Rob Namaseb takes a look at the Judge’s Reports of the Triennial. These texts can be found in the exhibition catalogue which is available at the National Art Gallery. Find out what he has to say about each of the judges:
The inconsistency of the show and the works exhibited tell the story of the judge’s struggle. On the sixth page of the catalogue you can see the smiling faces of all five judges. They all look so happy but there were probably some little personal fights going on behind closed gallery doors, people calling each other names and a lot of “You don’t know shit about art!” flying around a week before the show went up. Or at least I hope that that kind of fight was happening, unanimous decisions generally show a lack of diversity in the people making them.
Chikonzero Chazunguza was the outsider, the one who was supposed to look at the submitted art with the freshest of eyes. He reported on clichéd political portraits, large scale works not being strong enough, stone sculptors not using correct stones or correctly carving stones, and art lacking content. He was very technical in his explanations but one thing that was surprising in his conclusion was that we Africans should not make art for art’s sake, almost as though that is a purely Westernized concept and we as Africans need to focus on our “ethno, spiritual, political, and urban visual culture” aka our social issues. When will we as Africans be able to move past social art and connect to a more universal art message? Chazunguza’s statement that we need to move away from art that is purely narrative and speaks “only of township or village life” seems to be in direct contradiction to work of Findano Shikonda’s work that won the prize for Overall Best Artwork and Most Promising Young artist, the same could be said of many of the works on display. It is a little confusing, Chikonzero.
Dr. Napandulwe Shiweda was the UNAMer, the one who has a grasp of Namibian art outside of the National Gallery. Napandulwe reported on making sure feedback was given to the artists whose work was rejected, which is great. However she seems not to have taken into accout that this feedback is only based on what the National Gallery views as good or bad art. Hang in there all you rejectees, the National Gallery does not have the final say on these matters. She also reports on the criteria that were used to determine what is good and bad art – a one on one session is needed to clarify matters for individual artists.
Hercules Viljoen is the Director of the National Gallery. He is the guy that needs to hold up the standard for both the National Art Gallery and also the sponsors and also all the artists in Namibia who feel like the Gallery needs to be the way forward for Namibian Art. A round of applause is needed to this man, who has answered tough questions and has gotten a lot of grief for the show because after all, as the director, everything falls on him. Hercules reports on the lack of large scale pieces (something Chikonzero agreed on) and also gives mention to the large number of “recreational” artists who want to express themselves but do not or did not have access to some form of art education. And yes I will agree with you too, art all over Namibia needs more support.
Luness Mpunwa is the Senior Curator of the National Gallery. She is the person who organizes the show and chooses what pieces work with other pieces. One of the main things she reports on is the older artists “leading the way” for the younger ones. According to her, the standard of the show was brought up by these “established” artists and the younger ones must learn from them. This is great and all but many of the emerging young artists will not have access to the schools that these “established” older artists have had. The older artists were trained in a different time and some of the information they learned is no longer relevant to the times that these younger artists are growing up in now. The older, “more established” artists didn’t grow up with the internet. The times are different and the artwork needs to reflect that.
All in all, what I hear from the Judge’s reports was that there was a lot of artwork, and different kinds of artwork that were submitted for the show. There should be. This is Namibia and there are a large range of skills and people’s thoughts vary drastically across towns, regions and constituencies. The inconsistency that I spoke of in the opening paragraph may have come from each judge having their own criteria and not formulating overall criteria. It feels as if each judge had their own say about what would go up on the walls. It is art and yes it cannot be objectively chosen but for such a large show, and a show that is so publicized, the standards of the National Gallery itself need to be lifted up as well. Chikonzero suggested that more of an external set of judges are needed for the next show to prevent bias in judges who may know some of the artists and their work. Great point Chikonzero, hopefully it will be noted for the next show. Hercules suggested that more interest is needed in developing art education in our public schools. Another great point. Let’s do that! Let’s hope the Directorate of Art is listening to you, to us.
Improving art in Namibia is only going to happen from the ground up. Art is barely taken seriously in the towns and villages surrounding Windhoek. Let’s learn from this show and move forward holistically for the next.
Rob Namaseb is a Windhoek based artist whose work was included in the 2014 Bank Windhoek Triennial