opinionBy John Sampson
Windhoek — A group exhibition, Namibia To-day is currently open at the National Art Gallery of Namibia until January 31, 2013.
Once again a pleasant and engaging mix of works, which is well curated, and reasonably representative of artists presently busy and exhibiting in the mainstream. The same can be said of the mediums on show. There is literally something for everyone.
The recent exhibition titled Metalmorphoses, previously exhibited at the Omba Gallery, is once again to be seen almost in toto but it fits in well alongside every other work in the large gallery space. Two of the three-dimensional contributions from that show are also in amongst the sculptural works, which generally have not quite made it; again! Pedro Vorster's digital prints viz, Bring in the Future, and Futurista: Moma Barca 1 & 2 are indicative of his explorations in that area over recent years. Bring in the Future is a work that presents an optical illusion before one realises that it is a flat picture plane, and his photographic works of MoMa, Barcalona, is realism presented in an abstract way, killing two birds with one stone.
And then, as one moves along, one comes to Chris Snyman's My Brother's Sorrow, Aim Here, and Sinister Darkside, and one realises that these three works form the centre, the essence of this exhibition. Snyman's works are gutsy, they are drawn from what appears to be very personal life experiences, and they are produced with an energy which cannot be said of any of the other works, except for the two by Barbara Bohlke, which are full of movement, Prayer Dance II and the smaller Prayer Dance I, paintings in oil on canvas, done in her typical, and now very familiar style, prop up the showing at the other end of the gallery space.
But, to get back to Chris Snyman; his three contributions to this group show demand the attention of the viewer. It is strange though, that they were not hung together. Other artists who contributed three or more works, had their images presented as a close, personal grouping. However, it makes little difference; his works would impress wherever they are hung.
Pictorially they remind one of the approach by Paula Rego (b.1935) who experienced life under the António de Oliveira Salazaar dictatorship with all its social/gender restrictions, which hampered the progress of women in Portugal. There are also elements of R.B. Kitaj (b.1932), who drew his references from 'history, literature and politics'. Snyman's work are gestural, and within the context of his motivation, provide reason for these comparisons.
Snyman, though, finds a rich vein of source material in the personal aspects of interaction on a close emotional level. It is difficult to know for certain with just three works on show, but a big solo exhibition should put his production into perspective.
Caligari seems to have found her comfort zone in the pop culture of the 1960s, but the works of that era have little currency in the 21st century, where even post-modernism is under threat, and desperately in need of 'the new'. Under the rubric of Namibia To-day, the two works Feminineand Masculine speak more of a bygone era than of Namibia To-day. Would that it offered something new for 'To-day'.
Alpheus Mvula's three works dated 2007, 2008 and 2009 do beg the question; 'is he a better graphic artist than a sculptor?' Jeremia Petrus has three works on show, all ink on paper, and the immediate response is that the figures are too static in the poses used; the side-on views being reminiscent of the early Egyptian mural paintings of 3000-2450 BCE. The almost pointillist rendering, however, is certainly not without its merits.
Barbara Pirron's mixed media work titled Series: Alte Germauer -Pforte, which depicts an image of a portal, or an opening, whether real or metaphoric, is not clear. It is a small deviation from her familiar landscape-based works, and a pleasant, and somewhat surprising addition.
The photographic series by Hem Matsi under the common title of Fashion Against Women, is a reasonable attempt to once again foreground issue relevant to women in Namibian society to-day and uses a sub-title ploy, which might not have been absolutely necessary. Rendition in black and white might have been a better choice to support the thrust of the images.
Sigi Straube's photographic contribution draws from the usual, recognisable themes in the popular Namibian photographic sector. Werner Hangula has not been seen in gallery spaces for some time, so his Colour Splash free-hanging canvas panel, and The Drum, which is an actual drum majorette's drum, suitably decorated, are unexpected. They are clearly decorative works reliant on pattern-flow as an underpinning.
What is strange about this group show is the number of works that are not dated, or which have their origins at least five years in the past. The title of the exhibition, Namibia To-day, in itself is a criteria and a theme, so the question that needs to be asked is; 'how is TO-DAY defined in the context of this particular exhibition'? Is it left to interpretation? In which case, why the precise title?
The issue of criteria for exhibitions like Namibia To-day needs to be clearly spelt out, if they are to make any sense at all. In this show the title is contextually meaningless and irrelevant.
The contributions, because they do not reflect the theme of 'TO-DAY', tend to be a disparate collection of works. The Metalmorphoses artists come closer to the intention of the project due to the fact that they are engaged in the marketplace, which is a demanding space. And Snyman's works delve into the mental and emotional space, that has currency and relevance at any given time.
Since its inception the new regime at the NAGN, has delivered positive signs. So, in this context, it would not be unreasonable to state that some attention to detail at administrative level is required.