ARTWOLFE: At the NAGN feedback session on October 11th I got the impression that artists felt let down by the gallery and by the judging process. The gallery made it sound like this was the artists’ problem and that the gallery had been objective. Do you think there is a problem with the art, or is it more a problem with the gallery?
Alfeus: There is no problem with the artwork. They (the gallery) messed up with the curation, with the handling of the artwork. You can see clearly that there were no overall decisions made about what artwork to put where. There were no clear guidelines on where to start or how to follow the exhibition. There is very good artwork, of a very high standard, but the matter of how they displayed them was a big problem.
ARTWOLFE: How did you feel about the way categories worked and how they were judged?
Alfeus: It is not clear to me why some artist won prizes within certain categories. The judges should look at the CVs of the people who enter and how they have developed their ideas. The curators and the judges didn’t understand who had been working on a technique for a long and who had just tried it for the first time. It is killing the artists who have been working on their technique for years and trying to develop new ideas within their technique for years. Someone can just be a beginner and they are made overall winner! Because of the competition, because people want to win a prize they try to submit work in every category, even if it is not their area of expertise.
We should be awarding people for the best work, not just for trying. It is confusing that they tried to give people awards for trying. Someone tries to paint, they get an award! Someone tries to make a sculpture, they get an award! But they didn’t get it because they were the best. My assistant was a winner of 3-dimensional and I was very proud. But when I look at the weakness of his piece, I know other artists totally lost out.
ARTWOLFE: Can you comment on how the judges’ choices affect the winning artists and artists in general?
Alfeus: It would be very interesting to hear a word from the winner, to hear what they have to say. They might say it was just their lucky day to win and we might not find them at the Trien- nial next time. The winner should be promoted and have an exhibition to develop their work. They don’t have such a thing here, but it is very important – why give someone an award if you don’t give them a platform? It is very frustrating for the other artists.
ARTWOLFE: Something that has been said about the artist who won the top award was that she was not trained in art at all. The judges say they were impressed by the innocence of her painting style. What do you think this says about how the gallery values art education and professional art practice in Namibia?
Alfeus: I don’t know the winning artist at all, but if that is true then they made a big mistake. If you are an artist, if you have a talent, that’s why you go and study! They should look at people’s artworks and then go back to their CV’s to make sure. There are people who study basic technique at the College of the Arts for years to get a diploma. Then they go to UNAM to try and get a degree but UNAM is also poor at teaching visual arts. It is the biggest problem we have in this country – sorting out the education! They make the people suffer. That is why we need to hear the voice of the winner to hear how they are doing. We need to engage, see their artworks and exhibitions.
ARTWOLFE: Your idea about hearing the voice of the winner is important – perhaps Artwolfe should try to contact her. I have heard some negative reactions against her painting, but her winning was actually was not about her; it was the judges’ choice.
Alfeus: She is an innocent person; she had nothing to do with it. It is the judges and the management who made those decisions. When I saw the exhibition I thought the judges hadn’t read the application form properly. I think the judging was very weak. They selected weak work. I don’t know what was rejected. If you saw some of the rejected work, you might realise that it was actually powerful.
ARTWOLFE: There was a suggestion at the feedback session that the Triennial could be separated into different exhibitions. So there could be a craft exhibition and a sculpture exhibition and so on. Do you think this could improve matters?
Alfeus: You have just reminded me about how they tried to combine arts and crafts in the exhibition, which is not wrong, but they did not create focus points or strong dynamics between the different works, to show that we have very strong craft in Namibia. They just placed them in each room. They could have made a wonder- ful exhibition with those crafts, but they just tried to integrate them without any sense of how the works fitted together.
ARTWOLFE: Perhaps to end on a more positive note, what would you like to see in the next Triennial?
Alfeus: Let’s avoid what happened this year, and in previous years. Let’s be professional, let’s create a platform for Namibian artists to celebrate and enjoy, not to frustrate each other; not to cause stroke (laughs) because of the stress of not being selected or whatever. Let’s create a platform where we can bring everybody on board, and then award people for reality, for quality. Also, let’s respect the artwork. The Triennial fills the whole gallery but the works weren’t given space. Why were the video-works hidden downstairs? They are new media, we need it in Namibia! Things like that could be avoided. There were artworks that were lying on the floor until they arrived, and they were just left where they arrived. They were not curated at all. It was a poor exhibition with poor space given to artworks.