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Home / Opinion - Novel approaches to arts exhibitions in wake of Covid

Opinion - Novel approaches to arts exhibitions in wake of Covid

2021-11-12  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Novel approaches to arts exhibitions in wake of Covid
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The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a hard toll on the quality of our lives, even to the extent of the terrible loss of too many loved ones. Livelihoods have suffered and businesses lost, poverty has increased globally.  These are very hard times.

While it may be difficult to be optimistic currently, what was impressive recently is the fierceness of the human spirit in the face of the worst health challenge in a century.  Thus, as a race we have not been defeated by Covid-19, we may have had our spirit dimmed, but our societies, including Namibian society, are successfully fighting their way back to some sort of operational normality. 

Once again, the human spirit will burn bright, and our race will survive and prosper. 

Previously, this column has talked about the fantastic health promotion campaigns being run by the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia delivering vaccination drives, and supported by the University of Namibia’s Unam Cares, and in particular, a project funded by the Welsh Government and Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project: Covid Namibia Vaccination (#COVIDNamVacc).  There have been real successes in promoting vaccination in remote and marginalised communities and now something very palpable is manifest, an exhibition of arts made by communities.  

On Wednesday this week, Honourable Kalumbi Shangula the minister of Health and Social Services, supported by Professor Kenneth Matengu, vice chancellor of the University of Namibia, officially opened an exhibition at the main campus of Unam on behalf of the Phoenix Project. Beautiful artworks are on display, raw and effective; they communicate how communities feel about getting vaccinated, and the message is, “give us the chance, we must be vaccinated too, don’t leave us behind” (our emphasis).

This exhibition will stay in situ for a month, and thousands of people pass through the exhibition space, the footfall in the Library at Unam is huge, so this is a great start.  However, is this enough?  Are thousands enough?  Of course, that is not enough, Namibia is a huge country and the second least densely populated in the world after Mongolia.  Thus, how do we share these messages?  Well, obviously, as everyone cannot come to this first exhibition, so the exhibition must go to the people: this Art Exhibition has been made to be comfortably transportable. 

It is fabric, it can be folded, it can be moved elsewhere with its simple hanging devices and its explanatory notes, to any health centre or campus or school or government centre that would want to have it.  The art then becomes available for all to enjoy, understand and appreciate. What you are seeing is innovation in the humanities, innovation borne out of our struggle with Covid-19. 

Frauke Stegmann, curator of the exhibition, is incredibly keen on outreach opportunities for communities, and she explained what happened: “Community members in regions of Namibia where the craft of needlework is generally practised were asked to express themselves freely on the theme Covid-19 using needle, yarn and fabric.”

Stegmann added, “This is a very special project in that it connects to our ancient past as well as having the potential to develop innovation and entrepreneurship in the future if properly fostered.  I do hope that many thousands of Namibians will see and appreciate these works, and this could lead to a further revival and development of our artistic heritage.” 

As part of this fostering process, the team behind the Covid Namibia Vaccination grant view this to be an arts development for Namibia, and would like this to be the first of many ‘exhibition in a box or mobile exhibition’ events. “This development represents a democratic approach to exhibition-making, free from fixed institutional spaces, free to be exhibited anywhere,” Stegmann further remarked.

Of course, other societies have amplified the value of their traditional arts very successfully, think of the Aboriginal population of Australia, or the cultural arts of the Native American tribes of North America.  These cultures have achieved global status: there is no reason why Namibian cultural heritage should not also bear such fruits, consolidating national pride and bringing economic benefits.

The natural companion to the Arts Exhibition in a Box, is the ‘Museum in a Box’ and indeed Namibia already has a very active and successful museum sector.  Engagement through the ‘Museum in a Box’ is one way to get people excited about their heritage.  A ‘Museum in a Box’ contains artefacts that travel and accompany exhibitions.  Many mobile exhibitions have been implemented by the Museums Association of Namibia and have travelled the length and breadth of Namibia. 

Dr Goodman Gwasira, a Senior Lecturer at Unam with a major interest in Heritage and Museums, is leading the Museum Outreach Programme at Unam and implementing a ‘Museum in a Box’ project in collaboration with National Institute for Educational Development.  

Dr Gwasira said, “Adopting the ‘Museum in a Box’ approach will be very useful for sharing ideas, skills and experiences.  It is an egalitarian technique that fosters inter-ethnic cultural tolerance and compassion - both of which are traits that humanity requires to remain resilient.”  

Thus, the Mobile Exhibition of Art must catch up with the already flourishing world of the Mobile Museum. Reflecting on the current exhibition, Gwasira added, “I think this is a very innovative way of sharing lived experiences about Covid-19 in Namibia. A very great and noble exercise.”

The major advantage of the ‘Museum in the Box’ programme is that it can be extended to primary and secondary schools in the country with much success. “The Museum in a Box programme brings lessons to life by placing hands-on teaching tools directly in the classroom. Interactive learning trunks include hundreds of museum-quality artefacts, maps, costumes, books, scientific tools and historical documents that make classroom lessons tangible and boost comprehension and vocabulary with real-world materials” (themuseumschool.org).

Members of the public are free to visit the Art Exhibition, either in Windhoek, or as it travels to their areas in Namibia.  There is also an option of local authorities showing the Art Exhibition in their own public spaces after arranging with organisers in advance. Organisers can be contacted using this email address: rfreeman@unam.na


2021-11-12  Staff Reporter

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