Shapes of Shelter

Maria Mbereshu. Photo: Martha Mukaiwa

Artists Maria Mbereshu (Namibia) and Janina Totzauer (Germany) craft safe space in the form of an ‘intimate carpet’. Circular, brightly coloured and in conversation with their individual notions of refuge that adorn The Project Room’s walls, the artists’ invitation to ease is the result of a local residency that birthed their creative collaboration ‘Shapes of Shelter’.

The three-week The Project Room residency culminated in a multifaceted presentation including Mbereshu’s textile mural honouring the safe space of her home through the repetition of an image of a traditional cooking spoon as well as Totzauer’s mixed media tents collectively known as ‘Isles of Exile’.

“My safe space is my kitchen and the home,” says Mbereshu, whose bold, graphic textile art dominates a wall facing the gallery’s entryway.

“I love to cook and even in my cooking, I love to experiment. My textile technique is also experimental. In my culture, I learn life skills through cooking with rukere (wooden spoon), when you stir it’s like navigating the challenges of life.”

Reflecting on the necessity of safe spaces, especially for women, Mbereshu mentions Namibia’s plague of sexual and gender based-violence but also the everyday pressures of what she terms the “entanglements” of personal and familial relationships, financial responsibilities and ‘black tax’.

Totzauer’s tents, small-scale mixed media sculptures on the gallery’s lateral walls, speak of a similar need for sanctuary.

“The “Isles of Exile” serve as metaphors for secret places of escapism. They are shaped like tiny abstract tents. Everyone feels that they just want to disappear from the world from time to time. We want to escape our problems,” says Totzauer.

“In which places, with which people and in which situations do we feel safe? Especially as women in a highly patriarchal society?” Totzauer ponders. “My isles provide the mind-space to find comfort and coziness in this rough world.”

While the word “shelter” may connote grim, grey and desperate places often sought after disaster, rejection, escape or abuse, ‘Shapes of Shelter’ is brilliant with colour.

“Maria is the mastermind behind the bold colours,” says Totzauer. “Such bold colouring and patterns command attention. It is powerful in a way that makes people have their own interpretation,” says Totzauer.

“In life you have to be bold. I love bold colours, especially yellow,” says Mbereshu.

“For me, yellow represents hope. I love the Bible and there’s this scripture that says “God’s mercies are new every day” so for me, the yellow is that hope. Bold colours also give me a voice to speak. “

This opportunity to speak extended to a sharing session featuring wellness, art and human rights activists Hermien Elago, Natache Iilonga and Adriano Visagie, as well as the local premiere of Namibian filmmaker Naomi Beukes’ ‘Scarlet Ribbons’.

“Everybody needs shelter. We especially wanted to make everybody who might be marginalised in the prevailing society, feel safe. That includes the LGBTQIA+ community. The queer community can look back on decades of creating safe spaces,” says Totzauer.

“As we were all sitting on the carpet or the floor there was no feeling of hierarchy. Nobody was put on a stage or pedestal,” says Totzauer before reflecting on the experience as a whole.

“Maria and I come from very different backgrounds, Namibia and Germany, but the time, endless hours of talking and laughing together connected us deeply. Art was the excuse to find friendship.”

‘Shapes of Shelter’ will be on display at The Project Room in Windhoek until the end of January.

– martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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