Namibian arts: driving the cultural agenda from the grassroots


Windhoek –  The Namibian youth need to be uplifted, inspired and motivated to take part in international exhibitions to uplift African art by putting it on the international platform.  For this to happen, various stakeholders in the arts industry believe art has to be taught from an early age. 

One of the priorities for action of the policy on arts and culture in Namibia ‑ which was accepted in principle (but never approved) by Cabinet in August 2001 ‑ is to promote widespread cultural and artistic expression. Paragraph 65 of the policy document says: “The Department of Formal Education and NIED will ensure that all primary and junior secondary schools implement the compulsory arts subject as stipulated in the curriculum for basic education… 

“Some secondary schools in each region will also offer the prevocational arts subjects at JSE level and, where possible such schools will also offer arts subjects at IGSE level.” However, there have been increased calls for action, with Hercules Viljoen, Director of the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN), saying, “There is simply no policy. Children are not taught art at school but are expected to know and understand art. We have our own talent here but it goes unrecognised and that needs to change.”

Viljoen made the remarks recently at an arts consultation workshop at the gallery. Peingeondjabi Shipoh, who chaired the workshop, urged government to re-introduce art in the school curriculum at grassroots levels, as art is a unifying tool used by everyone. Besides, artists use artwork to communicate just like mathematicians, scientists, teachers and everyone else do.  

“Art is very powerful and nobody can survive without it. Scientists, designers and even all the good soccer players use art. I thus urge,” said Shipoh. But to date, very few schools in Namibia teach art.

Elize van Huyssteen, Curator at the Arts Association Heritage Trust, reiterated saying, “Art should be brought back to schools as it’s part of society.  We can’t only have scientists, doctors and engineers, we need artists too. We are losing our culture in this country and we allow our children to see on television what they can see at exhibitions as well. 

“Also certain problems faced on a daily basis such as baby dumping can be addressed through art.”

Most people who attended the workshop were of the opinion that art should be made part of the curriculum from the grassroots level in schools.  M’kariko Amagulu, Deputy Director, Arts Promotion and Creative Industry Development in the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture asked, “How do you want people to know and understand art if it doesn’t start at grassroots level?”  

She questioned further, “How can the elders read when they don’t even know what the artists are doing? More so, how can they be proud of their children and see that they are not failures when art is not promoted?” 

More than 10 years ago, Imke Rust ‑ a reputed Namibian artist, writing for Flamingo aired similar sentiments and encouraged the teaching of art in schools, as “it is said that art is one of the most important subjects to prepare a young child for being a successful and independent entrepreneur. Its lateral thinking skills help you to create your own opportunities and wealth in a world where it is becoming ever more difficult to find employment and keep it… Art education and the development of skilful thinking have to start at an early age.” 

She lamented the lack of art classes in most Namibian schools but highlighted alternative options available.

The National Art Gallery of Namibia is one of the institutions established by the government of Namibia to serve, promote, conserve and collect Namibian and visual art and heritage for people of all walks of life.  The gallery also promotes art education and research by collaborating with the visual arts industry and all other stakeholders.

October 2013
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