Some time ago I was approached to have some of my artworks published in a book, entitled ‘Temperatures Rising – Climate Change in Africa – a Journey in Pictures’. The book will be produced for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to be presented to the delegates and guests of the COP21 conference next week.
The consultant responsible for the book, Ms Asieh L Nassehi Javan of Concept2art in Torino, Italy, asked me to submit several suitable artworks of mine and has interviewed me about my art. One artwork was selected for illustration of the book, while it will also be printed as a poster to be presented in the African Pavillion. I am so honoured and excited!
I thought you might enjoy reading the interview and get to know more about my ideas behind my art, so I am sharing it with you here:
ANJ: What is the role of an artist? As an educator? As someone who makes people aware of issues? A critique? An agent of change?
IR: All of these. I believe different artists have different and often several roles, which together shape our (human) identity and future.
Personally I see my role in offering an alternative perspective on the world and our perceived reality, and offer possible creative solutions to problems affecting us. Part visionary and part agent of change. A little bit like the shaman or rainmakers in old cultures, who through their ritual and creative expression raise awareness and envision and enact a new, better reality.
ANJ: How do you define your art?
IR: I work in a wide range of media, dependent of the concept or vision for the artwork. My work cannot be defined by putting it into a box. Roughly I would say it is a mix between creative, visual expression, alchemy, magic and spirituality, often with a sprinkle of playfulness.
It is a flowing process between all these layers, always conscious about trying to make a positive impact and slightly changing our perceived reality.
ANJ: What inspires you to create works that address hurting the Environment/Climate change?
IR: My works usually starts when I notice something, which stirs me emotionally. Often these are situations which I find frustrating or problematic, so I start to wonder what could be changed and how.
Namibia is a dry country with two large deserts. We are extremely dependent on rain for survival, but also on managing our natural resources well. I try to find different ways to feel less helpless when it either does not rain or when I see great damage being done to our environment. I love researching and experimenting with really alternative ideas, because I believe often the mainstream ideas are what brought us the problems in the first place.
As an artist, my purpose is to use my art to make the world a better place. Others have different purposes. Like my father, who is a farmer and an engineer, so he tries to find agricultural ways to positively impact the environment, for instance through Holistic Resource Management. I learned much from him, but was also frustrated, that still we are dependent on the rain and that rainfall cannot be controlled. So I ask myself is this true? Why does almost every ancient culture across the world a belief in a rainmaker or a rain dance? And how could I combine my art, my knowledge and research and my spiritual beliefs to at least consider the possibility of having an impact on the rainfall?
ANJ: Is there an experience, instance or event that led you to create works about the environment?
IR: As an art student I had no money for art materials and usually in Namibia traditional art materials were either not available or extremely expensive. So I started to look around to find alternative materials to use, which I could gather for free.
So early on I noticed the abundance and usefulness of the environment for my art. Through that, and the fact that I grew up on a farm, it was a natural next step to pay closer attention to the environment and realize our connection to it more deeply.
My artworks from the series ‘…and I sensed an infinite scream passing through the Namib’ started from seeing the increased damage of more and more uranium mines and connected industries on the environment. Other people were demonstrating to stop the mines and I asked myself how I could personally contribute, since demonstrating was not my thing. I looked for ways in which I could address the problem and create solutions in my own way.
ANJ: Can you elaborate on the art works you are submitting? What are the messages they aim to send and to whom are the messages directed?
All over the world the old cultures had shamans who were known to be able to create rain, either through dance, music or rock-paintings. From my research I construed that the creative act combined with a focused intention can create a different energy or vibe and thus change the perceived reality.
Since then I have experimented with different methods of using my art to hopefully ‘make rain’. This specific work creates a vision of the reality we intend to see, in a similar way that the old inhabitants of Namibia would have used to attract animals for a good hunt. I have made several different artworks or experiments researching different approaches.
The message is two-fold: it tries to remind people to focus on the rain and not the drought, and secondly open people up to the idea, that there may possibly be alternative ways to see the world and to impact the reality around us. I cannot say for sure this way does work, but by trying it out, I hope it encourages other people to also try out alternative ideas, even though they might appear silly or ridicules. Through actively taking charge, and playfully experimenting with different things, we might find new solutions. (Find out more about my rainmaker experiments by clicking here.)
Desertification and erosion in Namibia is becoming an increasing threat, which is to a large extend a result of us not taking proper care of the environment. I found these deep erosion cracks and I wanted to use the human, female body and the naked skin to highlight this problem and to make us aware that the soil of the earth is like our skin and equally vulnerable and in need of care and attention.
We are intimately connected to the soil and our destiny is so closely linked to that of our environment. These works allure to this and the birth, life and death cycle, which starts and ends with the earth. ( For more work from this series, click here. )
Works like the Tokoloshe Trap acts in my usual multi-layered way. It tries to use the spiritual intention and activated energy, the shapes and material to protect the land in a spiritual way, but it also lets people see a familiar environment in a different and unexpected way. I hope this will let them pause and become more aware, start wondering and asking questions. I also hope it works via a physical experience: any Namibian knows from personal experience how painful it is to step into one of those thorns. Seeing so many of them arranged as a kind of trap, usually lets us cringe, while we imagine stepping into it. (More about this artwork: click here)
An Infinite Scream
In this documented performance-like action I asked passers-by to re-enact the famous painting ‘The Scream’ from Edvard Munch, on the Swakopmund jetty. Munch claimed that he sensed the angst and scream of nature, which led to this painting. Be re-enacting this scream, the people give an expression to the fears about the destruction of our environment. The resulting images and video raise awareness in a fun way. (More about this intervention: click here. and to see a super fun short video about it: click here)
Dorob (NOT) 4Sale
This anonymous intervention used a tongue-in-cheek way to get people’s awareness about the sale-off of our natural resources. Fake estate agent for-sale signs were placed at prominent places along the main roads leading through the Namib desert, with messages that our desert and ocean are (NOT) for sale. The provided telephone number and Web address lead to further information and links to environmental initiatives. (More about this intervention: click here. )
Hand-painted Photographs of the Namib Desert
While I was in Berlin, I heard about the plans to build a large chemical plant in the Namib Desert. I imagined what the desert around that plant would look like, if the waste is not properly managed, like so often before or if something unforeseen happens. I painted these scenarios onto photographs of the desert. Later, when I returned to Namibia I used the ideas from the photos for temporary land-art installations.
Toxic Rocks & Poisonous Water
The neon paints might initially give the landscape a funky and modern look, which is quite pleasing, until we notice that this is not natural and healthy. I hope to make people understand that we have to take a second look and consider the different realities behind a situation. Yes, a chemical plant might bring job opportunities, but also illnesses and destruction to the environment. Only when we consider all aspects, can we make a good choice. What looks pretty at first, might turn out to be nasty in the long-run. (More about this artwork: click here and here.)
AJ: Could your art, even though its related to Africa, reflect the global narrative?
IR: Definitely! When I started off with my career, I thought I am working on personal issues which are directly connected to myself and my home-country. I very soon realized, that once you scratch under the surface, we are all human and have the same hopes and fears. Situations and patterns are so similar all over the world, but we are often too distracted to notice, because we focus on the thin superficial differences.
Not all countries are desert countries, but still we all are exposed to and dependent on our environment. A country with plenty of water also needs to manage their resources. They might not need a rainmaker, but through my artwork they could feel inspired to play with alternative ways of interacting with and caring for their environment, and minimize the danger of floods for example.
ANJ: Do you have any comments you would like to add?
IR: Thank you so much for your interest in my work and this opportunity to make it visible to more people worldwide.
Thank you Ms Nassehi Javan for letting me share our interview here! It has been such a pleasure getting to know you and working with you.