A Namibian Artist’s Experiences in Finland

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By John Samson WINDHOEK To report back on an event like my recent trip to Finland is one of those rare pleasures. It was anything but easy, but it was one of the most successful outings I’ve had for some considerable time. Temperatures in Helsinki were around 4 degrees below zero a day after my arrival, with a light snowfall. My visit to the University of Art & Design, the biggest of its kind in Europe, was a time to catch up on the very latest in technology, and to assess exactly where we stand in terms of development. The sheer quantity and quality of the material resources were overwhelming. To work in such conditions is an absolute dream. The most exciting moments, however, were the times when interaction with students and academic staff took place. I had the extreme good fortune to conduct a three-day workshop in ‘organic painting’ at the University of Art & Design with a group students from both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My most treasured moments were those, and the many discussions and conversations with staff. Having arrived with few expectations, and a program that was extremely packed, it was an enormous bonus to be showered with offers from the various departments to become involved in various programs in Namibia. From Helsinki the next stop was a town slightly north-west called Oulu, where I had an exhibition split over two venues. One half was at the town’s Cultural Centre and the other half at the Oulu Library under the title “Namibian Pot-Pouri”. From Oulu I moved up to the Arctic Circle, to the northern town of Rovaniemi, and the University of Lapland. My stay in Rovaniemi and my lecturing and workshop responsibilities proved to be the highlight of the entire trip. The rural atmosphere at the university was completely different to the urban Helsinki. Of course the weather played a significant role in everything that happened. Being an Arctic region the temperatures plummeted to at least 7 degrees below zero, which is considerably warmer than the maximum of around 30 degrees below zero later in the season. But out of the three week long program there was one very significant fact that emerged above all else and that was that there is a very definite paradigm shift in the way in which the university communities interact in the economic arena. There is a vibrant synergy between the ‘creative community’ and the industrial and manufacturing sector. This is evident in the way in which the design department interacts with the requirements of large companies and corporations. Some of this is soon to rub off on Namibia. The recent agreement signed between UNAM and Nokia is a manifestation of the belief that Finnish companies have in the interactive role that the two segments have to play in order to move development to another level. The notion that mathematics and science are the drivers of economic growth has long since been debunked. It requires visionaries in the ‘creative community’ to work in tandem with the science sector for real and measurable growth and development to be effected. Art and Design has to be adequately funded, and the necessary space on our campuses will have to be created to accommodate exploration and development in the creative arts in Namibia as well. The proof is very easy to see in a country like Finland which ranks amongst the three most competitive countries in the world. Finland is not a perfect country, but it does rank as an ideal environment. Seventy years ago Finland was where Namibia now finds itself! It is possible for Namibia to close that gap in as many years, given the amount of new technology available. Universities throughout Finland encourage the exchange of professionals/academics on a regular and ongoing basis, which is intrinsic to the traditions of academia. Foreign academics are dotted throughout the various institutions. There is a firm belief that Finland benefits directly from the kinds of expertise and experience shared amongst these regular academic visitors. In discussions with the Ambassadors at the International Development Co-operation Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it emerged that considerable weight is being given to expanding such exchanges. The Finnish Government recognizes the value of the interactive processes at work, and the positive outcomes are being carefully analysed. In that regard, reports on certain aspects of my program have been requested by the Ministries and are already being discussed with a view to incorporating what could be considered useful. The artist-in-residence program between Finland and Namibia is being eagerly promoted with direct support from the Finnish residencies throughout the country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the various universities. Namibia now has to implement its side of the undertaking by hosting Finnish artists-in-residence. This seems likely in the first quarter of 2007, after which a Namibian artist will be sent to Finland, to work in a Finnish residency. Namibian artists wishing to benefit from the program will have to register. Selection is not automatic and it is the responsibility of local artists to arm themselves with the necessary information regarding the program. Interested artists can telephone, fax, or e-mail, but personal representation is essential. All interested artists will be required to make a portfolio of recent works available in digital format or good quality hardcopy for listing on the website and an annual fee will be payable to cover all the administrative and internet costs and services, since the Nambian part of the exchange is not subsidised. All costs related to the stay at the residency will be covered by the program. Only artists registered for the program will be eligible for selection, and the program is open to ALL Namibian artists. Registration means that all listed artists will have an opportunity to participate. The trip to Finland was made possible by the Embassy of Finland in Namibia, and kindly supported by the Namibian Ministry of Trade & Industry.

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