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73 0 October 12, 2017

Revealing for Healing the Past

With her father as an ambassador to Namibia, Isabel Katjavivi was exposed to politics early on in life; this is what led her to study international relations but visual art called to her, the unspoken conversation that needed to be had.

Drawing from her cultural history, her family history and the past that needs to be seen, looked at and thereby healed, Isabel developed a narrative art piece, one that she did with the blessing of her elders, one that speaks of the damage, burial and lack of memorialisation of the Herero genocide. The installation piece, titled ‘The Past is not Buried’, won her first place at the 2017 Bank Windhoek Triennial and is a demonstration of how art can reflect a societies feeling, journey and scars, opening a conduit for dialogue.

“We went on a journey to different locations and it’s just shocking. If you go to places where things happened and you see graves of the ones who were fighting instead of the indigenous people.”

“My Dad’s always been very involved with the genocide, getting the story out and also dealing with the reparations, so it’s always a topic in our household and that sparked an idea. We went on a journey to different locations and it’s just shocking. If you go to places where things happened and you see graves of the ones who were fighting instead of the indigenous people.”

It was these visits to sights of horrific acts of violence against Namibian people that sparked the idea for Isabel to create a piece of art that speaks to the unearthing of these pieces of our history. Collecting sand from the Waterberg, Ohamakari, the poisoned water holes at Ozombu zOvindimba (where the Hereros gathered before crossing the desert to Botswana, and Ondunduvahi (the man-made hill where the extermination order was read out on 2nd October 1904), Isabel used nature intertwined with history to tell the story so needing to be told.

“This woman represents all those who have died during the uprising and genocide and have never been laid to rest. She is one grain of sand in the process of memorialisation of this history that needs to take place.”

The story is that of a woman, buried and her body being uncovered. According to Isabel “This woman represents all those who have died during the uprising and genocide and have never been laid to rest. She is one grain of sand in the process of memorialisation of this history that needs to take place. Across East, Central and Southern Namibia there are sites of slaughter where battles took place, where water holes were poisoned, where people were hung, imprisoned and exterminated between 1904-1908. Most of those who died were not buried and their bones still litter the land.”

“It’s revealing the past and in order for us to move forward we have to go back, understand exactly what has happened. This is one grain of sand in the journey we have to take for us to heal that wound and move on, because it’s just going to be a constant and it’s not only for the Herero and Nama communities. It’s the whole psyche of Namibia.”

“As an artist I’ve got two processes, times that I dig for inspiration, to figure out what I’m going to do, then there’s moments I have a vision. With this I just saw.” Isabel explains that while at the Waterberg she realized that a grave would be how she translates this message. “She’s buried, because it is in the past, but she’s revealed because everything about it is just left undealt with. It’s revealing the past and in order for us to move forward we have to go back, understand exactly what has happened. This is one grain of sand in the journey we have to take for us to heal that wound and move on, because it’s just going to be a constant and it’s not only for the Herero and Nama communities. It’s the whole psyche of Namibia. This is what we are all living with, this sort of weight.”

Knowing that keeping the past hidden away means you cannot get to a place where you can heal, Isabel is challenging us, through her art, to question what we memorialise and why.

On display at the National Art Gallery of Namibia until the 28 of October 2017, Isabel’s piece was chosen unanimously by the judges as the overall winning work for this years Triennial. One of the Judges, Maureen de Jager, noted of the piece “We believe that the use of materiality to evoke the weight of unspeakable trauma is incredibly sensitive and astute, especially for a young artist.”

Isabel Katjavivi

Speaking of her winning the prestigious competition Isabel notes that “this whole journey has awoken my creative spark and with a purpose. So many artists I admire have told me they are proud of me and I feel like that was her (referring to the woman in the grave) purpose, she needed to shock us. Give us a little shake if you like. We need to deal with this and people have been really proud and glad that someone’s doing it. So we can actually get to that place where we can heal.”

 

Written by Kirsty Watermeyer

 

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Contact 99FM

Contact the 99FM Team for more information about your favorite radio station or to simply provide us with feedback!

Address:
Corner of Alwyn & Perkin Street Suiderhof, Windhoek.

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+264 (61) 38 3450

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+264 (61) 38 3483