There's no telling what local sculptor Mateus Alfeus can tease out of a pile of scrap metal. A tangle of dogs paused abruptly in play, a rusted and desolate figure kneeling desperately in supplication or a collection of birds improbably weightless and contrasted against the stark white walls of The Project Room.
Presenting 'Rescue(d)', the College of the Arts (Cota) alumnus' first solo exhibition, Alfeus marks this milestone with a collection of scrap bent skillfully to his will. As dark as the artist's chained and disembodied hands, a scream, a prayer and a man huddled in doubt, 'Rescue(d)' sees light at the end of a tunnel in the flight of birds named 'Certainty', 'Discover' and 'Determined' and in hands clasped in support.
“Living in a world without challenges or difficulties is a surreal dream,” says Alfeus, whose theme draws on ideas of shared national burdens while hoping for a better future for local artists. “Everybody needs to free themselves from whatever bonds he or she might find themselves in. Physically, emotionally, financially and even spiritually.” A successful debut with half of the works already sold, 'Rescue(d)' is a peak in a journey that began at a very young age, “at a time when we had no books, pens or pencils”. Entertaining himself by sculpting objects out of clay, mud, wire, wood, natural and scrap materials he found around his home at Ondobe as a child, Alfeus graduated from a love of sculpting in clay, particularly during the rainy season, to trying his hand at carpentry and other odd jobs. This before a fateful introduction to Cota where his latent passion for the arts was reignited but would not be developed for almost six years due to the financial strain of urban life. After first learning of Cota in 2009, Alfeus finally enrolled for a diploma in visual arts in 2015 where he sought materials to develop his talent. “I started exploring my surroundings for materials to work with and realised that scrap metal is found in abundance, especially on dumpsites and scrapyards,” he says, adding that he still liked to sculpt with clay but it was a scarce resource in the city. “I focused my creative efforts on the materials that were available to me in my immediate environment and so it came that I majored in metal sculpting.” Three years later, Alfeus' work is distinct. Rusted, intricately wrought sculptures ranging from the human, in flight and endangered and often succeeding in the illusion of motion. Undoubtedly talented, motivated and prolific in his production, Alfeus, like many local artists, still faces the challenges of trying to live solely off his art. “The focus on art has gone beyond borders. Local artists don't sell or make enough money out of their works and as a result can't afford to work as full-time artists and have to find other jobs to survive,” he says. “My dream is to make art recognised as a career in our society and to keep it alive in the fading Namibian art industry – this is my vision not only for myself, but for the arts sector in general.” 'Rescue(d)' will be on display at the Project Room, 32 Jenner Street, Windhoek West, until tomorrow. Opening hours are 10h00 to 13h00. Follow The Project Room on social media for more information. – email@example.com; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com