Art connects

Two Namibian-based collections are currently on display in Germany.

11 August 2019 | Art and Entertainment

Windhoek • Theresa Lang

The Namibische Gesellschaft e.V. in Berlin presents a collection of artistic perspectives on Namibian culture and society in two parallel exhibitions at the moment: “Basterland” is a photographic exhibition on the history of the Baster; while four German-Namibian artists joined forces to promote the cultures in the exhibition called “Zusammen Wachsen” (growing together).

More than 12 000 km seperate Berlin and Windhoek. By car, it would take almost a week to get from here to there. Between Namibia and Germany are Angola, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Algiers, Spain and France. But sometimes you don't need a car or a plane to cover this distance.

For the exhibition “Basterland”, photographer Julia Runge showcases photographs from the Hardap region, combining her work with historical photographs.

Partially posed, sometimes spontaneously created, the photos showcase a century following the Baster uprising against German colonial rule along with the conflict between their traditions and the influences of globalisation. This contrast also shapes Runge's role as a photographer who took the photos during her many stays in Rehoboth. Although she has studied the Baster culture, at the same time she is always aware of her European perspective on their culture.

Growing together

In the second exhibition, Xenia Ivanoff-Erb, Shiya Karuseb, Imke Rust and Kirsten Wechselberger exhibit graphics, drawings, photographs, mixed media and three-dimensional objects in the Zusammen Wachsen Perspectives of Namibia exhibition. The Deutsch-Namibische Gesell-schaft has committed itself towards the cultural exchange between the two countries for the past 20 years. Three of the artists participating in this exhibition are currently living and working in and around Berlin.

Colonial past

Wechselberger was born in Swakopmund and has been living in Berlin since 2006. For this collection she created a special piece with a strong connection to Namibia's colonial past. Titled “Verschmelzende Schichten” (merging layers) she presents an oversized chessboard. Many of the black fields are missing while the white fields are almost complete, but sometimes badly damaged. Many of the chess pieces are no longer on their intended spot, rather lying in pieces in the gaps between the playing fields.

“Chess is a strategic game that symbolises the rules and systems that Europeans placed on Namibia during the colonial era,” Wechselberger said. “The First World - the seasoned chess players - have a distinct advantage when it comes to competing against third world countries.”


Thus the dark playing fields and pieces are more damaged than the lighter ones. They symbolise the traditional value systems and structures of the Namibian population. But because the social reality does not only consist of black and white, every society lives off its intermediate shades – the grayscale – there are also some figures in Wechselberger's work that consist of more than a single colour.

“They represent the people who want to create a peaceful and fair world,” she said.

That change is possible is reflected in the choice of material she uses for the piece. Consisting of bioplastic and sand, the object will slowly dissolve outside of the protected gallery space – on contact with water – until the different colours of the processed sand can no longer be distinguished from one another.

After the exhibition that is exactly what the artist has in mind. She wants to leave her work to natural decay. However, until 25 August, visitors can see this and other works of the Zusammen Wachsen exhibition in Berlin.

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