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Troubled Waters

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Using Namibia’s recent Fishrot scandal is the departure point, Troubled Waters explores the topic of global corruption. A complicated bribery scheme involving the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia, government officials, and corporate fishing giant Samherji in Iceland, Fishrot shows how corruption steals livelihoods, damages economies, ruins lives, and erodes people’s faith in their leaders. Acts of corruption such as these are especially harmful in nations with rich natural resources and high rates of income inequality like Namibia. Acts of corruption such as these affect communities all around the world.

With every major scandal like Fishrot that rises to the attention of the international media, hundreds more little acts of corruption happen every day. These smaller crimes pave the way for much larger ones, and they shift our focus from where it is needed most: on serious global challenges that can only be resolved if we all work together. The growing climate crisis is a good example. While government officials steal from their own citizens, soaring ocean and air temperatures are triggering a cascade of alarming events that threaten food supplies, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health.

Troubled Waters encourages viewers to consider how acts of corruption—large and small—may affect our lives and what we, as a global community, can do to stop them.

Artists Vilho Nuumbala and Ruth Stanford were introduced by gallery director Frieda Lühl of The Project Room, who saw common thread in their work. Both artists share an interest in social justice and bettering the lives of ordinary citizens. A Namibian photographer and musician, Nuumbala photographs everyday life and culture in Windhoek, with a focus on people and situations encountered in their everyday life. Stanford’s work has examined police shootings of unarmed African American men in the United States, the precarious existence of endangered species, and the everyday journeys of Zambians living in the tourist capital of Livingston. Her other works highlight often overlooked or forgotten events, people, and histories.

Together, Stanford and Nuumbala built Troubled Waters via long-distance collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fishrot, which first appeared in the news in late 2O19, continued to attract national attention as the players in the scandal began to face justice. Stanford’s contribution to Troubled Waters presents the Fishrot scandal as emblematic of the prevalence of government corruption in nations around the world. Nuumbala’s imagery provides an emotional look at the damage that governments can cause their own citizens when greed overtakes public service.

Sculptor Ruth Stanford began her career studying butterfly courtship behavior and protecting cave-dwelling beetles and other invertebrates as an endangered species ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Central Texas, USA. With a scientist’s curiosity and keen observation skills, she now specializes in installation and site-specific sculpture, choosing particular media in service to concept. Stanford’s work often touches on issues of history or social justice.

An associate professor of sculpture at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Stanford received an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work has appeared in museums and galleries including the National Art Gallery Zambia; the inaugural exhibition of the Zuckerman Museum of Art in Kennesaw, GA; Agnes Scott College in Atlanta; Saratoga Art Center in Saratoga Springs, NY; William and Mary University in Williamsburg, VA; and the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA.

Based in Windhoek and Bonn (Germany) Namibian photographer and musician Vilho Nuumbala’s work focuses on social topics as a reflection of society and a way to shape culture and politics. Much of his work in photography documents Windhoek’s Katutura community, where he lived prior to a relocation to Germany. Nuumbala has exhibited in galleries and museums including the National Art Gallery of Namibia, The Franco-German Cultural Center in Windhoek, Vänersborgs Konsthall in Sweden, the Ginnel Photo Fest in the UK, and The Drawing Room in Cape Town, South Africa.

Find the exhibition catalogue here.

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