Namibian Creativity in Berlin

Namibian Creativity in Berlin

Published: Flamingo Magazine, August 2009

Since the start of the ‘shared experiences’ visual art residency program of berlin-windhoek in the middle of 2008, four Namibian artists have been living and working in Berlin. Five more are invited to follow in their footsteps during the next year, while one Berlin artist per year is granted a residency in Namibia.

The non-profit organisation berlin-windhoek gGmbH, has set aside 1.5 million Namibian dollar over a three year period for this residency program. is an organisation that promotes and facilitates the artistic and cultural exchange between Namibia and Germany. It is the brain-child of Namibian artist Imke Rust and Berlin parliamentarian Oliver Schruoffeneger, who founded the organisation in June 2007. In close cooperation with artists, cultural institutions and their sponsors, initiates, facilitates and funds exchange projects in different artistic spheres, such as dance, music, drama, film and visual arts.

August is an important month for the visual art residencies project. On the 13th of August, Namibian artist Jost Kirsten will open his first solo exhibition in Berlin. Kirsten has been invited by on a 12-months residency at the internationally renowned Künstlerhaus Bethanien. He was selected by a six person jury, who are all highly respected and influential art professionals from Windhoek and Berlin. They have been tasked to ensure a professional, fair and transparent selection process. Part of the prestigious all-expenses-paid residency is the opportunity to present one’s work to the Berlin audience in a solo show.

Kirsten, who has arrived in Berlin in November 2008 has worked hard over the past nine months to prepare for this show and produce new works. The access to all kinds of material and equipment, as well as the contact to fellow artists from all over the world, who are also residing in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, has proven to be a great benefit to this young and focussed artist. “It is amazing to have people around you, who inspire, challenge and motivate you, while you are working on your art. And it is stimulating to be able to see how other artists work and deal with their specific artistic problems.” says Kirsten, “It is a great privilege for any artist to have the time and financial security to focus only on their art.”

The time in Berlin has certainly propelled Kirsten along. Although he still works with fire as his favourite medium, he has dared to explore its possibilities further and experimented with new ideas and techniques, something he would not easily have been able to at home. For the up-coming solo exhibition Kirsten will use fire to draw directly onto the gallery wall. The destructive forces will be used to mark and cover a whole wall with an intriguing and delicate pattern. Kirsten plays with the contrast between the large blackened geometric wall and the natural pattern and exquisite detail of the smoked shapes and shades. He also confronts us with the paradox of a destructive and dangerous element used to construct something new and beautiful. To focus the attention in this way on a wall and not an image hanging in front of it, is a suitable metaphor, since the opening falls on the day of the building of the Berlin Wall almost 50 years ago.

This month also marks the start of the second year of residencies. In time for the opening of Kirsten’s solo exhibition another Namibian artist Shiya Karuseb will arrive in Berlin. He is the first of the five artists who have been invited on the coveted residencies for 2009/10.

In addition to the 12-month residency program, has also offered shorter residencies to selected Namibian artists, of which Karuseb is one. These artists live and work at the Werkstätten of the Professional Artists Association of Berlin, the BBK. In the last year three young artists, Kleopas Nghikefelwa, Kaleb Haipinge and Cristina Salvoldi have been invited to Berlin on these shorter residencies.

Besides working and producing new art, the artists made numerous contacts to fellow artists and galleries and had the opportunity to take art classes at the Atrium Youth Art School to enhance their skills. Being able to visit interesting galleries and exhibitions was a highlight to all, since Namibia does not offer much exposure in this regard. They also had the chance to exhibit their own artworks. Salvoldi held a solo exhibition in the well-known ArtSpace Gallery, while Nghikefelwa, Haipinge and Kirsten participated together in a successful group exhibition entitled Namibia³ earlier this year. All artists have sold works in Berlin and continuously explores new opportunities to exhibit artworks by the Namibian artists who participated in the program. They did not only benefit personally, but also offered talks and workshops to share their own talents with people in Berlin. Nghikefelwa, the first artist who lived at the BBK, still remembers the time with a sparkle in his eyes: “I have learned so much and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. It certainly was the most important time in my life as an artist.”

Karuseb looks forward to his residency with equal excitement and so do the other artists who will follow him, Barbara Böhlke, Abniel Enkali and Paul Kiddo. Another 12-month residency has been awarded this year to Yoba Jonathan, who will board his Air Namibia flight in the beginning of November to take up residence in the studio, at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, which Kirsten will leave with a sad heart.

The residencies are made possible with the generous support of Air Namibia, Kalahari Sands Hotel & Casino, Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie berlin and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Windhoek. If you would like to join our sponsors and support the ‘shared experiences’ projects, please contact

(c) Imke Rust (Namibian artist, writer and project manager)

Opening of Jost Kirsten’s exhibition: 13 August 2009 at 19h00, Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien Gallery, Mariannenplatz 2, Kreutzberg.


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