Hanne Alpers kindly agreed to hold a telephone interview with me, a couple of weeks ahead of the unique and exciting Omararu Artist’s Trail, which runs this year from the 19th – 21st of September. Promoting art in Namibia is clearly a matter that is close to Alpers’s heart and she was upfront and emphatic about her opinions on art-appreciation culture (or the lack thereof) in Namibia.
Omaruru has self-identified as an artistic and cultural hub in Namibia and has hosted the Omaruru Artist’s Trail for the last 9 years. Somewhat off the beaten track (nestled in the Erongo mountains) and keenly aware of its provincial character, it seems to derive its determination to promote art in Namibia from its underdog status of being ‘not Windhoek’.
The Trail invites artists from all disciplines to exhibit and promote their creative work in Omaruru. Participation is free, and no commission is charged on sold work, which is unusual in art-selling circuits. The Trail recognises that artists in Namibia need as much support as they can get, if they are to keep up their artistic production, and continue to enrich Namibia’s cultural milieu.
For the third year running, a small catalogue is being produced that will include a profile of every participating artist. It will be for sale at N$20 and Alpers hopes that it will enable visitors to revisit what they came across on the Trail, and perhaps reconnect with artists whose work they enjoyed.
Exhibitions are curated all over town, and the committee tries to match artists with suitable venues. This is a thoughtful effort that creates symbiosis between Omaruru residents, participating artists and visitors. Participation by local residents has increased over the years – an encouraging sign that community engagement can be fostered through the promotion and appreciation of the arts.
The annual AYOMA Drum Painting Auction involves local schools in a painting competition and drum-painting workshop. The colourfully painted drums are sold on silent auction through Facebook and proceeds go towards the following year’s AYOMA project. Encouraging art in schools and boosting the self-esteem of young artists is a central aim of the project.
Local business is also getting on board, as it has become increasingly clear that the Artist’s Trail attracts many visitors who make use of the town’s facilities and contribute to the local economy. Alpers is emphatic, “We want business to understand that art is useful. We want to show all these people who never buy art, that it is the artists who bring visitors to Omaruru and fill their guesthouses…Art can pay its way!”
The municipality has also been encouraged to involve artists in an ongoing collaboration with Omaruru’s twin town in Sweden, Vänersborg. Vänersborg hosts an Artist’s Trail at the same time of year, and the Omaruru committee has sent 37 works by 4 Namibian artists (Lok Kandjengo, Petrus Aamuthenu, David Amokoto and Elia Shiwoohamba) to the Vänersborg event, as well as hosting Swedish Artists in Omaruru.
A curator from Vänersborg will attend the Omaruru Trail in order to choose new work to exhibit in Vänersborg and continue the fruitful cultural exchange that is underway. Alpers is adamant that Namibian artists are more appreciated abroad than on home-soil, which she interprets as a clear indication that art is sadly under-appreciated here.
The Artist’s Trail represents a passionate effort to cultivate an art-buying, art-appreciating culture in Namibia, but Alpers admits that this takes time. She adds that getting financial support for the Trail is an ongoing struggle. In particular, the Directorate of Arts has a tendency to ignore their funding requests until the last minute, which leaves the organisers and participants anxious and vulnerable.
However, it is encouraging to see that the Artist’s Trail is gaining a credible reputation amongst small businesses, artists and visitors alike: This year a raffle has been introduced that requires participants to follow a map, visit all the venues and ask a question to every artist they encounter on the way. Participants of this ‘treasure hunt’ stand a chance to win a wonderful hamper full of locally made produce. Another raffle of artworks (donated kindly by artists) helps to raise money for the next Trail.
Alpers herself is hosting three artists in her gallery OmARTE each of whom will have space to curate and hang their work as they please. The artists she is hosting are Anita Stein, Alfeus Mvula and Abneil Enkali and she assures me that people can expect new and perhaps unexpected works from these well-established artists.
She explains that while an important aim of the festival is to foster art-buying culture in Namibia, it should also be seen as a place that encourages artistic freedom and experimentation and prides itself on being open to showing work that other galleries and venues would not show. Alpers calls this a ‘counter-trend’ and confides that they had considered calling the exhibition ‘Censored Art’ because the artworks they are featuring had been rejected from other institutions. In Namibia, where institutions are few and their capacity limited, it is encouraging to know that such an attitude exists.
Hanne Alpers owns OmARTE gallery in Omaruru and is on the organising committee of the Omaruru Artist’s Trail.
People interested in visiting or supporting the Omaruru Artists Festival can visit their Facebook page here or email this address to get a programme: firstname.lastname@example.org
Artists who are interested in participating in the future can get hold of application forms through VAN (Visual Artists-Namibia) or by contacting Hanne Alpers on email@example.com or Gudrun Mueler: 064 570 230.