Talking to 2020

Updated: Mar 6

Co-founders of StArt Art Gallery, Helen Harris and Gina Figueira briefly discuss StArt Art Gallery's journey over the past three years, the context that they work in, their plans for the year ahead and for this blog.

Helen Harris: I was a little worried that when we decided to call ourselves StArt Art Gallery in 2017 that the name would become stale very quickly and we would have to drop it and move on. We do seem to still be starting though, to be moving cautiously forward, navigating something new everyday. In 2017 and 2018 we worked out how to run a physical gallery with a new exhibition opening almost every month. In 2018 and 2019 we moved online, selling work to a global market. Now, looking at 2020 I’m realising that we’ve really only just begun. We’ve now carved out a space in a domestic setting that will act as both a work space and a viewing room for collectors. This along with pop-up exhibitions and a presence at local markets should keep us visible in Windhoek. In some ways I think our name has given us permission to start over and over again, but it’s also a reminder to take care of these beginnings.

Gina Figueira: Yes, there is something to be said for being able to transform and renew what we do as we and our environment evolve. Reinventing and finding ourselves anew is really the name of the game quite broadly across the country and continent as we navigate a lot of old, staid, baggage. Physically in Windhoek, we find ourselves at the epicentre of a vicious and violent colonial legacy that so totally influences our spaces and our lives. While it is firstly not possible and secondly not ethical to construct what would be an ultimately farcical fresh ‘blank slate’ for ourselves as Namibians, we have to perform some action to intervene in that old colonial status quo.

HH: These histories work their way into everything we do. For example your dissertation for your MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies focussed on the colonial era monuments that continue to litter the country and how their unmediated presence validates racist and vastly inaccurate versions of Namibian history. I can’t wait to see it published and perhaps we could even put a summary of it up on our website. Fleshing out and adding more indepth written content is just one of the many things I’m looking forward to doing with the website this year. More writing about artists and artworks along with texts that explore and look critically at the fascinating context that we work in. If that works well, we might even be able to expand towards inviting other people to contribute.

GF: Writing is important. In the art world we exist in, writing and other forms of documentation, do a lot of work to create visibility for artists and their work. For example, the work that you did for you MA where you interviewed a series of Namibian curators is something that has hardly been done before. Those interviews are full of important information about the arts in Namibia from people who are thinking critically around the space Namibian arts occupies (or doesn’t). This is especially important in an art scene where documentation is often hard to come by even for locals, let alone internationally. This feeds into the way that artists and art are part of our economy. Unfortunately the reality is that items in a market won’t sell if people don’t even know about them in the first place. This is where writing and documentation comes to the fore, not only to assert ourselves as Namibian creatives in the global canon of art, but also to help develop our economy and ultimately create a market that allows artists to earn a stable income from their work.

HH: From our vantage it’s hard not to imagine ourselves on the outside looking in at a vastly complicated global art market. Trying to create space for ourselves and our artists in that market is a priority that we push towards actively. However, I sometimes think that the more joyful and important work is done on a local level, in showing art in unexpected settings, in studio visits and cafe conversations, listening to new ideas and creating spaces for new voices to be heard. Being back in Windhoek after a year abroad provides a kind of relief, it’s easy to remember here why art is important and why we do what we do.

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