The Two Lives of Ndasuunje Shikongeni

NEW ART … Ndasuunje Shikongeni is preparing for an exhibition that opens at Oranjemund today (Friday).

There is no distinction between music and the visual arts, according to musician, storyteller, naturalist and spiritualist Ndasuunje Shikongeni.

Shikongeni says he lives in two dimensions.

During a conversation with The Weekender last week, Shikongeni pointed to the existence of air, wind, fire and water as examples of nature’s dualities.

Shikongeni identifies himself as Hishishi Papa – the musician with rhythm, and Papa Shikongeni – the visual artist who crafts with his hands.

The well-known Namibian artist was born in 1971 and has played a key role in shaping the country’s artistic environment as a pioneer in the nation’s post-independence arts, education and culture circles.

His creations are characterised by a natural spirituality and youthful energy.


Shikongeni will present his latest artworks and conduct a workshop with his 22nd solo exhibition, at the OMDis Art Centre at Oranjemund from 22 March to 1 April.

This follows an eight-year break.

“For the past eight years, I have been more into spiritual healing, creating music and communicating with ancestors and the universe,” Shikongeni said.

He has never been to the south of the country since he began his artistic career, he said. Therefore, he considered taking advantage of this chance to teach, inspire and remind people in the south what art is, and showcase his new techniques.

The theme of the exhibition is ‘Omusimaneka John’, which pays homage to the late Namibian art maestro John Ndevasia Muafangejo, who rose to prominence across the globe.

Hi latest collection also recognises the significant contribution of Joseph Madisia, a peer of Muafangejo’s, who was among the pioneers of visual art in Namibia.

Shikongeni trained under Madisia at his house in the Golgotha area of Windhoek, where he received guidance as he continued his artistic study at the Franco Namibian Cultural Centre.

When Madisia went back to school in 1994, Shikongeni began working as an art lecturer.

It was when Shikongeni saw the vibrancy of African textiles while travelling that his path took a dramatic turn.

In October 1994, he held his first exhibition in Senegal.

“This experience ignited my passion for infusing colours into my artwork, a departure from the predominantly black and white work I did that was reminiscent of the dry and monotone environment of my homeland.

His upcoming exhibition will showcase his growth and healing over the years, he said.

“This exhibition serves as a testament to the enduring power of art to inspire, connect and illuminate the human spirit.

“I am going to showcase what I am gifted with, the cardboard techniques, but this time it is more of a healing technique.”

His new work incorporates the expression of various colours and combines a fresh sense of self for healing, he said.

“It’s more like therapy, to give people the opportunity to know themselves inside and to be themselves, free from the capital of society and what people say.”

With the intention of evoking memories and remembering traditional ways of communicating, the exhibition will feature more than 14 artworks, alongside a printmaking workshop.

Shikongeni said the workshop caters to artists and those with a passion for the arts.

“I am going to expect people to transform and express themselves in this workshop as a means of renewing themselves.”

His latest work is centred around images of masks, which appear frequently and signify the masks we all wear in society, he said.

Removing these masks and showing themselves for who they truly are, is his call, he added.

His use of water as a focal point is another theme that frequently appears in his artworks. He draws comparisons between the natural birth of creative ideas and the breaking of water during childbirth to highlight the importance of water as the source of all life in a nation where water is often limited.

According to Shikongeni, he also set a challenge for himself to produce cardboard prints on A4 and smaller sizes.

“This is to see how I will tackle the method and how willing I am to step outside of my comfort zone, which is creating larger cardboard prints.

“I want to come in with a landscape of small size,” he said.

During his break from the visual arts, he used music to aid in his spiritual healing, he said.

During this time, Shikongeni’s work was centred on themes of self-healing, self-love and a connection to nature.


Shikongeni moves fluidly between the visual arts and music, reflecting on the generations that came before him.

He began singing in school and debuted as a vocalist and dancer at the Lisboa Expo in 1998.

So far, he has released the albums ‘Aantu Aantu’, ‘Aathigona’ and ‘Shili Mekunde’.

“One album was dedicated to young people and contained genres like house and amapiano,” he said.

He even featured South African legend Yvonne Chaka Chaka on the track ‘Nombili’, which reflects on life’s important issues, he said.

He has shared the stage with musicians like Ras Sheehama, Patricia Ochurus, Erna Chimu, Tunakie, Auxe and Ndilimani during a performance at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

He has also composed traditional music, which he labelled Ambo, to represent the Aawambo people, and makes reggae music that addresses important issues about women and mothers, the youth and the system.

To foster partnerships among artists, Shikongeni has organised events that fuse the visual and performing arts.

In addition, Shikongeni has visited the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and Norway, as well as Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda, Burundi and Zambia.

“Aside from music, I was working at the College of the Arts (Cota), instructing and imparting information to the youth through the arts.

“This is to give what I have to young generations and to pass on the knowledge to others,” Shikongeni said.


Shikongeni recalls being recruited as a freedom fighter in Angola after leaving secondary school during Namibia’s battle for independence.

From a young age, he developed an interest in the visual arts which led to eventually becoming a visual artist.

“My qualification is an inborn gift and I believe I always had the talent,” Shikongeni said.

As a multitalented individual, Shikongeni embraces all forms of expression and sees no distinction between music and visual art.

He was previously the John Muafangejo Art Centre’s director and currently works as a full-time lecturer at the Katutura Community Art Centre’s Cota campus.

Recognised both locally and abroad, Shikongeni has participated in more than 48 group exhibitions and has showcased his art in countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, Senegal, Germany, Scotland, China, Sweden, Russia and Norway.

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