National art gallery: Custodian of Namibian heritage


Windhoek- The National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) which was established in the nation’s capital came into being with the promulgation of the National Art Gallery of Namibia Act 14 of 2000 as a national art museum and space for the exhibition visual art in the country.

The gallery situated at the corner of Robert Mugabe Avenue and John Meinert Street in Windhoek has a framing workshop, an art and craft shop where a large range of items could be purchased at very reasonable prices. It is ideal for travellers who seek to take along mementos with a real Namibian flavour.  

The State-owned gallery was established with a vision to be a place for the people, a place of art and a showcase of Namibia’s highest visual art achievements.

It is also mandated to acquire, conserve, promote and exhibit the country’s visual art heritage and contemporary visual art for the purpose of research, education and appreciation.

The NAGN is headed by Hercules Viljoen as its director. He is the former Head of the Visual Arts Department at University of Namibia.

In interview with The Southern Times, Viljoen said the national art gallery is living up to its mandate, “but is constantly looking into ways to improve. We have just completed a new strategic plan and are already systematically implementing new initiatives identified in the plan”.

Since September 2012, NAGN has successfully embarked on various programmes that have significantly increased exhibitions and visitors at the gallery.

Successful initiatives included the Land Matters in Art (2013); Unite-to-End-Gender Based Violence (2013); Art Inside (2014); Bank Windhoek Triennial (2014); Annual Visual Arts Museum Programme (2013 & 2015) and Art Inside (2015).

And following years of minimal opportunity for Namibian artists – sales of local artworks of more than N$2,7 million have been registered over the past 2 years at the NAGN, according to Viljoen.

“The NAGN enjoys the support of its stakeholders, including the artists, the art loving public and corporate partners and international partnerships. Since 2012, the NAGN has contributed strongly to an improved professional status of Namibian artists,” he said.

The national art gallery has over the years served as a public platform for both local and international artists to display their artworks.

Internationally recognised Namibian artists including the late John Muafangejo, Dörte Berner, Shiya Karuseb, Francois de Necker, Joseph Madisia, Paul Kiddo, the late Paul van Schalkwyk, Nicola Brandt and Yoba Jonathan have showcased their art at the gallery.

“Recently the NAGN hosted Brazilian artist Genivaldo Amorim, while quite a few recognized international artists exhibited here via partnership projects such as Tulipamwe International Artists Workshop. This project will be hosted again by the NAGN in August and September 2015,” he said.

Tulipamwe is a non-profit making community outreach project and has since 2014 been under the auspices of the National Art Gallery of Namibia.

It brings together a group of 25 Namibian and international artists to work in a rural community for a period of 14 days, creating artwork in various media and formats, including site-specific work, photography, video, painting, sculpture, printmaking and other visual arts disciplines.

This year, the workshop will be held at Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, close to the Topnaar communities living along the Kuiseb River from August 15-29. The centre is in the Namib Naukluft Part, 120km east of the harbour town of Walvis Bay.

Artworks created during the workshop will be exhibited at the NAGN in September, where they will be sold for the artists’ benefit. Viljoin stressed that: “Namibian artists have, for years, suffered from a very low public status and a lack of opportunities. The NAGN has created, over the past two and a half years, through partnership projects and carefully curated exhibitions, ample prospects for Namibian artists to exhibit and sell their artwork. 

“One may infer that the willingness of buyers to invest in Namibian art indicates they increasingly acknowledge our artists’ creativity and value their professional status. This positive development should however be carefully cultivated and jealously guarded in order to ensure a steady market growth and to avoid negative factors such as inflated prices.”

He said the gallery is also accessible to up and coming local artists. Early this year, young artist Lok Kandjengo had a solo exhibition, while a site-specific installation facilitated by Actofel Iilovu and Robert Narcisco themed ‘UNIT’ is currently being hosted in the upper gallery.

“New talent is constantly monitored and emerging artists are included in the many group exhibitions and theme projects hosted by the NAGN,” he said. He added that a new partnership project to identify emerging talent will be launched this week.

One of the biggest obstacles that the NAGN is dealing with is lack of human capital. Viljoen stressed that staff complement at the national gallery needed to be beefed up to improve its capacity to render professional service to “all Namibian communities in terms of art appreciation, exhibitions and artists’ workshops”.

He said the current physical infrastructure of the gallery is also “outdated, impractical and too small. The government needs to urgently consider replacing it with a new gallery complex with adequate administrative space, exhibition space, and storage space and workshop facilities”.

Despite these challenges, Viljoen said the National Art Gallery of Namibia will forge ahead with its mandate as the custodian of Namibian heritage.

It has been expanding its current mandate of decentralization with aim to educate the broader section of the Namibian people about their heritage and the country’s material culture.

This was done through mobile exhibitions across the country that were expanded last year.

 “In 2014 the mobile exhibition was expanded by a cinema component, sponsored by the European Union.

“Having identified the need for more decentralising activities, the NAGN is currently planning visits to all regions to determine the need for regional NAGN exhibitions on an ongoing basis.

“Regional partnerships will be sought to establish regional exhibition spaces for artwork accompanied by regular presentations by the national gallery to assist with art appreciation in all communities,” said Vilojoen.

NAGN is also hoping to make the Art Inside an annual project, but this will depend on available funding from the government.

“The motivation behind the Art Inside project is to create a more aesthetic atmosphere in Government premises. With the project the NAGN endeavours to acquire original Namibian art of an outstanding quality to be installed in Government premises all over Namibia and in Namibia’s Foreign Missions,” he explained.

Art Inside – is an art awareness initiative organized by the NAGN in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth, National Service Sports and Culture. These include paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, video, textile, ceramic, basketry, pottery, beadwork, embroidery, textiles or any other visual art form.

May 2015
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