THE SHAPE OF LIFE
This exhibition was curated by StArt Art Gallery for namibianart.net and is available online.
'The Shape of Life' is an exhibition of prints by three up-and-coming Namibian artists: Laimi Mbangula, Lok Kandjengo and Elisia Nghidishange. All three artists draw influence from the visual environments that they grew up in. Nghidishange, Kandjengo and Mbangula each express this interest in their own unique way. From the highly figurative works of Kandjengo to the abstracted forms of Nghidishange and finally the distilled graphic form of Mbangula's stencils, we see the influence of form and pattern revealing itself in the exhibition.
'The Shape of Life' is an exhibition made up of careful studies as in each artwork we see that the artist has homed in on a single moment, object or action. These artworks explore the singularity of their subject matter and yet are drawn from a large pool of interlinking and interrelated moments. While each artist has their own style and voice, when viewed together these artworks play off one another, and it becomes clear that the artists share common experiences. Kandjengo works with both linoleum block printing as well as cardboard printmaking. Both Nghidishange and Kandjengo work with the latter. The art of cardboard printmaking has truly found a home in Southern Africa and specifically in Namibia where a scarcity of fine art materials has forced Namibian artists to be innovative with existing resources.
Cardboard printmaking is a form of relief printmaking much like wood-cuts or linoleum block prints. The cardboard block itself is very flexible and easy to cut however it degrades quickly and only a limited number of prints can be drawn from each block. This fragility also makes the level of detail present in both the artists' works quite remarkable. In contrast Mbangula's prints are made through a stencilling technique that she first developed to print textiles. Translated to paper the works are graphic and bold. The use of hand-cut stencils and cardboard printmaking is ultimately determined by the limited materials available to the artist. Mbangula's incredible precision is combined with an eye for form that picks out and distills the essential shapes from her daily life. Mbangula chooses motifs from the tools and utensils 'we have always used in our homesteads and villages'. Her sense of identity is deeply rooted in these objects; "When I think about the fact that these items are becoming extinct I feel distressed, and a sense of loss". This fear of loss is counterbalanced by the works themselves where they are meticulously re-inserted and re-inscribed as an inevitable part of life.
A similar sentiment runs through the works of both Kandjengo and Nghidishange. In Nghidishange's works we see the repetition of various simplified forms that come together to depict people in action. For Nghidishange the shape of life is made up of action, each activity imprinted by repetition. Kandjengo's more figurative pieces provide context and background to the forms depicted in the works of Nghidishange and Mbangula. These shapes are embedded in scenes of daily life where they are seen as part of a wider and perhaps more recognisable scene. Finding similarity, for example, in the motif of a traditional grain store in Kandjengo's and Mbangula's 'Eshisha' respectively, and across Nghidishange's use of line in 'The Dance (i) & (ii)' and Kandjengo's 'Ondjupa', this shared, yet unique Namibian narrative is told through the individual voices of these three artists.