The Role of Artists in the Concept of Progress: Perspective of a Namibian ArtistPOSTED ON: April 2, 2019 IN Joe Madisia, Opinion, Word View
by Joe Madisia
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”.
These challenges are actually based on the fact that the current multi-cultural society of Namibia had been artificially segregated during the colonial and apartheid eras. It is against such a background that artists with their multi cultural exchange, expression experience and their conscious fermentation of cultural traditions blended with current lifestyles into future, can play a pivotal role in a sustainable and peaceful national development process for the country.
Being aware of their roles will also enable artists to gain self-reliance and deserve recognition. In many societies in the world over, artists anticipate, strive to achieve and articulate new spaces as freedom, as freedom is the innermost essence of their mission. Artists do not only need freedom as a precondition for their own creative and innovative accomplishments, but also they expand horizons of freedom for everybody. Such ideals will democratize, decentralize and diversify the current art industry market economy (the monopoly of a few) and ultimately ensure real progress in national self understanding of Identity and Unity in Diversity for the wider Namibian Arts and Culture fraternity in all regions of the country.
The snail pace during the last fourteen years in the transformation of the arts made artists realize that coercive negotiation of cultural and artistic practice and freedom need to more sporadic and systematic, to ensure the deconstruction of colonial after effects as well as the rising neo colonialist/liberal and hegemonic tendencies. To achieve what have been said, will require artistic and social commitment that is encircled around balancing artistic and cultural economics with commitment for cultural equity and empowerment through decentralization among the diversity of the Namibian population.
Only then in my view, can we talk about a true concept of progress that is nationally collective conscious.
All these aspirations are currently interpreted by Namibian artists and society as ‘hope’ for a better future, which makes one aware ‘to what degree hope is a permanent force’ in every artist and human being, a driving power as long as s/he lives. We all must realize that such ‘hope is attached to a concept of progress toward a final stage of realisation’, which will not materialize immediate or even never . But will be vested rather the in creation of what is possible and visible for us in each particular state of history over the next twenty five years meet the concept of progress which is in line with the VISION 2030 national ideals.
The Past Histories on Concepts of Progress
We are not the first people who are actually faced with concepts of progress, although we may often feel as if we are the only ones. The startling principal is that ideas and theories do not exist apart from historically existing people, so that the history of ideas is actually the history of mankind. Philosophies, legal theories, economics, science, technology, sociology, beliefs and psychology etc, are creative artistic works as “products of ideas”. They are historically conditioned forms of consciousness, adaptable, functional and inseparably interwoven with events characterizing each given historical epoch.
There have been, then, also many desperate confused epochs every where especially if one focus on our immediate pre independence period. The reformers who then as freedom fighters made the choice to start the armed liberation struggle, rewriting the political theories needed a remarkable degree of courage to keep up with their concept of progress towards an independent Namibian State. Many people at the time may have seen as such approaches as irrational, and such reformers may have been told by some that it would be a fatal hope. However, today, many of us are appreciative to realize that they were actually right in not giving up in their ideals of progress. “When others wavered” the subtitle of Namibian President Sam Nujoma’s autobiography published recently, echoes such ideals.
The Change of Utilities
In common parlance; the term ‘progress’ is associated with technical and scientific advancement, or anything which enhances the comforts of human life.
“The idea of progress is that humanity is capable of improving it’s condition of existence – today can be better than yesterday and tomorrow even better than today” .
Historically our African Namibian traditional applied crafts and arts of our culture were developed and refined by woodcarvers, potters, leather tanners, smelters, dancers and above all the their own barter systems as means of value exchange for goods produced.
Arts, Science and Technology were vested then in their contextualized day to day material and spiritual culture, customs, knowledge and activities. Elders in their times produced a systematic account of techniques of all the skills and it still serves today as a reliable and authoritative source of information in our museums and heritage institutions, and by way of oral history that has been handed to us over many generations.
Within such organising systems the arts and craftsmen in guilds, promotion, patronage, protection and development of their skills was assured in their times by trade, specialists in the courts of kingdoms. Of course patronage changed gradual over the last centuries with the influx of Missionaries, European Tradesmen, Colonialism, Colonial Resistance, Independence and today Democracy and Smart Partnership as the generation of world civilizations in the twenty first century.
Such development went hand in hand with introduction from precision and machine made wares over the times, into today’s digital era. To the extent that one can safely say that the twenty first century’s aesthetic, tectonic and digital values has historically shift beneath humankind’s feet. To the extent where our own, spiritual, textural and scientific values had to some degrees make way to our acceptance of new patrons. – leading to a “decline of African aesthetics”.
These and other sea changes herald the beginning of a more complex equation of economic, technological, cultural and political balances of power as nations become increasingly interdependent even to be felt in Africa or Namibia for that matter.
Interdependence on Utilities and Resources
Politicians, Business, Scientists, Philosophers and Technologists… artists, poets, writers and actors predict that this will be a decade of cooperation and shared interest as new challenges – the greenhouse effects, population pressures, HIV Aids epidemic, gender, poverty, cultural exchange, the communication and media revolution, transfer of capital, goods, raw material and political hegemony – of which all are transcending national borders.
“It enabled African elites to consume products of western civilisation without having to go through the difficult and long process of building productive based of their own societies. It is easier to shop in the market than try to build industries yourself” .
When considering the redistribution of current socio-economic conditions of people in Namibia it will be useful to think of them as belonging to different layers on the economic structure. At the bottom are the majority of people who are poor, also as those who are too impoverished to participate fully in the economic, cultural and political life of their society. In middle layer are people that vary in degrees of wealth who have access to local up markets and the global economy. On top is the minority – public servant executives, elites and global throtters negotiating smart partnership deals.
But amidst cooperation and shared interest exists also a national interest, that demand one to focus on foreign policy implications of the explosion in science, technology and cultural innovation. Because, such a world situation may also affect how governments feed, care and create employment for their people.
The back bone of any synthesized conceptual frame for human equity in a plural and multi culture society, need to be conscious that the local peoples’ reality has to be the starting point and not the problem itself. It is in such a situation that those community of peoples’ authors like musicians, artists, writers, film makers, actors and many indigenous cultural representatives should play a meaningful role.
Namibian Democracy movement has been influenced by foreign policy and politics at large as some ordinary citizens as individuals in the country have increased input on decisions to honour the ‘individuals’ rights. This resulted that the quality and depth of our democracy, is questioned, because we have an elite democracy with regular no-choice or limited-choice elections. It in such a democratic situation wherein social thinkers and artists must became aware of a new reality, that should spontaneously give way to ensure that a “practical decision is also an ethical decision that derive from a collective decision” of multi–cultural participation.
Ethical, Practical and Collectivity
It is worth noting briefly where these ethical principles come from. Ethics can be defined as the product of morality. That is to say, morality supplies the profound base of ideas from which ethical standards can proceed. Morality comes from many sources including utilitarianism, religious, humanism, language, artistic, and design imperatives.
Namibia also need to deal with three moral foundations as representation for ethics, which is Western as our National Official language, commodities and economic assistance, our own African traditional values and sporadic eroding humanity, as well as the recent Asian influences through trade and skills.
Therefore, it becomes of importance to ask: whose way of representing knowledge will be in control? A nation without their own indigenous representation system, in a worst case scenario gets reduced to being intellectual consumers looking up to the dominant culture. In the best case, they could become producers, but only within the representation system and controlled by the dominant culture, as it happened also with some Namibian politicians who address large indigenous crowds in the official “English” language. Which result that Africans crowds no longer meet their politicians as equal partners, but rather as African politicians in Western straight-jackets through a Western language. Meaning such meetings takes place on a western platform, under conditions shaped by western ethics and ideas of progress. That is why one notice that traditional leaders and some politicians prefer to address their audiences in an indigenous vernacular, whereafter it is translated by an interpreter into English.
“The reputation, name, and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a [imported] thing, what it counts for – originally almost always wrong and arbitrary – grows from generations to generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be part of the thing and turns into it’s very body. What at first was appearance becomes in the end, almost invariably, the essence and is effective as such” .
Thus, all systems and sources (in this case “English”) send out their ethical proportions of x-rays, which are often in heavy competition, not only within their own ethical systems, but also with the ethical systems sent forth by other moral foundations. This could lead to confusion, vandalism and alienation of the masses.
“First and foremost, the arts and culture must be part of all levels of education, if we are not just to raise technocrats without values or ethics. Aesthetics cannot be confined to an elite unless we wish to create conditions for vandalism and other forces of alienation in our society” .
Such concerns expressed in the Draft Arts and Culture policy of Namibia raises serious worries, because, since the independence of our country there has been an ongoing intense debate, discussion and negotiation on the socio economic and cultural wealth distribution of the country. Especially between the arts practitioners, state institutions and “Principal Government Art Role Players”  as decision makers in arts development, over the relevance of representation of foreign ethics to develop a coordinated local Namibian arts and culture industry.
Appeal to make Collective Decisions
This debate became increasingly lively during the mid-nineties, and has been heightened by the current need to develop the Namibian Arts Industry. There are three groups of detractors, ones that do argue that arts development need to be institutionalized and decision makers caught in the middle, whilst on the other the artists and art unionists who claim we are dealing with a three dimensional ethical decision.
Upon analysis what is really happening in the development of National Namibian Arts and Relations, it becomes self evident if we focus on the acts, policies and principles that all the tools are already in place . This makes us aware that National development pervades and permeates, in all aspects of human activities such as arts, science and technology wherein none of the three are reducible to nothing. Realizing this will motivate us to implement the state policy of ‘decentralision’, in order rise above mundane demands in life, such as unemployment, poverty and loss of values.
“Decentralisation aims to ensure economic, cultural and social economy development; provide people at the grass-roots level the opportunity to participate in their own decision making and extending democracy to them as a right based on national ideals and values” .
Such decisions need to faced, in terms of means, ends and consequences. The decision-making activity need to be goal orientated, because where choices are involved, values come into play. Arguments are not to be put forward….in a formal progression of not….revealing biasness weighed on some scale, a decision taken in such a situation, therefore has an ethical content which are not practical. A good example is the separation of arts from culture or more clearly stated, separating the artist from society, thereby allowing technocrats, to negotiate separately with artists for arts sake, and with society for people’s entertainment.
“The attention of the Commission was on a number occasions drawn to anomalous situation in the Directorate of Arts and Culture. Two directors operate in this Directorate one being allocated responsibilities relating to ‘arts’ and the other to ‘cultural’. Nobody was convinced that such a division is functional. This arrangement instituted by the Ministry in 1997 stems from 1994 when the Ministry of Education and Culture was rationalised, leaving the Ministry with a surplus of directors. The present uncertainty leads to disputes and wasted energy. For instance both the College of the Arts and the Ministry Head Office are currently developing arts and culture programmes in parallel. The matter was reportedly referred by the Ministry to the Public Service Commission in July 1998, with result at the time of writing” .
One of the unfortunate effects of the “Own Interest” paradigm can be the separation of Spirit as Emotion – from Matter as Technology and Mind as Science, which leaves a vacuum between ethics and practicality. When a vacuum exist between the two where technology and science have to determine it’s own ethics and practical values, this is when a breakdown with philosophic traditions takes place where the vacuum allows for matter and mind to come up with it’s own respective practical solution for ethics. Such a situation presents us with an oxymoron, whereby the ethical oriented analysis without spirit is seen throughout – as a self-interest approach. Is the status or position of directorship more important than the ethical and practical values that will drive artistic and cultural progress?
Thus the concept of progress is not only about progressive development frameworks and artistic industries, which usually scientific and technologic oriented, it is also important to consider the spiritual development of people in the process during the evolution, to realize an equal balance between artistic and cultural through collective decision-making in the Namibian arts and cultural development.
Three Dimensionality of Ethics
Ethics combine the arts as beauty with technology as utility and scientific as an understanding the application of ideas and decisions in human activity, that is what make ethics an important factor in personal/private, institutional and national decision making.
We are all the product of the accumulation of our decisions – if we aim for VISION 2030 as a national dream, then we need to consider collective decision making as the only way to come up with an ethical decision as often the best practical way forward. Whereby, Government, Private Sector and Parastatals and the nation in all it’s diversity, should be involved.
To transform the arts and culture for sustainable development, the three same values should be considered for employment creation and empowerment of the Namibian masses:
“Human existence has three aspects; physical, intellectual and spiritual. Intellectual today ignore the spiritual aspect of life in their hypothesis, but to Sarkar spirituality is as much inherent in human nature as physical and intellectual traits” .
This bring us closer to the utilitarian use of three – dimensional ethics approach that allow us to apply what we preach with Vision 2030.
Beauty = a combination of qualities that give pleasure to the senses
Arts = the expression of human artistic talent or skill
Utility = the quality of being useful, to be functional
Matter = physical substance, material or things of a specific kind – something tangible, in contrast to spirit or mind
Understanding = knowledge of the meaning, importance or cause of something
Reason = the cause of something or somebody doing something; an act, situation etc. that explains or justifies
The ability, to create an interaction among these three ingredients allows us discuss the creative process applied, to come up with a product design or concept wherein vacuum is filled with a mixture of the three aspects of human existence: – which is three dimensional. Wherein all the appreciative, applicable and acknowledgeable values own to our particular cultural context, were considered in terms of it’s practicality to our activities as human beings.
However the three dimensionality currently applied are more tilted to progress (with a capital ‘P’) in the Western sense, a tendency that have destroyed the ideals in many African countries and the world at large. The current concept of progress leans more towards “Politics, Perks and Powers”  for an elite indigenous few and leave of the masses of the country as “Penniless, Poor, People” (the three big P’s).
situation wherein ‘Politics’ are justified as democracy, ‘Perks’ as advantage for being politicians, and ‘Power’ justified as democratic elected rulers of the people. Thus the Politics of Progress for the sake of Prosperity could be the new national or even continental order. Politics has determine it’s own ethics without making the full circle to obtain collective consensus.
“Having tasted life as consumers in the international market. African elites became ardent believers in the global economy” .
This new “believe in global economy’ makes it clear that progress which only occur in scientific and technological spheres with it’s own ethics is doomed, because it was not conceptualized within the people’s spiritual arena. So we should insist that any concept of progress for change to advance cultural democracy in Namibia, should be ‘spiritualized’, that is to say, they should be accompanied by peoples’ spiritual values simultaneously.
This is even confirmed by the current concept of progress, where the emphasis is placed more on the advancement of Science and technology and not Art. Which remind one of Albert Enstein’s words. ‘Science and Technology is good for human progress but it does not tend to the human soul.’
The Art of Designing Cultural Diversity
People always find it difficult to see the huge difference between ‘analysis’ and ‘design’, which also becomes difficult if one’s aim is to implement cultural diversity in Namibia with it’s different ethnic groups.. With analysis, one first need to ‘recognise’ past and current cultural situations.
Thus in order to understand the Namibian Cultural situation and to know what to do about it, is to reconstruct the past, reconsider the present in order to come up with a meaningful cultural coexistence.
Because of the past German, British and South African colonization, and slow pace of cultural democracy during the recent post independence, Namibian artists and communities experience a challenging process of nation building based on a cultural understanding of ‘unity and diversity’.
Culture is an aspect of human life that cannot and should not be guided or developed in particular not from any foreign situation or perspective. Such attempts were already experienced and proofed to be a failure. The same sentiments were also stated in recent findings of a presidential commission on arts and culture report.
“Consideration of culture is not a simple matter. Namibia has, for instance recently had to grapple with cultural questions in relation to the proposed ‘Epupa’ hudroelectric project……… The fact that such concerns are thorny does not mean that they should not be grasped, since one is often dealing with issues of human rights, and of heritage that is irreplaceable, as well as the pressing need to create employment and economic growth. Many projects simply failed as the designers did not considered the cultural context in which the project had to be realized. Inappropriate ideas and colonial attitudes about superiority of certain cultures, such as ‘modernisation’ still pervades in many projects…” .
Sociologists and anthropologists have long been interested in studying the dynamic within and between different cultures. Cultural refer to specific ways of life of a particular community, Culture differs visually: that is on the first level, in beliefs, attitudes and practices. On second level, the style of material culture in dress, architecture, leisure patterns, art including preferred foods and modes of preparation and thirdly symbolically, norms, values, including religion, ritual and political authority. These primary levels enable us to determine the central belief systems as a means to assess behaviours and attitudes of artists, actors and spokesperson within cultures, as well as to understand our social structures. Thus for someone who derives from a mono culture, and not being aware of the mentioned statement in the Presidential Commission on Arts and Culture Report, the following may be valid:
“If you are immersed in one culture it is hard to imagine that are other very different cultures. If you base thinking in one culture it will be hard for you to imagine that there might be different cultures of thinking. At the simplest level the ‘design’ of culture is very different. Judgement is about assessing ‘what is’. Design is about producing possibilities of what can be. The are possibilities that can be judged but judgement itself can never produce possibilities. If it could be said that if we had a rich possibility culture then law courts would have a hard time because other ‘possible’ explanations might become so prevalent that conviction would difficult” .
To be immersed only in one’s own culture and not being aware of the intricacies of other cultures do result that cultural relativism becomes the diametric opposite of cultural stereotypes. Both are collective mental constructs – i.e. they do germinate in the minds of certain humans. But while the former leads to understanding, compassion and cooperation, the latter leads to misunderstanding, hatred and conflict.
Such a situation also results that artists live in exciting times today. But it is also a dangerous time, because today, many human conflicts arise from a failure, to recognize cultural complexities or from perceived threats to cultural values. The road to security and prosperity for artists, politicians, technocrats, decision-makers of cultural policies and social structures requires that we celebrate and encourage our cultural difference, instead of negating one another.
The perception of cultural stereotypes also leads to formula bound thinking that imprisons the imagination and lead to tokenism. It stops us from using what we know to be the great assets of our species – human versatility. Especially if one considers such a small population in a large country with more than thirteen different indigenous language groups, even the textural value of its flora fauna are diverse, from agricultural, to marine/fisheries, to mining, to tourism etc. Thus, if we are to free ourselves from such formulas our imagination, need many sort of nourishment and stimuli. Among them it certainly needs arts.
“Truth is not absolute. Through other cultures we return with new insights onto our own particular society. Art helps demonstrate that we are different, yet one” .
‘Value’ – is to – ‘Design’ …………AS…………. ‘Truth’ – is to – ‘Analysis’
With analysis we put past and present events and things together in order to create and deliver value. The design is not there until we make it and put it there.
Thus we need to take note of the differences in our artistic and cultural practices and the symbols of Namibian people that make us one, in order to comprehend the diversity and unity in the country.
Truth is in the Hands of Artists
Education has always been obsessed with truth and analysis. Design has been almost completely neglected and has been relegated more to graphic design, dress design architecture. It is considered that design is not fully part of everyday thinking. That is a real disaster, which has continued for centuries. That is why politicians were so embarrassed at by their intelligence and political advisors on the Iraqi conflict. Look at the problems created by ‘Bush” and “Blair”. Judgment and justification only made conflicts matters worst. There is a need to design a way forward. But should not be left on the hands of a few clever government principal art role players of ‘technocrats’ appointed by the system alone, because the truth is also in the hands of artists and grass-roots people.
It is said that:
Clever people are good at solving difficult problems. They can cope with a degree of difficulty that confuses the less clever person. But they are not good at solving easy problems. They tend to give a superficial answers. The ability to tackle easy problems with great fluency and depth seems to be quite separate from the ability to tackle difficult problems.
Qualities such as breadth, perspective, balance, assessment of priorities, realism and ‘actuality’ are rather different from those that go to make up academic cleverness. A brilliant mind often uses its thinking to construct an ingenious logical argument based on premises so narrow that the out come is confuse and useless to ordinary people. Being able to spot the rare implication that no else can spot is not the same as being able to allot priorities in an effective manner.
Analytical thinking is not the same as Constructive Thinking
Talkers and doers do not use the same mental abilities
A talker is forever classifying, relating and distinguishing.
A doer is forever simplifying, assessing importance, looking at consequences.
‘Value’ – is to – ‘Design’ ……AS…… ‘Truth’ – is to – ‘Analysis’
Thus the task to add value to life is in the hands of the artists, and only by improving the life of the marginalized artists may have a chance to improve the life of others as well as their own. Artists are not above the ordinary nor below or on the sides. Artists are an integral part their communities, that’s why they are the first to feel and mirror the joys and sorrows of their people in their artworks.
“Artists must continue to enrich us by delving deep into the soul of society. Art should show both what we want and what we do not want to know of ourselves” .
No artists can claim to have any access to truth, or even any real version of a happening, but one may agree that artists do have a slightly better advantage at their disposal, because what artists do with their talents and creative abilities is to lend passion, sensuality and emotion. Art productions lend a kind of spiritual element to reality that enhances the truth to inspire change.
Artist in Society
Artists are a separately identifiable group of workers. Society take note of their role without having a clear idea of what it is they do. Which result in questions like: Who needs the artist and his/her art? What does s/he give? To whom does s/he give? From whom does s/he take? Whom does s/he serve? Should s/he serve? Is s/he free in a society of marketing, freedom of speech and media?
There are much kind of artists from different backgrounds in Namibia, some who really do not have a social conscious, who do not see the connection between art and life. Others are also very conscious about the human situation around them and use their art to improve the situation.
Art can be transforming and educational, or even entertaining with a bit of comedy, but it can be also revolutionary. There exist huge numbers of misfortunes like HIV/Aids, crime, rape, gender abuse, corruption, ethnicity and nepotism in Namibia. That’s when one needs the artists who are conscious of such social misery, who can use their art in such a way that it transform society.
“For most artists, the world has a moral dimension, meaning there are overriding issues of integrity, dignity and responsibility; they describe values for human survival and peace. This is true for many of us, but the artists have the ability to express these issues so powerfully that they can influence a very wide audience” .
Namibian artist is no different from other artists in the world or the continent, we have seen the kindheartedness of artists who donate their art works for fundraising to aid the poor, HIV/Aids victims, and many other worthy social causes in the country. We have also witnessed to courageous side of artists who organized the Oruuano Artists Union and mobilized a protest march to the Namibian Presidential Residence . During July 2004 artists has once more exhibited their freedom of speech by having a meeting with the Namibian Parliament Selected Standing Committee to query their frustration with Arts and Culture technocrats in the government system. All this are manifestations of the Namibian artists’ willingness to stand firm for their own rights and also that of the diverse social fabric of which they are an integral part .
The situation and concerns of artists in the African Sub region does not differ widely, all comes down to a matter of hegemony, also felt in South Africa about six years after majority rule. They also had to confront the new constraints that stood in the way of the artists’ mission, duties and status.
“…number of exiting discussions – about of being “black’ in South Africa; the implication of racial stereotyping; the reasons for the lack of access for black artists to the programme of the mainstream, often white dominated, cultural institutions; and the notion of standards used by gatekeepers in such institutions” .
But, a very important African writer warns also that if the artists think of searching for his African Personality as a battle cry, it’s bound to throw the artist into a stance, an attitude, that will result into suffering of his/her art. Which imply that the artist should always stay true to him/herself in order to gain respect and authority from society, institutions and the system.
An important part of the cultural work that are required is to keep on reinforcing an approach of cultural diversity that falls on the shoulders of artists, intellectuals writers, poets and politicians to built bridges between different peoples and cultures in Namibia. By encouraging and enhancing dialogue and interaction between our diverse communities, thinkers, economists and policy makers including artists, will enable Namibians. A vital ingredient for the fulfillment of both individuals and society and sustainability of our bio-diversity, is to foster artistic and cultural experience, so as to create a rich united and diverse culture.
Lastly, it is hoped that this kind of discussions will become more and more an integral component of Namibian ethical and social existence. Because, the role of artists is to serve the cause; of peace; coexistence; compassion, cooperation; generosity; reciprocity; solidarity and mutual understanding, to throw artistic light with spiritual responses on to the crises sparked off by ongoing economic, technical, and scientific upheavals in contemporary Namibia – it’s neighbors, the continent and the world at large.
 Stone.H.R (Editor) – 1965 – Excerpted from ‘Theology of Peace’, a collection of unpublished articles by
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