The first public debate in connection with the Legacies of a Colonial Town exhibition took place at the Main Gallery of NAGN on saturday 9th February. The overarching question was of the relevance of art in the public domain today, and about 30 people came to participate in the discussion.
5 speakers, from different disciplinary backgrounds started off the debate with short statements on the topic, before other participants joined in with questions and their own views regarding the topic. Andreas Hofmeyr, and architect, shared his views on "the festival" in the creation of public space, which highlighted the aspect of public participation in the creation of difference. Prof Andre du Pisani expanded on the political dimension of art, and more particularly public buildings, as a representation of ideology. Meanings that such buildings seek to portray are not always congruent with the meaning that the public interprets into them. Well-known artist Papa Shikongeni raised the lack of a shared Namibian identity as one reason for the lack of both art appreciation as well as art creation, and the constraints of the dominant economical system as inhibiting the production of cultural value. He called for the creation of a policy in this regard, which integrates artist into the mechanisms of architectural and urban planning. Alfeus Mvula, a local artist, stressed the fact that in order to become real public art, it has to be in non-instituionalized spaces which invite the the passerby to get engaged. To raise the level of public involvement he proposed the development of themes, which artists are invited to elaborate on. M'Kariko Amagulu from the Directorat of Arts at the Ministry of Culture explained the existing draft policies on art and public buildings, and the institutional arrangements that are supposed to facilitate the implementation.
There is much to be done, and this debate only marks a beginning for further discussion and action to make art accessible and relevant for a wider public.
*Originally published on 15 February 2013