WINDHOEK- The first aspect about the mixed media exhibition from Tsumeb worth mentioning, is that it comes to the capital city from the north. It is a strong sign that art and art-making is alive and well in that part of the country, and presents us with an opportunity to assess how it stacks up against developments generally. In that regard it certainly does not disgrace itself.
The artists exhibiting are a group of young people who are making an early foray into the mainstream. They have seen the value of, and the benefits of recycling materials/found objects into their various works, and have acquitted themselves with varying levels of success.
The process is fairly common in the region with South Africa having turned it into a ‘flavour of the month’ approach. A number of South African artists have established themselves internationally in this way. Willie Bester (b.1956-), being one of the pre-eminent examples of this genre, and more recently,Mbongeni Buthelezi (b.1956-), who has had major success at recycling plastic bags into a usable ‘paint’ medium.
The use of found objects and applying discarded materials as a means to an end is admirable, provided that every young artist does not follow the same example. The now familiar and ubiquitous cardboard print, which every young aspirant Namibian artist felt compelled to produce lead to a noticeable drop in quality of other mediums. Painting in particular, suffered greatly as a consequence.
It is true that all young artists will chance their arm at a medium which seems within reach, and these ...from Tsumeb are no different. So, how does this exhibition stack up? Generally, much better than expected. All the usual signs of inexperience are there. It takes time to develop skills and to recognise the problem areas, particularly where they do not benefit from regular formal training.
That also means that it takes much longer to become adept and comfortable along the developmental trajectory. The compositions tend to be imaginary with elements of European landscape creeping in to muddy the water. Tsumeb is not a town without a physical landscape worthy of an artist’s attention, so one wonders whether images from books or magazines might have prompted some of the images.
The choice and use of colour is largely in the secondary and tertiary ranges, which suit depiction of the natural Namibian condition, and the use of the found materials works contextually, and on other levels. Perspective remains a common problem, but does not detract. Afterall, Muafangejo, despite the lack of perspective in his works, did pretty well for himself! The more naive the works the less perspective seems to impact on the overall success of the works.
There are a number of works that contain pattern-making, which do not fall within the genre of ‘abstract work’, and young inexperienced aspirants should not even consider tackling abstraction until well into their careers. It requires a certain mindset, and a level of skills both at the conceptual and intellectual levels that this group still has to acquire.
When it comes to what this group of artists are about, it would be wise for them to study the works of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat (b.1960-d.1988), who set a standard for appropriation, and the use of the found object in his work.
This exhibition is indicative of the first tentative steps into the arena of fine art. They show the flickers of promise, but it would be premature to make an early assessment, much too early.