An everyday archive of independence

This page shows a selection of contributions archiving the independence era in Namibia. This archive is a space for the everyday, family photos and personal memories. Official narratives and photo-journalism from this time in history often focused on capturing the pain and suffering of this era. While these narratives play an important role in helping us remember the past they also tell only part of the story. On the 11th of February 2020 we launched "Finding Memories: additions to an everyday archive of independence" which can be accessed here. The contributions are also still available below. 

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.

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?

[Tuli Mekondjo]

Omawi Metu; Meekulu NjokononaTuli Mekondjo interviews Mekulu Njokonona
00:00 / 08:08

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]


Frequently asked questions

How can I add to the archive?

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 email us directly. We will try and make the process as easy as possible. When you get in touch you can let us know a little about your submission. We would also be happy to move the conversation over to Whatsapp if that is easier for you.

What should I add to the archive?

We don't want to be too restrictive in what goes up so there is plenty of leeway if you want to participate! The most important thing is that it should relate directly to the historical period of Independence in Namibia or items/images that pertain to the idea of Namibian Independence. If you have a specific memory you want to share in the form of video, audio or text, we would be happy to find a way to add this to the archive too. We are also very excited about the prospect of you adding an artwork/ performance/ intervention/ unconventional item to the archive. If you would like to do so then please email us about it. If your idea is ambitious and requires funding we will try and support an application for funding to do so.

Who should contribute to the archive?

Absolutely anyone may contribute to the archive so long as their contributions relate to the topic at hand!

Who cares for the archive?

The archive is cared for by Ndapwa Alweendo, Gina Figueira and Helen Harris. We will also be the ones talking to you about any submissions you would like to make.

How is the archive funded?

The archive runs on little to no money. It is mostly supported by StArt Art Gallery (run by Helen Harris and Gina Figueira) through being hosted on their website. However the archive has also been funded in the past by the National Arts Council of Namibia. We hope to be able to get further funding in the future in order to expand. If we do get funding from other sources we will be sure to add that information here.
If you would like to financially, or otherwise, support the archive please email us and we will start a conversation about how best to do so.

How are my contributions to the archive protected?

The archive web-pages clearly state that ownership of the images remains with the contributor. However with the internet being the wonderful open platform that it is we are acutely aware that we cannot always control how people interact with the content they see. We are strongly committed to protecting your contributions through clarity of communication with those who interact with the archive. For anyone who would like to add to the archive without their contributions going online we are open to having a conversation about how to make this work in whatever way you are most comfortable with. Ndinomohlo Ndilula’s contribution to the archive is an interesting response to this exact issue.

Does it make sense to call this platform an archive/What is an archive?

This is a question that we go back and forth on. This project is really an ongoing collection of items/images/artworks/texts/audio/video/stories around a specific idea. We could call it an exhibition, but exhibitions tend to have an end date and we really hope that this project never ends. Perhaps we will re-name it one day when a more appropriate word comes along but for now ‘archive’ feels right.

I really love one of the artworks in the archive, can I buy it?

Many of the artworks that are part of this archive are for sale or the artist who made them might have other works you like too. If you are interested in buying an artwork, drop us a line and we will see what we can do.

How did you come up with the name, ‘An everyday archive of Independence?’

When we started the project initially we called it a ‘Community Archive’, then we realised that we couldn’t neatly define what we meant by community in this context. Even if we were happy to let that remain vague we weren’t sure that everyone who would like to contribute would be comfortable with the idea of belonging to one community. So we changed it to ‘The Everyday Archive of Independence’. Shortly after that we realised that we weren’t comfortable with what was implied by the word ‘The’ and swapped it out for the word ‘An’. Namibia is full of small and large personal archives, photo albums and collections that exist in private homes and are treasured by individuals and families. We would like to think of the space produced by this project as just one of the many, rather than one of a kind. The word ‘everyday’ has become really important to us. We want it to be clear from the outset that this space is for the quotidian, for the ideas, picture and stories that might not seem immediately important to everyone but are very deeply important to the people who contribute them and even more important to a larger, expansive understanding of Namibia’s recent and not so recent history.

What is the timeline of ‘Independence’ in relation to this project?

The Border War ended in 1989 and Namibia officially became an Independent democracy on 21st March 1990. We initially thought that the focus of this archive would be the ten years prior to independence and the ten years after, so around 1980 to 2000. But as the project grew we realised that restrictions on dates would only limit the potential for the space in a way that impoverished it. Because of this we have decided to place no restrictions in terms of dates, and only ask that all contributions relate to the idea of Namibian Independence in some way.


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.