By Andre du Pisani In Namibia, as elsewhere, artists have always given significance both to their Being and to their material and spiritual world. Shiya Karuseb is one such prodigiously gifted artist whose art is embedded in a social, cultural and spiritual context. While one is indeed justified in lifting art out of its social and cultural context, one does so at one’s own peril, for art is intrinsic to daily life. Shiya’s mixed media works derive from a unique set of cultural, social and political conditions. Isolating it as “art”, abstracts his work from their cultural, social and spiritual foundations. The inseparability of art from a wider social and political world has implications for the history and study of art. In brief, it means that there are no universal truths and unchanging aesthetic criteria. We need to understand, not only, the cultural meaning of art but the types of meaning it creates in the process of its inception. In a moment of disarming honesty, Shiya Karuseb, locates his talent “as a gift that stems from the soul”. 1] His deepest wish was fulfilled when he was accepted at the formative John Muafangejo Art Centre. Here he mastered drawing, painting, three-dimensional design and a range of graphic techniques. Unlike many other young, local artists he is not trapped in cardboard printing. Like the great John Muafangeyo, he prefers the black-and white linocut for his narrative subjects, with linear drawing his most accomplished medium and his use of colour a recent innovation. The tonal range of black-and-white lends itself best to his rich artistic vision, his searching honesty, and symbolizes the eternal polarity of good and evil. A vision that is at once allegorical, as for example in “Guardians of de Ghetto”, and “Hidden Treasure” and metaphoric. Shiya Karuseb’s linocuts are clearly that of an artist who has mastered both the technical and conceptual aspects of the printmaker’s art. Another technique Shiya Karuseb uses with great mastery is etching. “Amakhoe” named after the couple’s recently-born son – with its incised lines makes for a most sensitive work in this medium and embodies the artist’s belief in the joy of being, in inner character and goodness. Significantly, an innocent child is the recipient of such inner Enlightenment with angels providing protection against life’s vicissitudes. The work entitled “Goodness”, encapsulates this belief with its concentric circles of humanity’s collective and connected consciousness. In Rastafarianism a moral code that teaches the equality of all people without distinction by race or class. “Reach for the Top”, also an etching, depicts a human stampede, hands probing into the darkness/light ascending upwards on Jacob’s ladder. Metaphorically escaping the vortex of evil, pain and suffering on a journey of emancipation and freedom. This work resonates with “Hidden Treasure” that symbolizes the union of heaven and Earth and the dialogue between Jah and man. At this point, it is appropriate to say something about the words “journey” and shepherd”. A “journey” in both the inner and the outer world, is a passage of traversing and negotiating the intersections of Life so as to arrive at an end state. Art itself is also a journey of creative discovery. For Shiya, the “shepherd” with its Biblical connotation implies the servant that celebrates, brings together and in a serene and calm way protects the bounty and joy of Jah’s Creation. The dazzling body of work on display is permeated by Shiya’s belief in the intrinsic oneness and spirituality of human kind. “Songs of Mankind” depicts this spiritual connectedness as the figures burst out in song, celebrating the joy of being. While his works have a political dimension, as for example in his evocative “Clean hands” that depicts a dreadlocked person with blood dripping from his hands the works on display are examples of his vision configured to the deeply spiritual and personal intensity of its engagement with Life. The rhythms of Life come from within. “The Birth of de 7th Angel” with its umbilical cord attached moments after conception – here brilliantly rendered in two disciplines – as well as “The Angels” attest to the artist’s belief in a higher, spiritual realm with its guardians – the Angels. For Shiya, the spiritual journey is a complex one, composed of many layers. There is the physical world that one experiences with the five senses. Then there is the remote realm where the creator Jah dwells. Between these two lies an interactive spirit world that gives meaning and inspiration to our lives. Several of the works on display contain symbols that imbue them with spiritual energy. The most visible of these symbols are angels, trees, leaves inclusive of ganja (marijuana) leaves, hands, birds, circles, locks and keys, among others. These symbols depict the parallel universe of our journey through the physical and the Spiritual world. There are also works that deal more explicitly with cultural themes, such as “Royal House”. Here again, there is a strong sense of place, a strength of being, a celebration of wisdom that honours a culture’s past while helping to forge its vision for the future. This specific work shows a woman, perhaps a metaphor for “Meme Africa”? As an artist and a person, Shiya Karuseb lives Life informed by the African concept of reciprocity: the belief that anything given must be returned with added value. His artistic talent that springs from the soul has been returned to us in ways that we should esteem and celebrate. I now invite you to journey with the shepherd as we celebrate our sense of purpose and belonging. *Andre du Pisani on Tuesday evening officially opened this exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN).
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