Finding Memories, additions to an everyday archive of independence
In February 2021 we are celebrating the addition of six artworks by Petrus Amuthenu, Shomwatala Shivute, Tuli Mekondjo, Isabel Katjavivi, Lok Kandjengo, and Ndinomohlo Ndilula to an everyday archive of independence along with an article written by Ndapwa Alweendo. These additions to the archive were supported by the National Arts Council of Namibia through the Covid-19 Relief Fund. Despite the ongoing pandemic of 2020 all of these artists were able to spend time thinking about the past, and developing new work to add to this archive.
Each contribution to the archive has been carefully considered and generously given. The new contributions take the form of painting, text, printmaking, performance, photography and textile based work. Throughout this exhibition we have used quotes from Ndapwa Alweendo’s contribution that took the form of an article called “Perception is Power; an everyday archive”.
For his contribution Petrus Amuthenu created a large mural-like painting that recounts memories of his early childhood in northern Namibia alongside stories told to him by family members. Amuthenu has also recorded a verbal account of these stories, that can be listened to alongside viewing the artwork online. Shomwatala Shivute similarly drew on her family archive, however in this case the archive took the form of carefully stored and preserved t-shirts. These t-shirts were produced in the early days of independence and their slogans are an important reminder of the work that still needs doing today. Shivute’s subtle and careful interventions are a meditation on these ideas.
Also with a focus on the tangible and hand made, Tuli Mekondjo’s portrait of Mekulu Njokonona was made using crocheting, cotton and embroidery. This work forms part of a larger project by the artist called ‘Omawi Metu’ (Our voices), in which she uses unconventional materials to record the personal narratives of interviewees who speak to her about trauma related to colonialism, war, apartheid, displacement and racism. Images of people, seemingly going about their everyday lives, inevitably make up a large part of this archive. In her exploration of her family archive Isabel Katjavivi has focused on four images which she has traced, drawn over, and cut into. This artwork anonymises the people who were photographed leaving us wondering whose history it is that we are bearing witness to.
This archive tries to consciously re-shift our focus, acknowledging the power structures that influence and dictate our understanding of Independence in Namibia. In Lok Kandjengo’s print titled “Icons and symbols?”, the old colonial parliament building, that is still in use today, is flanked by a monument to Curt von Francois on the left and another to Sam Nujoma on the right. With this work we see a re-configuration of Windhoek and a collapsing of time. In this context the two cars in the foreground also become icons of economic liberation while remaining symbols of inequality.
Ndinomholo Ndilula’s contribution takes the form of a collaborative performance titled 'Struggle Sharing: a reading of the African Union Convention on cyber security and personal data protection'. Ndilula’s work grapples with and celebrates the protections and freedoms guaranteed by the contemporary legal system. What you see in the archive now is an example of what will be built upon at a live zoom event on the 16th February at 6pm. To attend or participate please RSVP here.
Throughout the process of working with these artists we have been reminded that we are not creating an ‘Everyday Archive of Independence’ but rather that we are adding to and highlighting a small part of what already exists in people's personal records and recollections.
[Helen Harris and Gina Figueira]
Contributions from Petrus 'Jero' Amuthenu:
Stretching 2 metres wide, Amuthenu’s painting ‘We Remember’ is, in his words, a “collage” of stories. The painting is made up of a combination of the artist’s own memories and stories told to him by his grandmother about growing up in the midst of the war between Namibia and South Africa in the 1980s.
Photos, images and songs can bring up complex feelings - rage, joy, shame, guilt, grief, inspiration - for those who remember them personally and for those who can only imagine what it was like to live through those moments. [Ndapwa Alweendo]
Contributions from Shomwatala Shivute:
Shivute’s series of four artworks make use of t-shirts from her family cupboards and storage. Slogans on these shirts have at their core a revolutionary tone and promote the struggle for and maintenance of independence. While these t-shirts are from between 20 and 30 years ago, their message reverberates loudly in contemporary Namibia with regard to the struggle for and maintenance of women’s rights and independence.
Our history, captured as it is in this exhibition, is a record of our resilience. And it is our knowledge of the stories behind these images that make our resilience clear. A photograph of my young aunts laughing together may appear to simply capture a happy moment between siblings. But once I know that one of my aunts was harassed by PLAN soldiers to the point that she went into exile, and that my grandfather was absent for months at a time due to the migrant labour system, and that my aunts and uncles were worried about one of their brothers who went missing and was never found, that image becomes so much more than what it appears on the surface. [Ndapwa Alweendo]
Contributions from Tuli Mekondjo:
The portrait of Mekulu Njokonona by Tuli Mekondjo is a mixed media artwork that evokes a sense of care and respect for the person represented. Mekondjo’s artwork is an artistic response not only to the idea of the everyday archive of independence, but to the interview with Mekulu Njokonona that the artist undertook for this project. The considered approach taken to the visual and conceptual aspects of this artwork and interview, speak to the personal and intimate nature of an archive, and indeed of the stories held within an archive.
“Meekulu Olivia Ndadilepo “Njokonona” Haufiku, affectionately known as “Meekulu Njokonona’’ was born in 1934 at Engela. She narrates her life, from the time when she was a young girl growing up and looking after livestock in the village and witnessing the war and apartheid in SWA Ovamboland, Namibia. Meekuku recalls when their homestead was bombed by a SADF war plane. She then had to experience working as a laborer in Swakopmund and at Ai-Ais and she describes how she had to have relevant “working papers” or a “PASS” in order to get employment. I asked Meekulu where she got her nickname, “Njokonona”/History from, she replied stating that it came from the History of war, when they used to talk about the war at a homestead while sipping on some tombo. Independence to Meekulu, is freedom of movement in an Independent Namibia, without the need to show her “PASS”. She urges the new leaders to hold on to peace, to have good governance and for Independence to reign. Meekulu also asked us a question: “What is Independence to us all, all of us that is new?”
Contributions from Lok Kandjengo:
Lok Kandjengo’s cardboard print ‘Icons and symbols?’ speaks to the contentious visual memory landscape of Windhoek. The parliament buildings in the centre of the print started as the administrative centre of German colonial rule, then became the seat of the Apartheid South African government and is currently where the democratic Namibian government convene. This building is a political nexus that has shifted over time. Kandjengo’s print works to conflate time and space, bringing the recently contested statue of German general Curt von Francois into the same frame as the parliament buildings, and a statue of the ‘Founding Father’ of Namibia, Sam Nujoma. Kandjengo is well known for his love of cars and in this print we see a farmer's bakkie and an old VW beetle. Both of these cars have been and continue to be symbols of economic privilege. Together with their background we see a complex portrait of power, wealth and freedom.
This archive, like many others, is a tool. In this case, the goal is to recognise the value of moments we commemorate, create a space that sheds light on the complexity of living through trauma, and remind ourselves that oppression and the everyday are not mutually exclusive. [Ndapwa Alweendo]
Contributions from Isabel Katjavivi:
Family photo albums are usually ways to recall and remember faces and places. Mixed media artist Isabel Katjavivi has traced, blacked out and carved into these photos, rendering the people in them anonymous. Photographed again, against sand, the images link to Katjavivi’s broader creative process, where she works with the earth as a site of witness to the historical violence inflicted on Namibians by oppressive regimes. The grand-narratives of state sanctioned history tend to erase all but the most prominent figures from the story. Here Katjavivi makes this tendency visible, while also highlighting the personal items that surround the silhouettes, subverting their erasure. The four images Katjavivi chose to work with all feature the same drawing by Álvaro Cunhal (Portuguese communist revolutionary and politician) who gifted the artwork to the Katjavivi family around the time of Angolan independence from Portuguese colonial rule (1975). Objects like this one are a continuous reminder of the interconnected histories of liberation in Southern Africa.
When we fail to archive the everyday moments with the appropriate historical context, we miss out not only on the opportunity to name and acknowledge our traumas, but also the opportunity to broaden the narrative of our history beyond the experience of trauma. [Ndapwa Alweendo]
Contributions from Ndinomholo Ndilula:
Ndinomholo Ndilula’s reflections on the everyday archive of Independence are ones that highlight the tensions of autonomy in an archive and the complications that come from blending private and public space. While it can be an effective strategy to challenge hegemonic narratives of history, sharing intimate stories and images can be a source of discomfort. Ndilula’s collaborative reading of the African Union Convention on cyber security and personal data protection highlights the significance of what the artist calls “digital autonomy”. Ndilula's contribution to the archive also takes the form of this open access document that he intends to update and modify as time progresses.
The Everyday Archive, as an attempt to build a narrative retrospectively, is a way to create a multiplicity of narratives and stories about Namibia’s past. As our history is complicated and made more whole, it becomes less unfathomable (especially to younger generations) and less divorced from our experiences in the present. [Ndapwa Alweendo]
Contributions from Ndapwa Alweendo:
This archive, which re-centers and prioritises everyday experiences of Namibians, comes at a time when the very idea of ‘everyday-ness’ is in flux. As we enter 2021, many of us are taking stock of the ways in which huge changes have become part of our daily routines - speaking to just how adaptable human beings are. [Continue reading]
This archive is built on generosity and trust. We could not be more grateful to everyone who supports it and has added to it. If you would like to help us grow this archive with images from your own family albums, or relevant artistic interventions or performances you can find out more here or email us directly. If you are interested in collecting work by any of the artists exhibited here please get in touch!
All the rights for these contributions remain with their originators. Please do not reproduce them in any form without prior written consent.
This archive is cared for by:
Ndapwa Alweendo has an MSocSci in Political and International Studies from the university currently known as Rhodes. She is currently working as a freelance writer, editor and project coordinator. Her interests include Namibia’s often suppressed feminist history, critical race theory, and public mental health.
Helen Harris has a background in sculpture, social anthropology and contemporary curating (BFA University of Cape Town 2013, MA Contemporary Curating Manchester School of Art 2019) She is particularly interested in creating space for local knowledge production, especially in the context of writing Namibian art history.
She is a co-founder of StArt Art Gallery.
Gina Figueira is one of the founders of StArt Art Gallery. With a background in fine art (BFA University currently known as Rhodes 2015, MA Art Gallery & Museum Studies University of Leeds), Gina’s interest in visual culture and narrative theory have blended to form a passion for exploring and reflecting on visual memory landscapes.