All Eyes on Madisia
Published in the Flamingo (Air Namibia’s In-Flight Magazine) in March 2005
The National Art Gallery of Namibia has a new director. Joseph Madisia, renowned artist, who has previously been the head of the Katutura Art Centre has taken over the reigns from Annaleen Eins. Eins has been in control of Namibia’s most important art institution for more than two decades.
At the time of writing the article, Madisia has only been in the director’s chair for three weeks and already has many plans and ideas for the future of the gallery. Having been a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery for several years he is very familiar with the workings of the gallery and not entering foreign territory. In fact, he has been playing an active role in prompting the recent changes, as he was one of three board members who have led an investigation into the affairs of the gallery and the former director. The results of the investigation have never been made available to the public.
As Madisia pointed out right away, he has only been in office for a short while and thus has not yet set concrete goals. There are a few priorities for him to work on however, one of which would be the Standard Bank Namibia Biennale, which is coming up later this year. The Biennale is Namibia’s most prestigious art competition and the organisation and handling of it has always been controversial. “I hope to implement a few changes and I have lots of surprises in stall, but unfortunately these still need to be approved by the sponsors, before I can talk about them.” says Madisia. Being an artist himself, he is well aware of the needs and expectations from the artist’s point of view, which he believes will be of an advantage during the planning of this important event.
At this stage he could only name some of his personal ambitions for the Biennale, which would be to add some new categories, especially for digital and electronic media. He would also like to see more installations. As the gallery’s space and facilities for installations are very limited, he hopes that some time in the future one could negotiate with the Windhoek Show Grounds to function as a satellite exhibition space for this purpose.
Another priority is to decentralise art and making it more accessible to the wider pubic. Maybe print postcards and calendars of selected artworks, which could easily find their way into every home in Namibia. These postcards could also serve as a way to make Namibian art known throughout the rest of the SADC countries and hopefully an exchange of some sort can be established.
In the long-term Madisia looks at implementing the Strategic Management Plan, which was drawn up for the gallery and working on the master plan for the building with its long anticipated additions and upgrading. “Many people have said that, when a black man takes over a business the standard goes down. But I will proof that wrong. I see my appointment as an opportunity to take up this challenge.” says Madisia enthusiastically and determined.
“Since I first walked into the National Art Gallery of Namibia in 1982 I knew that it was my mission to get to a point where I can be instrumental in generating positive change within the gallery. People like the late Amalia and Ruthilde Hillig have shaped and inspired me. For me the most important goal is to maintain the high ethical standards set by people like them. Ethics are the highest priority for this gallery.”
Many people might wonder what will happen to Joseph Madisa the artist? Madisia will not stop his art, since it is second nature to him and almost like therapy. However, his own art will take a back seat now. “I have been a successful artist for 22 years and in that time have inspired and taught many young artists. I feel that now it is time to make way for them and help opening new roads for everybody by giving my services to the artists. I have slowly been working towards this goal, which started when the French Namibian Cultural Center gave me the opportunity to offer art classes to formerly disadvantaged artists in 1982.”
Madisia has accepted an immense responsibility and challenge. The gallery has been badly managed for many years. Many artists and patrons have been unsatisfied with the service and handling of matters and have thus been alienated. Also is the National Art Gallery a government institution and therefore subject to many restrictive policies and a limited budget. All eyes will be on Joseph Madisia in the hope that he will bring the desired and much needed changes and improvements. It is not an easy task to pick up the pieces, but with the (he)art in the right place, vision and a strong leadership, it is a brilliant opportunity to put the National Art Gallery of Namibia firmly back on the map. On the other hand, since things have not been great, even the smallest improvement will be a step in the right direction. If Madisia can convince artists and the public that he is here to lead Namibian art into a positive future for all, he will enjoy everybody’s support and respect.
Imke Rust (c)