Reporting from Bremen
Published: Flamingo Magazine, May 2006
During the month of May the Medienzentrum in Bremen will host an exhibition, entitled ‘…Namib>>’. Works focussing on Namibia by German artist Michael Weisser and myself, a Namibian artist will be on show. Art is a good way to build bridges between people, to communicate and to raise awareness, interest and understanding about important issues and that is exactly what this exhibition is about.
It all started with Bremer artist, Michael Weisser, who visited Namibia a year ago. We met and started an interesting dialog about art, Namibia, Germany, politics and other themes. This dialog continued via email, and later I decided to apply for a stipend, offered by the Bremen Bürgerschaft and Heimstiftung, to artists from Bremen’s partner cities. Only four such stipends are awarded per year and I was thrilled to be selected for this prestigious award, with an invitation to stay and work in Bremen for three months, starting in March 06. Air Namibia and Flamingo, who kindly assisted in taking me plus all my artworks for the exhibition to Germany, ensured that the long journey was extremely pleasant and comfortable.
During the months preceding my departure we decided that my stay in Bremen would be the perfect opportunity to show Bremen some art from and about Namibia. We realised from our conversations how important communication and exchange is, and that a joint exhibition might be ideally suited to deepen the friendship and understanding between the two countries. We immediately started to plan this exhibition showing Namibia from our different perspectives.
While Michael Weisser will show his view as a German man who has researched Namibian history and visited the country as a tourist, I will show two different views as a fifth generation Namibian woman, of German descent.
Weisser’s digital photographs deal with modern-day realities of Namibia and stem from his visits to Okakarara, Katutura and the Namib Desert. He says: “My journey through Namibia is inherently connected to THIRST. I felt a thirst for knowledge, I was constantly thirsty and I see in the water and desert the theme of my artistic interpretation of this fascinating country.”
My own ‘Memories’ series deals with Namibian history during the 2nd World War, with a special focus on the German-speaking community. During this time the British government sent most men of German descent to internment camps in South Africa, from where they were only allowed to return six years later. During their absence the German women had to take over the management and running of the farms and businesses. Others had to find different ways of ensuring their livelihood without the support of their husbands, while bringing up their children single-handedly. My works show the dramatic impact this had on many families, while contemplating how our fading memories of events become distorted. Certain elements become increasingly important and overshadow others, some fade into the background and others become idealised and blurred. Our memory is selective and inconsistent. History is always written by the victor and therefore continually changes.
Also concerning wars, uprisings and the blurring of ‘right and wrong’ I have selected a few of my ‘Power&Politics’ works to highlight political issues which are facing Namibia today. They focus on the hard realities of power and its (mis)use. These works illustrate parallels between Namibia, Zimbabwe, Iraq and Palestine. They raise questions about humanity in general, our motives, our actions and our weakness for power. The images make us aware that the wheel will keep on turning and the oppressed will become the oppressor, unless everybody takes a personal responsibility to change this pattern.
The exhibition and the printing of its full colour catalogue have been kindly supported by the Goethe Centre/NaDS in Namibia, the City of Windhoek and the Bremer Medienzentrum. It is hoped the exhibition will help to nurture the already long-lasting connection between Namibia and Bremen. Bremen was the port form where most emigrants to the colonies have departed, and many German families in Namibia originate from here. In 1932 Bremen build a memorial in commemoration of all the people who have lost their lives during German colonial wars. It is an impressive 10-meter high figure of an elephant build out of red bricks. In 1990 this memorial has officially been changed into an anti-colonial memorial in the presence of Namibia’s first president, Dr Sam Nujoma. Bremen has initiated many solidarity projects for and with Namibia, the most recent one being the “Bremen-meets-Namibia” initiative in 2004. Under this theme Dr. Scherf, the Bremer Mayor, has launched the first international symposium to discuss the current position of the reconciliation initiative and the 100th anniversary of the Herero war.
In this light the ‘…Namib>>’ exhibition is another great milestone, a project where two countries and two artists find together and jointly work on drawing more interested people into this exchange and mutual interest. Talks are already underway to have the exhibition travel to more venues in Germany and Namibia. On the evening after the opening the Atlantic Airport Blixx Hotel in Bremen will host a Namibian culinary & culture evening in honour of this exhibition. They will serve typically Namibian food and drinks while two top Bremen actors will read selected passages out of our email correspondence, while images of the exhibition will be projected onto a screen in the background.
Fifty-one years ago the well-known German artist Gerhard Marcks travelled to Southwest Africa to exhibit there. Works, which were inspired by this visit, like the famous bronze sculpture of a Herero woman, are now part of the Namibian Arts Association Collection. Quite by coincidence the Gerhard Marcks Haus was the first gallery I have visited in Bremen, only to be confronted with images of Namibian people, animals and nature. Immediately I felt a strange familiarity and understanding that my visit to Bremen is just a continuation of an age-old dialog between two different countries and cultures…
(c) Imke Rust