showcased, subsequent to that Tulipamwe Exhibition featuring an outcome of artworks produced at 2018 Tulipamwe International Artists’ Workshop were exhibited. 

During the Arts Summit of Southern Africa that took place in Windhoek, NAGN took on the opportunity to display 57 artworks from 57 artists. It was a great opportunity for Namibian artists to showcase their artworks. John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943-1987): ‘Marking The Legacy That Still Inspire’ is a historical exhibition of John Ndevasia Muafangejo’s artworks from the Permanent Collection of the National Art Gallery of Namibia, together featuring artworks from artists that have been inspired by our own legend late John Muafangejo. The exhibition traces the tremendous contribution that Muafangejo has made to the development of visual arts in Namibia. Closing off the year, the NAGN will host an exhibition ‘RMB Art Come Together Workshops’, an exhibition of the results from art Cometogether workshops in the Khomas, Kavango East, Oshana and Hardap regions. The exhibition officially opens on 6 December 2018. 

 

AA: What programmes and projects did the NAGN successfully carry out during the year, regarding the promotion of visual and cultural arts in Namibia?

SK: We showcased 20 exhibitions thus far, including four solo exhibitions, four exhibitions by international artists and 16 exhibitions featuring local artists and participated in the Oshakati Totem Expo. Thus far, the NAGN received 7,586 local, regional and international visitors. And 275 artists exhibited at NAGN with 758 artworks displayed in the gallery and extended venues from January to November 2018. As part of our educational and research programme, we hosted 21 walkabouts for scholars, students, group visits. We accommodated five research projects using the NAGN collection. 

We also hosted six artists’ workshops including Tulipamwe International Artist Workshop, which accommodated 25 regional, international and local artists, 125 artworks were created during the workshop, of which 97 artworks were exhibited at the NAGN. 

Another series of workshop worth mentioning is the four RMB Art Cometogether Workshops which took place in Khomas, Kavango East, Hardap and Oshana Regions. This initiative is part of the National Art Gallery of Namibia strategic objectives, which is to facilitate the production of innovative works of art and craft in Namibia and to develop educational programmes in respect of visual art and craft activities in collaboration with appropriate institutions and service providers.  Over 200 participants (scholars, art students, and community people) participated in the respective workshops, sponsored by First National Bank (FNB) through Namibia Rand Merchant Bank (RMB). These types of workshops are facilitated by professional artists and will be rolled out in the 14 regions of Namibia until 2020. 

The art and craft produced at the workshops in 2018 will be exhibited at the NAGN as from 6 December 2018. 

Six Happy Art Hours took place during the year. Happy art hour is a casual evening at the gallery, which takes place every Friday of the first week of each month to allow art lovers to interact and get an opportunity to partake in side events like talk from artists exhibiting at the gallery, enjoying music. It is also a tool used by NAGN to attract new clientele. To decentralise NAGN activities, I Initiated consultative meetings with regional governors, constituency councillors and the visual artists to find out the status of the visual arts in their respective regions/constituencies and how we could collaborate to implement art-related activities in the regions. Thus, taking the services to the regions instead of expecting artists to come to Windhoek to benefit from NAGN programmes. All consultations held so far were very fruitful. We managed to unpack a lot of talent and already agreed on the way forward for 2019. 

The regions visited thus far are Hardap, //Kharas, Kavango East and Oshana Region. More than 300 participants attended the consultation meetings. The consultations will continue during 2019 in other regions. More than 60 visual artists participated in the consultation meetings. The purpose of the meetings was to inform the artists on NAGN mandate and how they, as artists, can partake in NAGN programmes. 

During the consultations, we also visited individual artist studios and art entrepreneurs, which was an astonishing experience as the team witnessed the volume of talent we have in our regions, which is hidden due to non-existing platforms through which our regional artists can be promoted and developed. Our communications and marketing officer had interviews with specific artists on their journey in becoming a practising artist, and the articles have been featured in our monthly newsletters.

 

AA: What are the main challenges that are preventing the NAGN from successfully carrying out its mandate, which is to promote visual and cultural arts in Namibia?

SK: Limited infrastructure to decentralise our activities. However, I am confident with the collaborations and networking I embarked upon with the regional governors and constituency councillors to identify venues in their respective constituencies where we can have art activities, the challenge will become something of the past moving forward. Staff capacity, vis-à-vis, our mandate to serve all Namibian visual artists is a challenge, thus difficult to expand our staff structure to meet the service delivery demand.

 

AA: What do we expect in the New Year – 2019?

SK: Quite exciting programmes are lined up for 2019, starting with a well-thought out exhibition calendar, which is already fully booked. First of its kind will be the creative exhibition, which will showcase Namibian artists and artisans art and craftwork in celebration of 29 years of independence. This exhibition is an opportunity for creatives of all kinds across the [length and] breadth of the Namibian nation to submit [their] work. 

Creatives are encouraged to create work that is inspired by or that uses material from their surrounding environment. The exhibition encourages creatives to submit work that is truly Namibian. The project aims to bring creatives from various backgrounds, from the more “traditional” forms of making to the more “contemporary”. 

The exhibition’s aim is to provide a platform to a wider variety of Namibian artists, from all disciplines, to come into contact with each other through their art. It also aims to create a space in which non-artists (through the collaborative process) can gain exposure to the process of art making as well as feel some ownership over the products. Art workshops in the regions through networking between experienced artists and upcoming artists will be encouraged during 2019. 

In collaboration with the respective constituencies in the regions, the NAGN will introduce visual art week, where the artists in those specific constituencies will showcase their art for enjoyment, appreciation and selling. 

NAGN will explore opportunities for our artists to participate on regional and international platforms to showcase their artworks.

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