A Great Love Story
Published: Big Issue, June 2004
In order to find out why people buy and collect art Imke Rust and meets up with professional photographer Helga Kohl.
We have over the years read much about artists and their art, but very little attention has been given to the patrons of the arts. Who are these people? And why do they buy art? In order to find out more I have met up with Helga Kohl to see the art she has collected and to ask why.
Born and educated in Germany Kohl has moved to Namibia in the seventies. She always had an interest in art and therefore also studied photography. When she was young she only could afford to buy art prints, which are relatively cheap. Only once she started earning some money she could slowly start buying original art pieces.
Her love for art and collecting was fuelled by another great love, that of her late husband. Helga Kohl was fortunate to find in her husband a partner who understood and shared her passion for art. “Together it was much easier to buy and afford art.” And their wedding anniversary and birthday gifts used to mostly be pieces of art. “Once Dieter (my husband) came to my workplace at lunchtime, very excited and said he had a surprise for me, he then took me to an exhibition of Vayetta Varney and we both enjoyed it so much that we each bought a work. This is still one of my favourite works.” From Kohl’s stories it quickly becomes clear that every piece has a special history and meaning to her.
“It is important that you can live peacefully and in harmony with any piece of art which you buy or display in your house. I only buy things, which I really like or which speak to me. The choice often depends on the stage of live I am in. Once I bought an etching by a South African artist, depicting a huge labyrinth. It was at a time where I felt lost and was searching for answers, so the etching was a clear mirror of how I felt.” Kohl says.
Art is an important part of life; it can serve many different functions. It can give you a boost every time you see it, make you feel happy or put you into a contemplative mood, where you can meditate on aspects close to your heart.
While some people collect art as a financial investment, Kohl does so out of pure passion and love for the arts. She will buy anything that she likes and can afford, no matter of the importance of the artist or a possible increase in value. “I do not know what the works are worth today, but I am sure some pieces have increased considerably in value while other have hardly any real financial value.” The wide variety of different objects, from wooden cowbells from Zululand to masks from Zaire, form exquisite watercolour paintings to a several meter high print on textile are proof of her spontaneous and eclectic selection of works.
Kohl owns works by a wide variety of artists, like Themba Masala, Helena Brandt, Trudi Dicks, Peter Strack, Joseph Madisia, Peter Mwahalukange and Bob Cnoobs to name just a few. She also has an extensive collection of African artefacts, which she is very fond of, she explains: “One must accept that these artefacts come from a different culture and has to respect and admire them as such. If you are not comfortable with a piece, do not buy it.” Artworks have a great emotional impact on you. Her husband once gave her a beautiful bronze cast of a queen’s head as a gift, which she somehow could never feel comfortable with; another beautiful mask covered with cowrie shells she returned twice to the shop where she bought it, since she was not comfortable with it. The seller though could convince her to keep it, and now she is happy about it.
Although the collection consists of anything and everything that Kohl finds beautiful, one can find one recurring image, namely the chameleon. “On our honeymoon, which we spend touring in Zimbabwe, my husband and I saw many chameleons and it became a symbol of our love for each other.” she explains. In her collection one can find chameleons in the form of sculptures, paintings or even carved as part of an African mask. Her most recent buy is a print of a chameleon, done by a John Muafangejo Art Centre student, Claudia Peter, as a reminder of her undying love for her husband who passed away almost seven years ago. It is aptly entitled: Still on its way.
(c) Imke Rust