“Over the past year and a half, the art world has transformed itself and adapted to our shifted way of thinking and doing, as a result of Covid-19... We believe in the art fair model to bring people together to connect, converse and contemplate at the forefront of contemporary art.” - Investec Cape Town Art Fair In the spirit of collaboration during a period of global transformation, two independent art initiatives joined forces to represent Namibia at this year’s Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF). The NJE Collective, as primary partner, invited the Project Room to co-curate their presentation of Namibian artworks, collaboratively creating exposure for six local artists. Initiated by Jo Rogge and Frieda Lühl, the partnership supports and mentors artists with the collective vision to “uplift the quality of Namibian art, to nurture Namibian artists, and to seek opportunities to exhibit their work, both within and outside of Namibia”. Held from 18 to 20 February, Namibia was represented at the Cultural Platforms section, and featured works by visual artists Lynette Musukubili, Foibe Amundaba, Michelle Isaak, Rudolf Seibeb and Jo Rogge, as well as a powerful performance piece by poet, Tangeni Kauzuu. The below provides a brief description of the themes covered and works exhibited by each artist during the ICTAF. Fast making name for herself as crocket artist with a preference for plastic, Musukubili presented her signature woven realities, symbols and patterns, depicting subject matter ranging from, “the different movement restrictions we had during the Covid-lockdowns”, to gender based violence, and how “all it takes is a group of people working together with a common purpose to create the change that is needed”. For Musukubili, exhibiting at the ICTAF provided an opportunity to, “showcase Namibian work and voices to the world, gain recognition, and show that we have a very active art industry, even if it’s small”. Amundaba, who works largely with mixed media on paper, similarly turned her focus on the pandemic, and says, “Since the works were made in the current times of Covid-19 lies, myths, truths and fabrications, they are therefore a reflection of unanswered questions behind this current masked period in humanity, especially of its outcome on Africa’s livelihood”. With a reputation for artworks that speak through colourful faces and figures, and often depict the lighter side of life, Seibeb’s selection at the ICTAF was no exception. His large-scale acrylic paintings reflected on themes of community, and living together in peace, providing a view into local cultural, social and environmental topics, and a world in unity.
Isaak presented an expression on hidden truths – protruding from the artist’s unique cardboard creations in a multitude of shapes, colours and textures. She notes, “So much word in silent, unspoken reality, all caught up in a box, where it’s so hard to stand your ground with walls so high. After a battle within, finally finding a purpose to open up, wrecking the walls, enjoying the air when colours define our experiences”. Themes of introspection were also emphasised in Rogge’s work, as the artist explains, “In the time of lockdown, of isolation, contemplation of the meaning of life has sharply come into focus, and has become paramount for us all”. The artist’s selection of multidisciplinary creative work asked the viewer to question fundamental beliefs about gender, while offering a personal reflection on displacement, family lineage and identity. Rounding off the experience with a focus on uncomfortable truths, Kauzuu developed an experimental spoken word piece, “to yank the nails from the mats we’ve bolted down in an attempt to lift the veil on the hidden dust of who we’ve become and the roles we’ve played in the queer lives we could have saved”. Known for her endless barrage of sometimes brutally uncomfortable questions and opinions, the performance was meant as a response to the queer-phobic realities in Namibia, and presented in honour of fellow artist, Bewise Tjonga – a courageous, queer printmaker who sadly took her own life in October 2021, shortly after being accepted in the NJE Collective’s mentoring programme. Lühl concludes, “I see our task as being the “Sprungbrett” (launch pad) for artists to hopefully get recognised by a bigger audience, and maybe even get picked up by a bigger South African gallery.” The collective representation at the ICTAF was the first of many more opportunities for local creatives to come. The NJE Collective and Project Room would like to thank the National Arts Council of Namibia for funding the flights and accommodation for two of the artists, which made it possible to attend the fair in person.