I would like to propose a show at the National Gallery titled #NamKitsch!!!!!! It will be a show of the highest magnitude.
There will be balloons and snacks and banners and everything wonderful. People will walk around and just be completely happy. They will look at all of the images of sunsets and the vastness of “the land of savannahs”, there will be paintings of animals – realistic ones, others done in splashes of colours; there will even be ones done with the highest technical skills (and they will look really really nice). Oh and of course there will be images of our great land, historic buildings and the outline of the shape of Namibia and even Africa as well.
There will also be some confused people there, who will not be smiling.
The opening speaker gets up and says, “All protocol observed. This is it my colleagues! Let’s live it up! Viva!” She starts clapping and the crowd follows after. “This is it! This is the last big hurrah for Namibian Kitsch!” The crowd stops clapping, “What?” somebody yells out from the crowd. “The last of Kitsch? But we love it so much, why the last?” Someone else cries out, “We love the landscapes that we see year after year, and the animals and the historic buildings! They are so beautiful.”
“But my artwork is not kitsch. How dare you!” An older painter starts crying.
“It is though” the speaker says, “Hey guys let’s look around us, we are surrounded by it right now. These images are what we have become. These are the icons of Namibia and Nambian Art, they are on the postcards and in all the tourist magazines, they are what comes up in Google searches and what the rest of the world knows us as. We have almost totally exploited these images. People get it, Namibia is a beautiful place but we don’t need another painting of the old German church or of a sparse landscape with trees, sand and a gemsbok.”
The confused and not smiling people from earlier start applauding.
“My colleagues, please don’t get me wrong, many of your artworks are technically well done… And people like looking at them. That’s one of the reasons why we are celebrating tonight.” The speaker gestures her hands to the room full of paintings, banners, and balloons. “People will even buy these artworks and pay a good price for them, maybe even these tourists that visit the gallery every once in a while.” She continues, “But the work is for the most part empty and devoid of any substance. There is nothing behind
Kitsch art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality. (Or in other words a painting or piece of art that is over the top, done with images and techniques that evoke a sense of popularity) it, no meaning or content or thought. It just is what it is. The message does not go any deeper than the piece of paper or fabric it is on.”
“One could say that the artist is portraying the beauty of the land,” the opening speaker continues, “But we as Namibians already know that it’s beautiful. Tell us something we don’t know. Make us think and portray a message so we can walk away from the painting enlightened in a happy or sad mood or have some kind of emotional or enlightened response.”
Now the confused and not smiling people are standing and applauding. The others are crying on their neighbour’s shoulders, looking quite dismal.
The speaker leaves the stage and is about to go and sit down. “So what are we supposed to do now? What is the way forward?” someone shouts from the back. The speaker is surprised and returns to the microphone. “We celebrate tonight and then we move forward tomorrow.” The speaker adds, “What we need is art that defines us as a nation – the happy, the sad, the positive and negative. Art that makes us think innovatively, forwardly, addresses our past justly and provides a way forward. And yes, art can do this! We can even address issues referring purely to the elements of art and put a Namibian spin on them. I mean, yeah, I don’t know if we are ready to do that just yet but I see it in the future of art in this great nation.” The speaker continues, “We need to pull our art out of this kitsch rut because it is not taking us anywhere. We always end up where we started. If we want to engage in conversations with the out- side art world we need to move past this. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself but this is possible. We can start with the younger artists, maybe, and hopefully they will learn from our past mistakes but we also need all the art organizations to support the need to move forward. Change is possible, and change is coming!” The opening speaker finally sits down and there is silence.
One by one the people start getting up out of their seats and start moving around the gallery; smiles returning to their faces. They go around looking and taking in these images, looking at them slightly differently, talking to their fellow gallery-goers about the work; the conversation has finally started.
Change is coming.
Written by Rob Namaseb