Cota’s ‘New Beginnings’ honours elders, is inspired by local culture

Photos: Martha Mukaiwa

The College of the Arts’ (Cota) newly minted graduates and the institution’s esteemed alumni come together in ‘New Beginnings’, an annual showcase at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN).

Often the Cota graduates’ first independent showing produced without the guidance of their college lecturers, the exhibition acts as an official welcome to the professional art world.

Featuring established artists such as Alpheus Mvula, Peter Mwahalukange, Saima Iita, Elisia Nghidishange, Frans Nambinga and Ismael Shivute, alongside rising stars Esneya Zulu, Ryan de Wee, Nicole Schaller, Jodine Strauss, Leonard Kamanya and Wolradt Sithole, this year’s exhibition presents a diverse exploration of themes, styles and mediums, including painting, mixed media, photography, sculpture, embroidery and basket weaving.

Thematically, a notion that recurs is that the wisdom of Namibia’s elders should be heeded, preserved and passed on to posterity. Fashioning portraits through embroidery, Schaller holds up former president Hage Geingob as one such elder, as the artist embellishes his likeness with a system of roots. Schaller’s work honours Geingob’s legacy, as well as a technique passed down through her family.

‘’I am the Roots’ is a portrait of the president. He was born under a tree, his birth came with roots. The colours red, orange and yellow portray his death but, even though his sun has set, his roots are growing in every seed he planted, in everyone that he met,” Schaller says.

Explaining the significance of her chosen medium, Schaller says: “Our mother embroidered and so did our grannies and ancestors. By using this medium, I am honouring my fallen ancestors by giving them inclusivity and a voice.”

A call to honour our foremothers is also embodied in a sculpture by Iita, whose hunching stone woman is titled ‘Hidden Library’. Iita describes the piece as symbolic of our elders’ wisdom and suggests that society today has lost its identity and cultural heritage.

An artwork by Laimi N. Mbangula similarly celebrates elder matriarchs as the artist experiments with basket weaving to create striking, earthy designs.

“My greatest influence is my grandmother, Meekulu Foibe, a basket weaver and clay pot maker who raised me after my mother died,” says Mbangula. “Meekulu taught me how to make and use traditional utensils. She always insisted that we weave our own baskets and encouraged us to be different with our design.”

A knowledgeable grandmother is also at the heart of work by Tweyapewa Mbendeka, whose mixed media artwork ‘Okatakale Shungi’ depicts a gathering beside a fire.

“I create works that reimage my grandmother’s stories that she used to tell us as children to teach us a lesson between right and wrong,” Mbendeka says. “I have added a personal visual narrative inspired from local materials and found matter. My works are a reflection of a unique Namibian identity, as well as my own identity as a young artist struggling with physical challenges.”

Reimagining cultural textiles and traditional items are artists Zulu and Laimi Kakololo. Zulu, as she pulls textiles through hip and arresting portraits of hunters, snowflakes and Eve, and Kakololo in her Aawambo-inspired fan covers created from mixed media, palm leaves and found objects.

“My recent collection is a fusion of sustainability and cultural homage,” says Kakololo, who advocates for environmental awareness and the beauty of repurposed elements.

Also featuring a collection of vibrant yet idiosyncratic offerings from De Wee, finely wrought sculpture by Sithole, and smiling, signature abstracts by Homateni Ilovu, the exhibition is additionally a promising store of work by Elizabeth Shinana, Elizabeth Ndjoba, Heather Erdmann and Delicia Einbeck.

“Artists have a sacred responsibility in society, to carry the flame of creativity forward. We nurture the nation’s imagination and we provide a frame for people to see themselves through,” said former Cota head of visual arts Nicky Marais at the exhibition opening recently.

“Through art we are enlightened and we also hold that light up for others to see further than their everyday struggles. Our art entertains and engages, it fascinates and it encourages.

“Artists are the living core at the heart of humanity and we hold that space with pride.”

‘New Beginnings’ will be on display at the NAGN until 20 July.

–; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram;

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