The Role of Artists in the Concept of Progress: Perspective of a Namibian Artist

by Joe Madisia

Background

The past one and a half decade of Namibian post independence have witnessed intense discussion, dissent, protests and changes in the artistic and cultural industries across the country. To focus on the concept of progress in Namibian art and cultural development is need to consider the background of past German and South African (apartheid’s regime) colonial affects, and only the recent independence. Namibia is currently experiencing a challenging, process of Nation building that need to be based on a cultural self-understanding of “unity in diversity”.

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Time to stand up for the South African National Gallery: or why no one cares any more…

To begin: why is it that we hear criticism of Zeitz Mocaa, and that the Department of Arts and Culture is routinely condemned for its handling of the Venice Biennale, but we hear next-to-nothing about the ongoing crisis at the South African National Gallery (SANG)? Can it be because Zeitz Mocaa and the Venice Biennale represent power and prospects, whereas the National Gallery has already sunk so low that no one really thinks it is worth fighting for?

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Going for a Wrong? Hell, it don’t matter

Mario Pissarra, 31 October 2014

One of the functions traditionally performed by auction houses is the authentification of works of art. Art historians usually stop short of selling themselves as connoisseurs, but in the auction business the sales person claiming the mantle of expert is essential to establish authority, and secure ‘value’. So, along with formal attire we have special protocols and language that includes exotic (French) terms like “provenance”, which translates into something not unlike the pedigree certificate you can expect from the Miniature Doberman Society.

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The Death of OPINION? (OPINION pt 5)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 30 January 2014 They burst upon the scene with gusto, launching missiles at Iziko Mausoleums of Excellence, and then they disappeared… What happened to the terrorists calling themselves OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not)?

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Deviant Museums Plan Secession (OPINION pt. 4)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 10 January 2014.

Following rumours of endemic discontent within the Iziko Consortium of Excellence, the cultural terrorists calling themselves OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not) paid a clandestine visit… to the Iziko West Coast Fossil Park. There they were shocked to discover an Iziko site without its sacred logo.

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OPINION Strikes Again! (OPINION pt 3)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 19 December 2013

Babel O. Piziko, contemporary spokesperson for OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not), has released a third set of multiple-choice questions designed to test public knowledge and perceptions of Iziko Museums of Somewhere or Other.

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OPINION: The Return of (OPINION pt 2)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: this was originally posted on ASAI connect on 12 December 2013

RESPONSE FROM IZIKO = Azikho (literal translation from isiXhosa: “there is nothing”)

However, a dubious body calling itself the Indifferent Atrocity, apparently the shadowy executive of the Zippo Consortium of Amusement claimed that Iziko (literal translation from isiXhosa “a hearth”) was in mourning for the loss of a brand even greater than itself, and besides, it did not talk to terrorists, even if they were cultural.

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Our Public Institutions Need Intervention or Not (OPINION pt 1)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: this was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 5 December 2013

Desperate terrorists have hacked their way into ASAI’s facebook page, where they have released a weapon of crass distraction code-named OPINION. According to the Ministry of Counter-Intelligence in the Newly Independent Bantustan of the Mind, OPINION apparently translates “Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not”.

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Booing It, Badly: A Response to Sharlene Khan

Mario Pissarra, 15 April 2011

In response to Sharlene Khan’s sequel to her earlier “Doing it for daddy” piece, I would like to briefly make a few observations. Firstly, there is much I agree with. I concur that there is “stagnation in transformation”, although I have my doubts whether it was ever really underway. I also concur that race, gender and class and their relationship to power is still critical to consider, not least in the visual arts. I also despair at the lack of engagement of the DAC with transformation, particularly in the visual arts, although I do think we should be wary about their ability to lead on this issue, given their dismal record. Like Khan, I welcome Riason Naidoo’s appointment at Iziko SANG.

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Doing things differently: the promise of Africa. cont

Mario Pissarra, 20 May 2010

When Jose Antonio Fernandes Dias, visual arts advisor to the Gulbenkian Foundation, was asked by the Mayor of Lisbon what he thought of the idea of a museum for contemporary African art in Portugal, an idea that came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dias said that it was not a good idea. He told the Mayor that museums risk becoming static places and would keep the “ghetto of contemporary African art” alive. Something more dynamic was needed. Dias was asked to come up with a proposal. That was in 2007. Today he is heading the establishment of a new multi-disciplinary organisation, Africa.Cont, which will be housed in a new building, designed by David Adjaye, to be completed in 2012. A mildly edited version of this appeared in Art South Africa vol. 8 no. 2, 2010, p. 76.

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Decolonising art in Africa: some preliminary thoughts on the relevance of the discourse on decolonization for contemporary African art, with particular reference to post-apartheid South Africa.

Mario Pissarra, 25 November 2009

This was initially presented at a lunch-time lecture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2006. Some of these ideas have been further developed in subsequent papers. It is published here in its original form.

1. The construction and imposition of “authenticities”

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The stakes of art criticism in Africa

Yacouba Konate, 4 November 2007

[This article originally appeared in Gallery No. 19, March 1999, pp. 14-15; and appears here with the permission of the author and the publisher. Initial interest in republishing this article stemmed in part from the need to highlight the critical contribution of publications produced in Africa – Gallery was published from 1994 to 2002 by the Delta Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe. On the occasion of the forthcoming AICA/VANSA seminar (8-10 November 2007) it seemed a good time to make Professor Konate’s article accessible, and to pose the question: have there been any substantive changes since this was written? MP]

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The JAG is the SANG

Mario Pissarra, 13 October 2007

I have long argued that transformation of the South African National Gallery has been badly managed. Thirteen years into democracy it has failed to produce a demographically representative pool of curators. Perhaps more importantly, it has failed to re-orientate its Eurocentric origins by neglecting to prioritise developing relationships with other African countries. Instead, in the name of transformation, the SANG has been absorbed into a seemingly dysfunctional, costly bureacracy called Iziko Museums, a top heavy administration that has few admirers, even amongst its own ranks.

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“Made in Africa” Biennale: Afrika Heritage and the Politics of Representation

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, 13 June 2007

The baggage of post-coloniality continues to weigh-in strongly in the discourse of contemporary African art, moreso when this discourse is coloured by the politics and economics of representation. In the 1990s, the contest that ensued in the global art space with regards to African art was one of representation and authorial spokesmanship that was engendered as a result of the seminal but hugely controversial Les Magiciens de la Terre exhibition of 1989 curated by Frenchman Jean-Hubert Martin. The blockbuster show undoubtedly reconfigured the reception of modern African art in the West. But beyond that, it helped to facilitate the emergence and acceptance of contemporary African art on a large scale in major cultural institutions of the West. This to borrow from Olu Oguibe, set the tone for reclamation of author-ity and reversal of imposed anonymity on the native, perpetrated by ethnography that effectively bars claims to subjectivity and normativity.

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Dirty Laundry: Can we think beyond Venice?

Mario Pissarra, 7 June 2007

I have previously argued that Africa’s representation in Venice is irrelevant when compared to the need to develop alternatives at ‘home’. In essence my argument is that we should not judge the success of South African art (or African or ‘non-western’ art for that matter) by its presence or absence in the prime venues of the ‘international’ arena, of which the Venice Biennale is both a leading example and symbol. The health of a country’s art should not be judged by the number of international ‘stars’ it generates, since this may provide a false picture of the state of art in that country or region. Rather it should be evaluated on the quality and extent of its art practice, galleries and museums, art education, publishing, patronage, and all the critical components of art infrastructure that are essential for the development of art.

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Curating as a transformative practice [Targeted Candidate III]

Emma Bedford, 5 December 2006

[Discussion document presented at ‘Institutions, Publics and Beyond: Curatorial Practices Moving On’, keynote panel at the first South Africa Curators Workshop presented by The Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) and Robben Island Museum, 20 November 2006]

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Beyond current debates on representation: a few thoughts on the need to develop infrastructure for art in Africa

Mario Pissarra, 20 November 2006

The discourse on contemporary African art is a comparatively recent one, and has to a large extent been dominated by issues of representation: what image of Africa is or has been communicated to the world, and to itself? Who is or who should be representing Africa? And who and what is Africa? Much of the discourse has been led by Africans in the diaspora. This generation of intellectuals has taken on the critical need to address negative, sometimes racist constructions of Africa that have been dominant, particularly but not exclusively in the West. This need to address negative perceptions of Africa, coupled with the present location of a critical mass of African artists, academics and curators in the USA and Europe goes some way in explaining why there has been an emphasis on interrogating ‘Africa’ as a concept, and why issues of representation have been fore-grounded.

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Open the Gate

Olu Oguibe, 9 October 2006

[This letter was initially written in response to a letter from Salah Hassan and Okwui Enwezor to Robert Storr, Artistic Director of the Venice Biennale. It was copied by the writer to interested parties and is reproduced here with his permission.]

To Dr. Salah Hassan
Forum for African Arts

September 19, 2006

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Targeted Candidate II [Iziko’s response to Goniwe]

Jatti Bredekamp et al, 11 September 2006

[On 1 September 2006 Jatti Bredekamp, CEO of Iziko Museums, responded to Thembinkosi Goniwe’s concerns about the South African National Gallery’s notice for the position of trainee curator. Goniwe’s intervention was initially communicated by email to Emma Bedford of the SANG on 28 July (See “Targeted Candidate”). Bredekamp copied Iziko’s response to 27 persons, most of whom received Goniwe’s original mail. On 4 September I emailed Bredekamp requesting permission to reproduce Iziko’s response online. Later that day Khwezi Gule added his voice to the debate, followed by Mokgabudi Amos Letsoalo, who had been one of the first to comment on the issues raised by Goniwe. Subsequently Mark Hipper joined the debate. The discussion of Iziko’s response went online on 11 September, without Bredekamp’s letter since I had not received a reply to my request. Some of the respondents to the debate were familiar with Iziko’s letter, having been on the initial list of recipients of the email exchange; others were not. Permission to post Iziko’s response online was finally granted on 16 October 2006. MP]

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Targeted Candidate

Thembinkosi Goniwe, 29 July 2006

Dear Emma Bedford,

Please consider my concerns regarding your advertised Trainee Curator at the SANG. I am wondering how many potential candidates “from historically disadvantaged groups” that would apply given the stipulated required “Minimum qualification: BA Degree in Fine Arts or History of Art”? I am thinking of young black art practitioners who have no university or college qualification as required, for example graduates from Community Art Projects (now Arts and Media Access Centre), Ruth Prowse, FUNDA, etc – from community driven initiatives or organisations!

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Veneziano: Ventriloquizing Venice- a response to Malcolm Payne

Gavin Anderson, 04 July 2006

[Written in response to  “Viva Venice… Viva… Long live!” where “Malcolm Payne takes issue with Mario Pissarra’s objections to an emphasis on the importance of the Venice Biennale”, ArtThrob June 2006]
‘Veneziano’ is the local Venetian dialect, which ‘does not descend from the Italian language but has its own morphology, syntax and lexicon.’ (Wikipedia)
Malcolm Payne’s recent extraordinary and irascible contribution to ArtThrob regarding Mario Pissarra’s view of biennales deserves a brief informal response.

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Venetian Blind: A response to Malcolm Payne

Mario Pissarra, 18 June 2006

[This is a response to Malcolm Payne’s “Viva Venice… Viva… Long live!” (ArtThrob, June 2006). Payne’s piece was a response to my “Death to Venice” (ASAI, May 2006), which was a response to Marilyn Martin’s companion pieces “Death in Venice” and “Faultlines and Fumblings” (ArtThrob, September 2003), as well as to Sue Williamsons remarks on the Venice Biennale (ArtThrob, July, 2003).] [i]

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Death to Venice! A South African perspective on the irrelevance of representation at the Venice Biennale

Mario Pissarra, 07 May 2006

[This previously unpublished piece was originally submitted to the arts editors of leading South African newspapers in October 2003]

In a recent paper (soon to be published in art journals here and in the UK) I raised the questions as to whether South Africans are capable of making a paradigm shift away from a world view centred on the West, and whether we are able to develop an inclusive vision of Africa.[1] Reviews by Marilyn Martin and Sue Williamson on the Venice Biennale amplify the need for these issues to be debated.[2]

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It! How the Minister’s Imbizo resurrected suppressed childhood memories and hurled me into the horrors of the present

Mario Pissarra, 16 April 2006

After five years at the local, whites-only government school I was sent to a private, then boys-only, Catholic boarding school. Sending your children to be educated by strangers with a penchant for corporal punishment was entirely consistent with the child rearing ethics of the post slavery/colonial plantation class. Where the school stood apart was that it was more liberal than most- it was modeled on Thomas More, the English chancellor who chose to lose his head rather than his principles, and the school adopted his motto of “truth conquers all”. In 1977 I attended my first ever political meeting, called by the Black Sash to protest against deaths in detention, dressed in my Sunday Best. One prize-giving ceremony a few years earlier we were treated to the Chief Minister of Kwa Zulu, Mangosuthu Buthulezi who arrived with a fleet of black Mercedes’ with number plates one to six.

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