Education stimulates creativity of visual artists


Windhoek –Visual artist Rika Nel has encouraged fellow artists to pursue tertiary education, saying education develops the thinking process, which is subjacent to creating art on a higher level.

Nel is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Visual Arts at the University of Namibia and she will be the first recipient of such honour through practical work from the country’s main tertiary institution.

As part of her study, Nel exhibited her artworks at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) from November 13 to December 3, 2014.

The exhibition titled ‘Paper as Metaphor for the Fragility and Vulnerability of the Human Being’ presented artwork in a broad variety of techniques with the continuous thread of paper as medium.

The artworks were presented as installations to form a visual portrayal of the fragility and vulnerability of the human being.

Text was used purposefully in the artworks as writing is not autonomous and requires a reader and an interpreter.

With the exhibition, Nel implored viewers to take time to read the texts, even though on some artworks the reading of the text was sometimes intentionally made difficult in an attempt to hide the embarrassment of the victim.

“I used paper, which is very fragile and something that is discarded easily to demonstrate how fragile people are and how easily we use or misuse a human being and then discard him or her without thinking twice.

“This is unfortunately the tendency of the day. I wanted to make viewers aware of our social responsibility and to make society contemplate their responsibility towards vulnerable and fragile humans in society,” she said in interview.

Nel added that she hoped to touch people’s lives and their souls and hoped the exhibition helped the viewer to confront their past, to re-examine their place in the world and make the present and the future a better place to live in.

“Uncomplicated techniques like papier-mâché and embroidery were used to convey a deeply disturbing universal message and herein lies the secret of finding a cohesiveness between material, technique and content,” said Nel.

Her artworks were created from a personal cultural perspective, with figures extending beyond the cultural context of the Afrikaner and the years since 1652 to encompass universal psychic and physical pain to become the symbol of the suffering endured by all humans.

But elements from books, art history, Afrikaner history, Nel’s personal history and the collective history of mankind were portrayed to utilise the exhibition space to create a narrative of abuse and fragility not only in Afrikaner history, but most importantly, in a universal history.

Although visual artists can rely on their natural talents, Nel has expressed the importance of education as it helps them develop the thinking process which is subjacent to creating art on a higher level.

“One could get far by only relying on your natural talents but the more you are exposed to various techniques, materials, styles, etcetera, the better your chance is of developing in an unique and creative manner and not stagnate which is probably the worst thing that can ever happen to any artist.

“In my case, I already had a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Pretoria. So, I was knowledgeable in art history. But there was always something amiss, this was because I put all my energy into art education which I am passionate about and not sorry for one moment. When the University of Namibia introduced a Masters in Visual Art I thought it was high time to invest in myself. This was the best decision that I ever made. I was more scared than when I was a first year,’’ said Nel.

“I again realised the important role that teachers (in this case lecturers) play in the lives of students. Such a person was Prof Herklaas Viljoen who, on the one hand showed me to delve deep into myself, and to be true to myself, but on the other hand to introduce and sometimes re-introduce me to other artists.”

“The most influencing part was to be able to identify with other established and known artists and sometimes less known artists. To understand their way of thinking, why they used certain materials and techniques and what they had to say.

“The focus was however always on you as an individual, your own unique and individual journey in your own creative way. The role of history (call it politics/ social order if you want to) also plays an important role,” she said.

“To study art history makes one understand why art has evolved in a specific way and that the days have long gone by where you could (or wanted to) just paint a pretty picture. Natural talent is only the foundation of what you could develop into.

“The voice of visual art and arts in general is highly underestimated. I think language and communication skills are preventing many artists from studying. I think travelling, reading, studying and communication with other artists opens the mind. It makes you to re-think, to explore and to grow. This can of course only happen when you stay true to yourself,” she added.

Nel revealed that she draws inspirations from the works of Daumier, Blake, Kosuth, Beuys, Boltanski, Jane Alexander, Kentridge, Diane Victor, Berni Searle and many others.

She has completed the practical part and has submitted her thesis but still has to do the viva voce next year to defend her work before a panel of specialists on the subject.


December 2014
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