Nicky Marais on Ageing, Relocating and Living on Art

NEW VENTURES … Nicky Marais has relocated to Oranjemund.

Veteran Namibian artist, educator and activist Nicky Marais (62) spoke to The Weekender about her decision to relocate to Oranjemund in the southern part of the country, where she continues to pursue a career in the arts.

“In the past few years, I have made some major changes in my life. I guess the Covid-19 pandemic made us all a bit more aware of the fragility and impermanence of our lives, so leaving Windhoek and pursuing new ventures became a priority for me,” says Marais.

She relocated her studio from Windhoek to Oranjemund, where she says she enjoys a wonderful view over the desert, a very peaceful atmosphere and so many opportunities to promote the arts in the south of Namibia.

“I realised two very surprising things about myself during this time of change: One is that I seem to have more and more energy as the years go by and the other is that although I never intended to be a teacher and regarded teaching as a job, I needed to earn a living, so I cannot stop teaching,” she says.

Marais was prompted to move to Oranjemund after she retired from her position as the head of the department of visual arts at the College of the Arts after being at the institution for 12 years.

She says some of her recent projects at Oranjemund are part of ‘The Art Can Transform’ initiative of OMDis’ strategy to diversify Oranjemund’s economy, which has been almost entirely rooted in diamond mining for the past 85 years.

“I am very involved in a project created to diversify the town and give it a reason for existence that is not just diamond mining,” says Marais.

She adds that through this project, she has been able to host artist’s retreats, artist residencies, mural projects, open a new art centre, and more.

“I also find that my painting style has changed fairly significantly over the years, although it can still be broadly classified as abstract. The work is very colourful and could be bordering on chaotic, you’ll have to come to my exhibition to decide for yourself.

“I am also very inspired in my new studio and am using a lot of new symbolic shapes and forms, mixed up with the familiar ones,” says Marais.

On ageing, she says she loves the energy that she feels and the freedom and confidence of ageing have been a surprise.

“I have been really lucky to enjoy good health and I think walking on the beach and in the desert has been very good for my artistic practice. Living in Oranjemund has really reduced my stress levels. It’s a peaceful and very safe little town and I have made some wonderful friends there.

“I think being an older artist has been very liberating, as it is really more important than ever that I do exactly what I want to with each artwork; sometimes they are really quick and others take months to resolve and it’s all good,” says Marais.

She believes one gift of age is that she can access a large circle of acquaintances and friends. Apart from that, Marais says she does not intend to retire from the art industry yet, as art is not something to retire from.

“You retire from your job so that you can pursue your art more intensely. Art for me is like breathing and moving. It is impossible to imagine life without it.”

Marais has held over 20 solo exhibitions and countless group exhibitions in Namibia and abroad, including Europe.

This year, she says she is working towards a solo show of paintings to be showcased at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) at the end of May.

“I don’t have a title for the exhibition yet, but the work I’m doing at the moment is big and full of movement and colour,” says Marais.

She adds that she is working closely with her curator, Helen Harris, from StArt Art Gallery, as well as the NAGN team.

“It’s been a wonderful and very supportive process so far and I really feel very lucky to have so much interest and appreciation from them in the process of building up work for an exhibition.”

With so many things lined up for the year, including promoting Oranjemund as an arts destination in southern Africa, Marais says she is also hard at work hosting wonderful artists from all over the world to work with them on different projects.

Coming up with new and interesting ways to put Oranjemund on the map is also on her to-do list.

Marais developed an interest in art many years ago, after graduating from the Port Elizabeth Technikon in South Africa in 1987.

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