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?”
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]