Social Commentary Through Art
John Kalunda is a Namibian artist who is not only making a living off his art, but also contributing to the narrative of our social identity. Born in Kavango East in Northern Namibia, John has just opened his first solo exhibition in Windhoek, titled Urban Identity. His determination is palpable amongst those that work with him and with pride he speaks of being able to fully support himself with his art. He does this by teaching art as well as by producing beautiful works of art, all while studying Visual Arts at the University of Namibia. “I am living off my art. I don’t have a sponsor but I am still able to go to school, put bread on the table and fully support myself with my art.”
More than art for the sake of creating livelihood John says, “art expresses who we are, my art expresses who I am.” This, John’s first solo exhibition, is significant because it portrays the emotional landscape of people in Namibia and their relationship with the concept of urban life.
What is Urban Identity?
According to Elize van Huyssteen, the curator of the Arts Association Heritage Trust, “This exhibition is very important because it gives a subtle sense of our social commentary. John speaks of Urban Identity and for me, there is an irony in it because for him this is urban life but for many other people the word urban has got a totally different meaning. Many Namibians, John included, do not have the means to live in what other Namibians consider urban. This is their reality and an honest portrayal of their daily lives.”
Urban Identity is a collection of art works that represent life in the urban and rural areas. John notes that he will spend time observing an environment and the people in it for a while before taking the images he sees to the canvas. He uses found objects (such as discarded tin and plastic) and natural objects (such as sand and grass) together with paint to create his pieces, making his artwork not only representative of his environment but also containing elements of his environment.
According to Elize “John identifies very strongly with these images. He loves the place that he comes from but he also told me that these images are emotional landscapes of the people that are living there, so before he goes out and starts a painting, he observes and absorbs the environment and then he goes to the canvas and starts putting that information onto canvas in a visual format so that we can feel with him. The suffering, the discontent and the disparities that we have in our society.”
“Through his artworks he tries to help us to see his word and the world of so many other Namibians” Says Elize.
Hard Work and History
While the message John sends in his artwork requires one to stop and think about our own disillusions around what being urban means in the world we live in today, for now John is bursting with pride for this exhibition which has been a long time in the making. “I feel so proud, it was not easy to make this day happen. It was a long journey to get here because we artists have to work extra hard” says John.
While being an artist in Namibia has been hard for many artists due to the lack of support from the public for the arts, things are turning around and just in time. According to Elize, “We know there is a boom in Africa in the arts, we get the news from international sources telling us to be ready because Western markets are so ready for African art. So we need to gear up and be ready for this need.”
In the meantime, John’s message to other budding young Namibian artists is to “never give up but also to make sure that what you are making is quality. It will be there forever. My artworks speak about our environment. But even if this environment changes in the future, through art people in the future will know about the past.”
You can support John by going to view his exhibition, which is being held at the Village Opera House in Windhoek from the 19th of September to the 7th of October. The gallery is open after working hours from 5-8pm on weekdays, making for a great evening out.
For more information about the event click here