NAGN’s Kaputu: “Namibia must invest in art”

30 August 2019
Author   Leonore Tjikune
On a brief visit to the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) last week, the Windhoek Observer toured the facility with Snobia Kaputu, CEO of NAGN, and viewed the wonderful pieces currently on show at the gallery.  Kaputu outlined the gems in the NAGN collection and decried the lack of interest in the arts during economic crisis.
The underrated and largely sidelined National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN), is a state-owned institution situated in central Windhoek which opened its doors for the first time in 2000. 
The main focus of the gallery is to establish a regular program that informs and inspires the general public about visual and cultural arts in the country.  NAGN has the vision of becoming the leading institution for celebrating, collecting, preserving, exhibiting and researching visual art and craft, as a component of national identity, cultural heritage and human connectedness.  This is evident in the art work the gallery chooses to display.
When questioned on how the gallery chooses which art works to display or artists to exhibit, CEO Kaputo stated that there is a meticulous process of sending out a call for applications with a strict criterion, then an internal committee that reviews the submissions.
“We look at durability, content, ‘what is the message behind the artwork’, and the quality in terms of the material used. At the end of the day we also have to have a standard because we are a national art gallery and what we portray in this space reflects what Namibia is made up of. So, we also have to be mindful because we are also marketing our artists outside the boarders of Namibia. Therefore, in order to do that we need to make sure that what is exhibited is appealing to the eye of the viewer.”
The CEO further added that, “Our gallery is not really for upcoming artists.  But more for established artists.  However, we give space for upcoming artists through special initiatives of group exhibitions.”
There are a wide range of services offered by the gallery including curatorial services, gallery space rental, a comfortable reading corner, and a framing workshop.
Kaputo welcomed the public to the Galley.  She said, “Come and find peace within the gallery, or visit our reading corner. We welcome scholars and anyone to come and relax, read, or do research on some of the hidden treasures in the gallery. We also provide walkabouts for a personalized guided tour of the gallery. Apart from that, we also offer framing services for photographs and if artists want to exhibit, we can rent out frames or make specialized frames just for you.”
When asked about the numbers and types of visitors of the gallery, Kaputu was optimistic about the fact that over the years, more Namibians have visited the gallery.  Still, she lamented the reality that the biggest challenge they face is selling the art at exhibitions.  Artists need more sales to finance their ventures and allow them to be creative and innovative with their talents.
“Visitor numbers to the Galley have improved over the years. Previously we had more foreigners, mainly tourists, because where they come from and their cultural background, they know the power of art and the importance of investing in art.  But over the years, with our initiatives, in terms of empowering our people to understand and learn about art, more Namibians have started to visit the gallery. Our entrance registry confirms this point and shows us that Namibians are starting to appreciate viewing the arts.”
“However, the challenge we have today is the buying power; the investment in the art. That is something that really pains me. Being the person that is overseeing the development of our Namibian artists, when you see the effort they put in creating these art works and the excitement staff members have when curating an exhibition to make it appealing to the community, but then when it comes to the buying power only one or two pieces sell. So, this is quite saddening because artists don’t receive the fruit of their labor,” Kaputu opined.
The head of NAGN stated that Namibians should support local art and resist buying art from retail stores from other countries. 
“I’m requesting to the public of Namibia to please come to the gallery and support our locals.  Instead of going to retails shops and buying decorative art from another person in another country, just come to NAGN, we have reasonably priced art work from our artists.”
NAGN has one main exhibition hall, a more intimate exhibitions space on the second floor, a small lobby art-display area in the lobby, and a comfortable reading corner with a relaxing ambience.  There is always something unique to view on their walls ranging from fascinating and creative pieces, to thought-proving and emotion igniting pieces.
Their doors open Monday 14:00-17:00, Tuesday - Friday 08:00-17:00, Saturday 09:00-14:00 and the Gallery is closed on Sundays and holidays.  Entrance is free of charge.
Check out their website for latest exhibitions and events:  www.nagn.org.na.  A full article and photo shoot of the gallery and its treasures will be available in the upcoming 4th edition of the Observer Connect magazine, due on newsstands by mid-September.

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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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