Monday, February 11, 2013

Week 3 - Joe & Margaret's Artistic Journey

Post by Margaret Wittenmyer and Joe Rossi

Yo everyone! It’s Joe and Margaret, and we’re commandeering this blog to share with you our journey through the world of Windhoek souvenir shops, art exhibits, and obscure community radio stations in search of the Namibian art and music scene.  In our two weeks here, we have been to concerts, art exhibits, craft markets, movie screenings, and this wicked community radio station BASE FM! Oh also this chill guy Elemotho who we saw at the culinary institute of Namibia. When we first came here we were thinking, “dude this is gonna be some awesome culturally diverse music man!” but then we realized yeah it’s a different place but Rihanna and Lil Wayne are still clogging the soundwaves. So when we arrived at BASE FM with our tour guide pal from the Young Achievers' Club,  Nadongway, we went with a mission to dig up the “real” Namibian music scene.  After more than a few minutes of prying at our tour guides musical knowledge he hooked us up with some local Namibian DJ’s and musicians who surprisingly to us were sort of pushed into the underground of Namibian sound. Some of these artists included DJ Gazza, The Dogg, and lady ma.  We also were trying to find out where these Namibian artists were getting their influences from and where it was heading in the future.  The prominent genre here is South African-inspired house music, with a Namibian style that adds a reggaeton flavor to the dance floor.

Artwork by Actofel from Young Achievers
With this background knowledge of the workings of the local music scene, we set out in search of other artistic avenues to explore, looking out for any trends to try and tap into the flow of artistic creation in Windhoek.   Our first stop was “Namcrafts,” a large store specializing in the sale of indigenous crafts. While Namcrafts prides itself on being a so-called fair trade art and craft vendor, many establishments selling “indigenous” artwork do so at the expense of the artisan, exploiting both the cultural heritage of native Namibian culture and the artisan by paying an exploitative sum for the value of their work.  One group that has particularly been victimized by the tourist industry has been the San people of Western Namibia.  The San people have a rich cultural heritage characterized specifically by worship of ancestors and the natural environment, which is most often denoted by the “trance dances” people of the San culture conduct to communicate with the supernatural. Because of years of persecution by the German colonial government, the San people are among the poorest groups in Namibia causing many members of the San culture to seek their livelihood through the tourist industry.   While teaching tourists about one’s native culture isn’t inherently exploitative, the tourism industry often labels the San with the derogatory term “bushman” and encourages the San people to keep living in the past to maintain the “authenticity” of activities such as trance dances that they perform for tourists. In this system the San people are exploited both by poor wages for their work and by a tourist industry that prefers the San to keep living in the past for their own profit and often sells their culture under the derogatory title of the “bushman.”

While Namcrafts is a reputable store that abhors these abusive practices we still felt that there was a separation from the true art of Namibia and ourselves.  After a moment’s perusal of the store’s wares, we realized we were just in a tourist spot selling fanciful craftwork that while being crafted by native Namibians and sold fairly were still fabricated as souvenirs to be sold rather than in the spirit of artistic integrity.  The products in the store were beautiful no doubt, but commodified and too separated from their creators to hold the real meaning for which we longed.  But the place was still pretty wicked so we bought some sweet complimentary straw tourist hats to wear (ironically) during the remainder of our quest, cause dude the only way to penetrate the man is to pretend you’re the man...right?

Artwork by Actofel
Anyway, disguised with our ironic native headwear we decided that we needed to separate ourselves from the tourist shops and art galleries and look for “true” Namibian culture at its source, the artist. Conveniently for us one of our Katatura tour guides from the Young Achievers Group, Actofel, was studying art at a local college so who we invited him to showcase some his art here at the CGE house.  It was mostly wood prints he had made of indigenous-inspired scene of people and places around Namibia.  The prints had a unique and local vibe, a mix of modern images and tribal symbols.  He told us that the people and places in his art were not meant to be real, nor were they based specifically off of actual things, but rather they were a combination of his imagined and remembered life experiences.  Breaking the barrier between the artist and the consumer, by meeting Actofel and seeing him holding his own creations, made us realize that regardless of whatever we may have been expecting, this was a real Namibian artist with real Namibian art.

Perhaps we were looking in the wrong places, we shouldn’t have been looking for art in the commercial soundwaves of a radio station, in the store where the artist has to make art to sell to a tourists expectations, or on the street where selling to a tourist is a matter of daily livelihood, we should have been looking past these ------- to the source of the actual art, people like Actofel who make art as a way of self-expression.  We should be looking for local music in the churches, where people sing hymns without hymn books or instruments.  We should look at the indigenous clothes people wear as part of their identity through artistic expression.  Art is all around us, we only have to learn how to learn how to see it.

No comments: