UNIT exhibition brought Katutura to town

Windhoek- The National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) hosted an installation art exhibition by Namibian visual artists, that included senior students at the College of the Arts (COTA) that depict living conditions in the many informal settlements of Katutura in the capital.

The exhibition titled ‘UNIT’ that opened at the gallery on April 23, 2015 is a collection of 16 makeshift rooms constructed within the dark corridors of the NAGN upper floor. 

They are made out of junks mostly boxes and plastic bags representing shacks which people on the outskirt of Windhoek use to build their houses.

The majority of residents in the city live in shacks constructed out of poor building materials including corrugated iron sheets and cardboard boxes. 

The UNIT exhibition also explores choices that people in informal settlements of Katutura make in their surroundings.

Robert Narciso, a student assistant at COTA and his colleague Actofel Ilovu are the brainchild of the unique exhibition.

The two artists divided the floor space into plots that were allocated to individual artists, who were asked to create a space within their plot. “Together the individual space will create a Unit and collectively the installation will create a Unit,” Narciso explained in an interview.

He said: “This is often the process that takes place in Katutura, land is divided and given to people and they can then set up their houses. 

This is part of the inspiration from this installation. 

Creativity and ownership soon emerge after people are given this land and a home is created.”

With the exhibition, the artists set up similar feelings of artistic ownership of space, and invoke a sense of chaos and feelings of being overwhelmed can also take place from the disorder in which shacks or Kambashus as they are popularly referred to – are set up.

“We use boxes and black plastic just like what people use at the Informal Settlement, most of the artists that took part come from there (informal settlements) and it was easy relating to it, ’’ he said.

The 16 rooms consist of a bedroom, a shebeen, a road side stall, donkey cart, living rooms, flower rooms, and study rooms with coded messages that artists wanted to communicate to the general public.

For instance, Narciso emphasised that the shebeen and condom rooms, represent the choices that people in informal settlements makes in their daily lives. 

These choices include whether to indulge into alcohol or go into unprotected sex that raise the risk getting HIV/AIDS.

He noted that other rooms like the study room sends out a message that although poverty is the order of the day in informal settlements, one can break that cycle poverty through education. 

The flower room is about the struggle that people go through to make ends meet.

“Many people cut these flowers from the river beds in Katutura – bunch them up and sell them to people in upmarket suburbs like Klein Windhoek. 

But the well-off people who buy these flowers don’t know where they came from.

 So it is more about the economic inequality,” Robert Narciso said.

“The UNIT is more of what people do in various locations in informal settlements, the disconnection from the rest of the city. 

A lot of people in informal settlements don’t have connections to the city, they are more connected to their surroundings, the shacks they live in,” he said.

He said the exhibition was inspired by the people in Katutura “and wanted to bring that to town, which lot of people don’t get to see. We wanted them to experience that as they visit each room and better understand”.

Narciso, who is from the United States of America said he was happy with the reception the UNIT exhibition was getting from the public.

“The reception was good, although I don’t know how people feel about it, because many expected to see some paintings. The Unit exhibition is rebel art in a way because it did follow the standard practice of artworks like painting and sculptures.

“I hope that more youth-led art projects like this (Unit) will continue in future. 

Many artists are under pressure to make standard arts, but they must not be afraid to do things differently – like do arts that give a glimpse of Namibia,” he said.

May 2015
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