Meet Joe Madisia – Among the Pioneers

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By Betha Madhomu WINDHOEK He is one of the few blacks to pioneer visual art in the Namibian community. An interview with him recently was quite revealing as he went down memory lane, bringing out some of the challenges he encountered then. Meet 52-year-old Joseph Madisia, the man who went on to perfect his art at the University of Namibia at the age of 40. Today he holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Visual art and is the Director of the National Art Gallery. In addition, he is an award winner of the 1996 best student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. “I remember quite well the first time that I walked into this gallery with my first exhibition. I never dreamt I would become the director one day. That was in 1983 and there were very few black artists then. It was only John Mufangaejo who was considered Father of Namibian art. Unfortunately he passed away in 1987 and I will always remember his immense contribution to the country’s art,” said Madisia. He said the challenge then was strong and one had to be very good to be noticed and given respect. “I look at the challenges today and take them as a clear testimony of how I’ve gone up the ladder. I remember my first appearance in the newspaper – that was in 1985 on August 30. The article was in The Namibian’s first publication and I felt that the times were changing. I could see a promising future in my career as an artist,” he said. It was only after independence in 1990 that Madisia managed to travel abroad to showcase his work. To date he has been to Brazil, Norway, Switzerland, Germany and many other countries, “I’ve travelled a lot and I’m quite overwhelmed by the way people receive my work. My work is collected by many countries. I usually get surprised at the number of people who tell me they have my art and feel humbled,” he said. One of the biggest artistic works that he has done for the country is the memorial shrine and he speaks of it with much humility. “I was commissioned in 2004 to design the Omugulugwombashe memorial shrine. It’s one of the country’s greatest monuments and it’s in owner of the heroes and heroines of this country. It remains very symbolic to Namibia because that is where the first liberation war was launched. Working on it was the highest honour I could ever had as it’s something that will stay for ever and be seen by generations to come,” said Madisia. Another of his greatest works has been the Priminister’s mural, which again has great significance to the history of the country. He was part of the team that designed the historic painting. In October 1991 he started work at the Franco Namibia Cultural Centre to give for the first time, the informal visual art classes to young Namibians. “That was the time when many artists like Papa Shikongeni were groomed. The black artists started to spread all over the country. But I didn’t stop there. I went on to establish the Katutura Community Arts Centre. This was meant to bring arts closer to the people in Katutura and today it’s one of the most successful arts centres in the country,” he said. What remains inspirational to him is the earth and that is why every Sunday morning he cooks on a coal stove. “Oh yes, I have to keep the fire burning. It’s very symbolic in any family and I believe there is no life if there is no fire. I like living closer to earth and to remain human. That to me is very important and that is why I’m out in the country with my family at times,” he said. He said his wife Josephine is a farmer in the South, some 60 km from Gibeon. There, the family has a small stock of goats and sheep. They also keep a few head of cattle. My wife is a farm girl and every school holiday, she is on the farm with our three children. We click quite well since I also grew up in the seaside. In fact I was born in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz in the South, a place that is well known for fish, said Madisia. But what is it that he strives to bring out in his art? “Well, in my pieces of work, I always like to bring out our identity as Namibians, as Africans. It is our cultural values that I have more interest in. The unfortunate part is that in Africa, we also try to emulate the western styles as well so much that we at times ignore our fleshy women and bring out the skinny ones. So I can say that I also tend to be diverse in my work. But otherwise, I like my country, especially the landscapes and all. I use material that African people can easily interpret and identify with,” he said. He said Namibian art competes very well with art from other African countries as it has its own flair. “Our art is good and can be put at par with other works in different countries. We have our own strength and that is paint making, which we made sure we carried over from the father of Namibian art. We are so proud of it. That is why you find that this place collects and showcases a lot of visual arts found in Namibia. We, however, simultaneously expose Namibians to arts from other parts of the world through exhibitions,” he said. He said Namibians still have a long way to go before they can consider art seriously as seen from the reluctance on the part of the government to fully support the industry. “We don’t get enough support from government although of course we can’t expect everything from them. We are having a problem even with our private sector who are not interested in investing in this country through artists. For example, if an advertisement is to be made in this country, it is artists or models from South Africa that are hired. You know, it’s all about the African man and I think the ministry of finance should at least intervene and do a little bit of contemplation and let them pay tax because they are not investing in their own country when making promotions,” he said. Madisia strongly feels that if Namibians are to have a great appreciation of their art, then art should be introduced as a subject in schools. “It’s still a problem for most people in this country to take art seriously. Even my mother had problems when I started. She never thought I could make a career out of art and that’s what most people still fail to understand. So I always ask myself – what is the future of the generations to come. People have to understand that artists are the most sensitive people who have a unique capability of bringing out the hidden,” said Madisia.

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