Paul Kiddo has been incredibly prolific, producing an astounding amount of work over the last few decades. However, like most of his contemporaries in Namibia, there is no corresponding plethora of documentation or writing about his work. Recently, Fabian Lehmann (an Arts in Africa scholar) made inroads towards mapping and understanding the contribution that Kiddo has made to the genre of landscape painting in Namibia. Importantly Lehmann’s article is still available for publication and it is our hope that it will soon be taken up and added to the slowly growing archive of documents that contribute to the telling of our art history. This short blog draws out some important components of Lehmann’s observations about Kiddo’s work. In the full article Lehmann takes a closer look at a selection of Kiddo’s paintings.
Lehmann looks beyond the bustling foreground of rural life that is characteristic of much of Kiddo’s work in order to focus on the elements of landscape that he notes are just as carefully and characteristically rendered as the foreground;
“The mountains are clearly more than just a fitting background for the primary focus that is on the hustle in the lower half of the picture. And indeed, when I had the chance to meet Paul Kiddo in early 2018 in his studio in Katutura, he told me that it is not so much the people and their everyday life on the farm, but the landscape of the desert in Namibia’s west and south that he loves to paint.” (Lehmann)
While Lehmann notes that Kiddo’s work could be seen as part of the tradition of landscape painting in Namibia dominated by colonial-era German artists, he is quick to point out some key differences.
“However, while stressing Kiddo’s integrability into the tradition of the inherited German colonial landscape painting in Namibia throughout the 19th and 20th century, one also has to mention a major incompatibility: Kiddo’s paintings depict actual places that have a name and a history and often include buildings and people, representing community life in Namibia’s rural areas. The old Südwester painters to the contrary mainly presented landscapes that looked virgin and untouched and rarely included anything that might indicate the presence of a local population. Instead of depicting actual places they presented idealised spaces that could not be connected to a certain locality in Namibia. In contrast the titles of Kiddo’s paintings state the name of a farm or a region, the older generation of painters often used to title their works blankly “Südwestafrika” or South West Africa.” (Lehmann)
This observation is crucial and lays the ground for Lehmann’s next point. Kiddo has also dedicated a significant portion of his time to documenting and painting remnants of colonial history and architecture that are scattered throughout Namibia. In contrast to the busy scenes of rural life these artworks are remarkably still. To Lehmann this stillness poses inevitable questions about what happened in Namibia’s past:
“All these questions point to a tragic story and together with the impression of emptiness, silence and quietness evoked in the reduced and focused image, this creates a melancholic atmosphere.” (Lehmann)
The uninhabitability of the past has created an emptiness that strikes a similar note to the landscape paintings of German colonial artists. However this time it is only the remnants of colonial rule that are muted, unpeopled and abandoned. Lehmann notes that even in these seemingly empty scenes Kiddo’s ability to tell stories is ever present.
“So the image in the end is less about what we see but much more about what we do not see because it is long gone… These remnants now work as reminders of colonial structures and power relations and their aftermath in today’s Namibia.” (Lehmann)
Lehmann goes on to make important observations about both Kiddo’s process and his biography, both of which have been strong influences on his work. In his article Lehmann makes a strong case for understanding landscape as a key element in thinking about the work of Paul Kiddo. If you would like to read the text in full you can download it here.
FABIAN LEHMANN is a German journalist. In 2020 he finished his PhD at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS). His doctoral research focuses on contemporary visual artworks that speak about remembrance and oblivion in the German colonial time in Namibia. Between 2014 and 2017 Lehmann was a research fellow at Iwalewahaus at the University of Bayreuth.