Musings of a word weaver: The death of public art

29 March 2018
Author   Faith Haushona-Kavamba
In 2015, a group of students from the University of Namibia (UNAM) ventured to where very few had dared on the Namibian art scene.
They created various site-specific artwork as a pilot for their Diver-City student festival.
The 25 students each chose a different location around the city for which they created pieces relative to the areas, in a bid to create a new culture of public arts in the country. The pieces were raw and thought-provoking yet maintained an intimacy that had not previously been explored.
Namibians (those in the know) already lament about how undervalued art is, especially visual arts, so this pilot project should have been a hit; it should have catalyzed this movement were art was effectively taken out of the (few) galleries we have and taken to the people, boldly occupying the spaces they frequent.
For communities that undervalue art in general, public art would go a long way in cementing it as an integral part of their culture while reinforcing that the art is communal.  It belongs to all of us and our expression of it can only be limited by our mental or creative tethers.
On one of my many unfortunate taxi rides (I say unfortunate because I forgot my in-ear headphones and had to listen to my fellow passengers’ boring conversations) I heard one of my fellow riders remark that the municipality needs to do ‘something’ about the graffiti issue. I didn’t know that it was an issue.
It was disconcerting to hear that people still think that street/public art is a nuisance. Be it spray paint graffiti, stencil graffiti, street installations or sculptures, art is still art and should be appreciated. I think for most people it’s more acceptable as art if it is in or around a gallery so anything else is considered an unsightly nuisance.
However, what they don’t consider is that by its nature, art does not need to be overtly “artsy” (as it were) in the typical sense. It shouldn’t be confined to specific spaces or places, as long as it serves its purpose, to evoke feelings, thoughts or purely to revel in its beauty.
While I’ve admittedly been hiding under a rock for a bit, I have been reacquainting myself with the arts scene but I find that it may not be reaching as many people as it should. Graffiti should still not be considered a nuisance; public installations covered with drawings should not shock the beholder because they display a foreign concept but because the work itself is truly awe-inspiring.
It goes without saying that serious artistic interventions are needed on a full scale. If someone is a parent and strongly believes that public art a nuisance, how do we expect them to nurture their children’s artistic pursuits?
Windhoek residents are more exposed to art compared to people who come from smaller towns and villages, most of whom have not even been in a gallery or heard of one.  So, if someone who is expected to be more exposed to certain things, is not, then what hope do we have for those in our small towns and villages? 
The arts should not be that rare thing that children discover when they come to UNAM or the College of the Arts (COTA) as it was for some of us…but I digress.
My concern is why we aren’t doing more with art in our public spaces? Imagine the joy of seeing a beautiful stencil graffiti piece along the side of one our monstrous government buildings - now that would be a sight to behold.
Perhaps the problem is that there are too many people like me, who are trapped in the crevices of our minds silently wondering and lamenting yet do nothing about it. 
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Faith Haushona-Kavamba has been an Entertainment and Lifestyle Journalist for close to a decade with an honours degree in Print Journalism. Faith is a cheese connoisseur with a penchant for great merlots, a lover of dry humour and mother to a Black Moor goldfish named Mariska “Fulgencio” Hargitay.


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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