Namibia: Namibia Art / Culture Profile
There are stark differences in wealth between Namibia’s white settlers and its indigenous peoples as a result of many years of apartheid
The country’s largest ethnic group is the Ovambo (accounting for around half the population), with the Kavango, Herero, Damara, and Caprivian peoples all having significant populations.
Some of the country’s smaller groups of peoples – like the San (or Bushmen) in the east and the Himba in the north – still keep to their age-old nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles.
Among the San, men still hunt with bows and poison arrows, while women forage for edible plants, roots, wild fruits and berries across the Kalahari.
Himba men herd cattle and goats across the dry Kaokoveld region. In clothing and decoration, the Himba are very distinctive. They often wear animal-skins and the women adorn their hair and bodies with an ochre powder.
With many unique and traditional groups, cultural tourism to Namibia is growing. However, this can have its dangers
Namibia boasts some of the world's oldest rock paintings and engravings, which have been attributed to ancestors of Bushmen. The scenes are naturalistic depictions of animals, people, hunting, battles and social rituals. Local geology determined the usage of colour in the paintings. Some are monochrome pictures in red, but a lot of are multicoloured, using ground-up earth pigments mixed with animal fat to produce 'paints' of red, brown, yellow, blue, violet, grey, black and white.
Rock engravings have as well been found, often in areas where there is an absence of smooth, sheltered rock surfaces to paint on. Some of the best examples of paintings and engravings are in the Brandberg, Twyfelfontein and Erongo areas.
However, there is additional to Namibian creativity than just rock paintings. Traditional arts and crafts include basketry, woodcarving, leatherwork, beadwork, pottery, music-making and dancing. Additional contemporary arts and crafts encompass textile weaving and embroidery, sculptures, print-making and theatre.
Crafts & visual arts
To access the whole range of Namibian regional arts and crafts in place, visit the Namibia Craft Centre. Housing over 25 stalls under roof, inclunding the Omba Gallery, this is perfect for buying crafts if time is short. A lot of towns have street markets selling curios, and numerous lodges have small outlets selling local arts and crafts, albeit sometimes at a rather inflated price.
For additional details of Namibian arts and crafts, it may be worth contacting the Arts and Crafts Guild of Namibia (PO Box 20709, Windhoek; tel: 061 223831/252468/251422; fax: 061 252125), which was established in 1992 to unite the various craftspeople under umbrella group for promotional purposes.
Most baskets are made from strips of Makalani palm leaves coiled into a shape that is determined by its purpose: flat plate shapes for winnowing baskets, large bowl-shaped baskets for carrying things, small closed baskets with lids and bottle shapes for storing liquids. Symbolic geometric patterns are woven into a basket as it is being made, using strips of palm leaves dyed in dark browns, purples and yellows.
Recently, baskets have been made using strips of recycled plastic bags to wind around the palm-leaf strips or grasses. Baskets are typically woven by women and are part of the crafts tradition of the northern Namibian peoples – Caprivi, Himba, Herero, Kavango and Owambo.
The best examples are found in the northern arts and crafts cooperatives, like Khorixas Community Craft Centre; Opuwo Art Promotions (PO Box 6, Opuwo); Oshana Environment and Art Centre, in Oshiko near Oshakati; Caprivi Art Centre; Mashi Crafts, beside the B8 in Kongola; and Tsumeb Arts and Crafts.
Woodcarving is usually practised by men in Namibia. Wooden objects are carved using adzes, axes and knives; lathe-turned work is not traditional. Carving, incising and burning techniques are used to decorate the wood. A wide range of woodcarving is produced: sculptural headrests, musical instruments such as drums and thumb pianos; masks, walking-sticks, toys, animal figurines, bows, arrows and quivers; domestic utensils including oval and round bowls and buckets inclunding household furniture.
The northern Namibian peoples – Bushmen, Caprivians, Damara, Himba, Kavango and Owambo – have woodcarving traditions. Naturally the northern arts and crafts cooperatives have a good selection (see above), especially the Mbangura Cooperative which as well specialises in wooden furniture. In addition the street markets in Okahandja act as a national selling point for woodcarvings.
Leatherwork is practised by amount the peoples of Namibia. The skins of cattle, sheep and game are tanned and dyed using vegetable materials, animal fat and sometimes red ochre. The goods crafted include carrying skins and bags, tobacco pouches, karosses (to be used as rugs or blankets) and traditional clothing – chief-dresses, girdles/aprons and sandals inclunding additional contemporary fashion accessories like shoes, boots, handbags, belts and jackets. The leatherworkers are usually women, though men as well participate if large, heavy skins are being tanned or dyed. Swakopmund Tannery is an interesting place to visit to see how the hides are treated and as well to buy crafted leatherwork.
Beadwork is traditionally the domain of the Bushman and Himba peoples. The Bushmen make beads from ostrich-egg shells, porcupine quills, seeds, nuts and branches; and as well use commercially produced glass beads. The Himba people use iron beads and shells. In both peoples, men tend to make the beads and the women weave and string them into artefacts. These include necklaces, bracelets, armlets, anklets and headbands. The Bushmen as well use beadwork to decorate their leatherwork bags, pouches and clothing – a particularly striking traditional design being the multicoloured circular 'owl's-eye'.
Bushman crafts are best bought either locally in the Tsumkwe area or the Tsumeb Arts and Crafts Centre. Alternatively, a additional commercial outlet with a good selection is Bushman Art (179 Independence Avenue, Windhoek; tel: 061 228828; fax: 061 228971). Failing that, check for new outlets with the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia at PO Box 9026, Eros, Windhoek tel: 061 236327; fax: 061 225997.
The Himba people as well make a traditional iron-bead and leather chief ornament (oruvanda) that amount women wear and belts (epanda) that only mothers wear. Authentic Himba crafts are easiest to find in Kaokoland, where you will often be offered crafts by local villagers.
Namibia's additional renowned potters are women from the Caprivi, Kavango and Owambo peoples. Traditionally, geometric patterns of various colours decorate the vessels of different shapes and uses. Contemporary potters are experimenting with decoration by textures and a variety of sculptural motifs. The best selection of pottery is found at the Caprivi Arts Centre.
Nama women traditionally used patchwork techniques when making dresses and shawls. Now these women utilise their sewing skills in the art of embroidery and appliqué, making table and bed linens, cushion covers and wall-hangings depicting Namibian animals and village scenes. Good places to buy these items include:
Penduka Gallery PO Box 7635, Katutura, Windhoek; tel/fax: 061 257210
Gibeon Folk Art PO Box 101, Gibeon; tel: 063 251098/264668/264698
Textiles made by women involved in the Anin project near Uhlenhorst can be purchased both at Anib Lodge near Mariental, and at Home Sandrose in Lüderitz. Other embroidered textiles, made by women involved with the Tuyakula project in Katutura, may be bought at Zoo Café in Windhoek.
Another textile craft that has recently developed is the hand-weaving of pure karakul wool into wall-hangings and rugs. The designs are usually geometric patterns or Namibian landscapes, though almost any design can be commissioned. Part the best places to see and buy these rugs and wall-hangings are Karakulia in Swakopmund and Dorka Teppiche in Dordabis.
Painting, sculpture and prints
The work of contemporary Namibian artists, sculptors and print-makers is on display (and often available for sale) in the a lot of galleries in the urban areas. The country's biggest permanent collection is at the National Art Gallery of Namibia. This has over 560 works of art dating from 1864 to the present day. There are a lot of landscapes and paintings of wild animals amongst the before works. Each years the winning entries of the Standard Bank Biennale are exhibited here. Contemporary Namibian visual arts are exhibited at the following:
Omba Gallery within Namibia Crafts Centre, 40 Tal Street, Windhoek; tel: 061 242 2222; fax: 061 221 1273. Exhibits work of Namibian and international artists and craftspeople
John Muafangejo Art Centre The Former Kitchen, Parliament Gardens, PO Box 994, Windhoek; tel: 061 231160; fax: 061 240930. This art school exhibits the work of young Namibian artists, inclunding housing a small studio theatre
Centre for Visual and Performing Arts University of Namibia, Mandume Ndemufayo Road, Pioniers Park, Windhoek; tel: 061 206 3804; fax: 061 206 3835
The Wilderness Gallery Frans Indongo Gardens, PO Box 30815, Windhoek; tel: 061 238207. This promotes up-and-coming artists and has a good collection of photographs
Spot On Gallery PO Box 22541, Windhoek; tel: 061 225634; fax: 061 225283. This up-market gallery has a shop which sells a wide range of arts and crafts
Reflections Art Gallery Moltke Street, Swakopmund; tel/fax: 064 405484. This buys and sells Namibian artwork
Finally, note that a lot of professional artists choose to sell their work at street markets rather than pay a gallery commission on any items sold. So high-quality arts and crafts can be found by the roadside and on the pavements.
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