Windhoek – In the extreme southwest of Namibia sits the small town of Oranjemund, home to just 4,000 people and the source of two million carats of diamonds every year.
From 1908 when diamonds were first discovered in the area, up until around 2017, it was not easy for a non-miner or a relative of a miner to enter the small settlement, ostensibly for security reasons.
Now the reclusive diamond-rich Oranjemund wants to attract tourists. And it wants to do it through art.
The “Art Can Transform” campaign started in June this year and is spearheaded by a special purpose vehicle called OMDis Town Transform Agency.
The campaign includes indoor art installations in the town museum, murals depicting the area’s history and transformation over the years, and sculptures in public spaces.
To date ten murals have been painted, three sculptures have crafted and two indoor displays have been mounted.
Among the sculpted work are depictions of coins found on the Bom Jesus shipwreck. For those not in the know, the Bom Jesus set sail from Portugal in March 1533 and simply disappeared. Its wreck was discovered during diamond mining operations near Oranjemund in 2008, and it remains one of the world’s greatest such finds.
Nine local artists have been commissioned to bring the Art Can Transform project to life, including Petrus Amuthenu, Saima lita, Ismael Shivute and Aurelia Sieberhagen.
Sieberhagen is an art teacher who painted two naturalistic murals with the assistance of her pupil, Annis Schlechter.
Elisia Nghidishange, the sculptor of the three-metre tall “Welcoming Man” that stands at the town entrance said of her work: “I decided to create this iconic sculpture that will remind tourists and visitors to the town that they’re very much welcome.”
Ronel van der Merwe, sustainability manager at OMDis said they wanted to make the small town, which borders South Africa, attractive to tourists.
“You could maybe think that after 80 years of being closed in there’s nothing much going on, but there is. We look at the things like building campsites, renovating the museum, maybe starting a sports event, maybe an arts and culture festival, and this project is part of that, to create an attraction for tourists to come to the town.
“We hope that with this initiative, Oranjemund will be put on a map, on a worldwide map. I don’t think that it happens anywhere that you commission 13 pieces of artwork for a town (of this size). I think that would be a major attraction for tourists.”