An Artist in Transition:
by Meredith Palumbo
(currently completing her Phd Dissertation on Namibian Art History in the US)
(This article was written for and published in the Flamingo, the in-flight magazine of Air Namibia(Issue August 2004).)
Imke Rust has experienced significant transitions in her artistic, professional, and personal life in the past year. She is devoting more time to making art, left the security of a curator’s position at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, established a new business, is finishing her Bachelors degree, and found herself facing these challenges alone after the end of a long term relationship. Looking at her career, one can see the evolution of her artistic spirit that brought about these monumental decisions, and are propelling her into uncharted territory.
Born in Namibia in 1975, Rust received no formal art training in school, however, her creativity found outlets, including illustrating her homework assignments and letters to her family and friends! After school she worked in the tourism industry, but unhappy in the field, she was drawn back to art, and enrolled at the University of South Africa to pursue a Bachelors of Arts Degree in the Visual Arts. Her lack of previous art training made her first couple of years a challenge, but determination and tenacity enabled her to overcome this deficit and excel in spite of having to work a number of jobs to pay for her studies. It was at UNISA that the artist began forging her own path; art became an avenue of personal discovery by which she could establish her own voice and identity. Resisting the pressure to conform to her professors’ aesthetic sensibilities, Rust chose to follow her head and heart; she stated, “the years I have been studying art were the most important and difficult, it was the first time I ever really had to face myself.” While taking classes, Rust focused on her strengths: the ability to conceptualize the complexity of the human condition, linear graphic art, and the power of color as an expressive tool to explore a theme that affects all levels of the human interaction, power and vulnerability. While living in Oshakati in northern Namibia, Rust observed numerous emaciated stray dogs roaming the streets and felt empathy for their plight. It was this initial observation that started the artist thinking about the complex relationship between man and dog and how this was a verbal and visual metaphor for power relationships between human beings. Rust examines this global concept of the powerful exploiting the weak in the digital prints Untitled 1 and 2. Two dead bodies, one black, one Iraqi, are the central focus of the images, superimposed over them are the dotted line drawings of dogs. These images speak about exploitation on a macro and micro level: from powerful countries taking advance of the weak, a large ethnic group asserting their rights at the expense of a smaller group, or an individual trying to assert oneself with a domineering partner. The line between the oppressed and oppressor are never as clear as one might think making the images complex and intriguing.
These prints and related works are currently on view in Germany at the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit in an exhibition called An Unobstructed View: New Art from Africa. Rust, is exhibiting alongside artists from Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. The artist is pleased to be exhibiting in Germany, not only because of the long standing cultural connections between the two countries, but also to present thematically and technologically advanced Namibian art. Rust tackles themes that are relevant in the new ‘global village’ rather than producing well-worn images of “exotic” Africa.
Unlike many Namibian artists, Rust’s forward-looking artistic vision recognizes the potential of technology in art production. She digitally manipulates images taken from the news media and the Internet, and transforms them into powerful statements about man’s relationship to himself and the rest of the world.
Rust’s recent professional transition indicates she is breaking new ground in areas other than subject matter and technique. After resigning from her job, she established a web based marketing firm. avantgART marketing [www.avantgartmarketing.com] is the first art agent and consultancy service in Namibia that promotes Namibian artists as well as providing freelance curatorial services and consulting to interested clients. One of reasons Rust established the business was her serious commitment to the development of Namibian art and to expose the art to a larger domestic and international audience.
Rust has exhibited in Cape Town, Turin, Milan, and several of Namibia’s most prestigious exhibitions, including the Standard Bank Namibia Biennale. In 2001 Biennale, she was the winner of the First Prize in Painting and received the Highly Recommended Award in the sculpture category. She is currently preparing for her first solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Namibia titled Flying Solo, due to open in September of 2004. The title of the show reflects the new stage of the artist’s life, and the excitement and apprehension that comes with launching herself into the unknown alone. Rust’s digital prints, paintings, and drawings are indicative of her increasing strength and confidence, which are necessary to make these significant transitions, but the work also depict the vulnerability that comes with embarking on this new stage of her life as artist and entrepreneur. If history is any kind of teacher, Rust will succeed in this phase of her professional and personal development, and the next transition of this artistic spirit should be even more interesting and worth watching.