An article written by Imke Rust (c) for Flamingo, Air Namibia’s in-flight magazine, July 07

“You are doing WHAT?” My concerned friends asked when I mentioned my newest art project. “I am taking art into Etosha… Yes, the Etosha National Park. Yes, we have Namibia Wildlife Resorts blessings, and no, we are not crazy.”

For some it might sound crazy, but for the artists I have invited to join me on this venture it makes perfect sense. And when I introduced my proposal to the Managing Director of NWR, Mr Tobie Aupindi, he and his management team thought so too.

The idea grew from the difficulty of attracting local or international visitors to art exhibitions, the lack of choice of proper exhibition venues and a generally low awareness about art in Namibia. Similar to the old Mohammed and the mountain story, I decided if the people do not come to the art exhibitions, then artists should take art to the people in a spectacular way.

A suitable venue was quickly identified. Namibian’s and tourists alike are crazy about nature and watching wild animals seems to be a national pastime. No place offers a better combination of impressive scenery, exciting wild African animals and a hundred year history of conservation and tourism than the Etosha National Park. The Park is the 5th largest national park in the world and Namibia’s foremost tourist venue attracting 165 000 visitors in 2006. In September 2007 the park is celebrating its centenary anniversary for which it is currently undergoing major renovations and revamps and getting a whole new and exciting image.  Since the park is about nature and the outdoors, this project is an attempt to integrate art into everyday life and the tourism industry.

Due to the excellent mixture of nature, conservation and tourism in the Etosha National Park, it is ideally suited for site-specific installations and land art. The art is made for a specific site, considering its surroundings, context and history. It is integrated directly into the setting through the chosen materials and aesthetic and conceptual considerations. Since the resulting artwork is not something which can be framed and hung in a gallery, but is installed permanently at the chosen site it reaches more people and provides new ways of looking at familiar structures and spaces. This art form creates a direct, accessible and interactive dialog between art(ists), nature, man-build structures and human beings and will be available for visitors to the park throughout the year.

This art project is an exciting first, not only for the Etosha National Park, but for Namibia! It is the first public art project of this scale and type, initiated by an artist and to be executed in a National Park. Local and international visitors will be able to appreciate contemporary Namibian art as part and parcel of their visit to Namutoni where the artworks will be installed.

In order to ensure that this project is of the highest quality, I have invited five of Namibia’s most renowned artists to join me on this project. They were selected on the grounds of their common interest and experience in site-specific installations and land art.  Professor Hercules Viljoen, currently the Head of the Visual Arts Department at the University of Namibia, Jost Kirsten, winner of the 2003 Standard Bank Namibia Biennale, Shiya Karuseb, a thought-provoking artist working in a variety of media, and Wiebke Volkmann, a multi-media artist, who successfully integrates art into other spheres of society like holistic management of natural resources and enterprises. Lastly I, a conceptual artist working in a diversity of mediums, and two-time winner of the Standard Bank Namibia Biennale, curator and writer of art related articles. I have also initiated several art projects promoting art and art awareness in Namibia like the Berlin-Windhoek artistic exchange project: “Shared Experiences”.

Three emerging artists are accompanying the team of professionals. They are two final year students from UNAM’s Visual Arts Department, namely Kleopas Nghikefelwa, who has won the 1st prize in the sculpture category at the Standard Bank Namibia Biennale 2005 and Lionel Pietersen, with the third being a recent graduate from UNAM, Helena Iitembu. Their participation in this project will enable them to gain insight into the professional and public art world and learn from the more established artists. They also have the opportunity to work on their own artworks and introduce themselves as bright young newcomers to the (art)world.

Our art team was warmly received and supported by the staff of Namibia Wildlife Resorts in Namutoni for the preparation field trip early in June. The artists familiarized themselves with the location and materials at hand and have started to formulate their concept and approach for their intended artworks. The artworks will be installed in time for the official celebrations in September this year.

This project is made possible by the openhearted offer of Namibia Wildlife Resorts to host the artworks in their resorts, and Bank Windhoek Art Festival, who support this project financially and B-mobile Car Rentals who supply the artists with a vehicle to get to Etosha.

© Imke Rust

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