Rob Namaseb is a Windhoek-based artist and regular Artwolfe contributor
This is it guys, the pinnacle of art in Namibia, the End-of-Year Art Show for both UNAM (University of Namibia) and COTA (The College of the Arts). Each show includes work from all departments and all years, with special attention and space awarded to graduating students who will soon be released from these tertiary schools and head out to become the up-and-coming next big Namibian artists (or so we hope). The votes are in and the judges have been talking and they have finally broken their silence, (actually these are just my thoughts) but everybody is saying that COTA’s show ArtSplash has won. I mean it’s not about winning and all that, it’s about creating work and we’re supposed to insist diplomatically that everybody wins because art is subjective and how do you judge it anyway? Well COTA showed up and delivered, UNAM fell behind and here are some reasons (I think) why.
UNAM had their show at the FNCC and all departments showed their work in this smart but too tiny space. Fashion students (who had a runway show the week before) had their outfits up in the gallery space right next to the faux-advertisements of the New Media department. There was a wall filled with prints that were badly lit and therefore too easy to pass by. An installation of the 7 deadly sins (a stand-out piece and very well crafted) as well as other installations were crowded into the space too. The show had a couple of stand-out pieces but the “theory” part that UNAM is known for did not come up that strongly. I found myself wanting to go outside for a breather a couple of times.
COTA had their show at the KCAC (Katutura Community Arts Centre) where COTA’s art and design diplomas are taught. All the departments showed their work in separate rooms, filling the whole building with what they had made over the course of the year. The biggest emphasis was placed on the gallery space where most of the third ( and final) year students showed their final work. There were paintings I could stare at and fall into for 30 minutes or more.
When I say the quality of the COTA show was better I mean that I left the gallery space satisfied. They weren’t necessarily technically better paintings (well there were some) but that’s not what I look for. Rather, there was a sense of thought-out-ness. There weren’t stand-out pieces like there were at UNAM because the overall show was of a high standard. Walking through the different rooms one could see the different levels and subjects of art. A room of jewelry in which works were made out of aluminium and leather; drawings and mixed media sculptures; a room for the extensive and well-crafted ceramics; recycled-media sculpture, screen-printed T-shirts and the whole giant downstairs hall hung with colourfully printed fabric.
Yes, there was more work in the COTA show but the art was also wonderfully varied and of different quality, some good and some not so good. To me, this showed the overall-ness of the college and what they offer. As you work there, your work improves and they hold their 3rd year student’s final work to a high standard.
But let’s step back and look at a breakdown of the schools: COTA is a government-run school that offers tuition at very low prices. It is run under the auspices of the Ministry of National Youth Service, Sports and Culture, which some might say is odd given that it is an educational institution and could therefore fall more accurately under the banner of the Ministry of Education – but that’s a whole other story. UNAM is a national University that has standard rates but is still too expensive for many Namibians, unless you have a wealthy parent or a loan from some art organization where money is running out. On the other hand, the KCAC is a relatively large facility with substantial space for students to work and learn. The visual arts department at UNAM, a huge and bustling campus with thousands of students, is relatively small in comparison although it is likely to be better resourced.
I am speculating here, but maybe COTA appeals to students who have the skill and more of a desire to make and create art whereas UNAM attracts people looking to get a degree and some kind of career – not necessarily as an artist. Of course, COTA students want some kind of career as well but their course only awards them a diploma at the end of 3 years and it is quite common for students who graduate from COTA to head to UNAM to continue their studies and complete their university degree. UNAM offers more theory, in a more academic environment (says any COTA graduate or UNAM student you ask) whereas theory is taught at COTA but it is a struggle for many of the students for many different reasons.
I guess I am trying to justify why I feel that the End of the Year show at COTA was better or maybe it’s just that I expected more from UNAM, and was somewhat disappointed by what was delivered. Both shows were good but COTA took the cake and this says something about Namibia’s art education and what the future holds for young artists. Simply put, what value do ideas have when they are not executed well or clearly? Who is better off in the long run, a student from COTA or a student from UNAM? What difference does it make whether you get a diploma or a degree? These graduates will soon find out.
COTA’s exhibition ArtSplash is no longer on display, but you can check out the UNAM annual exhibition at the FNCC until January 2015.