Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ekoka Artist: Simon Hampolo

Simon Hampolo is amongst the older men of the group and is called Tate Simon, meaning ‘Father Simon’. He is 55 years old. He was born in Omule, south east of Eenhana and as a little boy of 8 started working at a cattle post. He worked there for 3 years then went to school in 1966 at Okongo where he stayed in a hostel. He got to grade 8 which is quite an achievement amongst his peers – school is a luxury that few can afford to continue at the expense of working and making money. 
However it is clear that Simon could have gone far in school – he assists the art teacher of the Ekoka workshops by acting as a translator as he speaks some English and Afrikaans.

After his schooling career he started working at various odd jobs, including work in a butcher’s shop, in order to support his family. At the age of 28 he got married in a church and has 7 children and has worked continually to provide for their needs.
He feels that everyone has changed through their participation in the art project and has faith in it as a steady source of income.  He also feels however that not everybody is using the money properly.
Simon is an adept linocutter as we can see from the examples of his work below. His forms are clean, carefully depicted and highly detailed and his spacing has an organized quality. 

I find his work extremely engaging as it seems to convey an overall atmosphere of cheerful competence and delight in working. Both examples follow the ‘display of goods’  format and exhibit a high level of care taken in their execution. In the work below (edition 12/40) we can see a large number of craft goods displayed in an extremely successful composition.
Easily identified amongst the many pictograms is an intricately ornamental bag, and beautifully depicted strings of beads. There are other objects all highly detailed and embellished whose function I am less sure of. There appear to be objects much like maracas –decorated gourds filled with seeds and used as musical instruments, as well as many curiously formed containers – each no doubt with some very specific use.

His second linocut (9/40) runs along similar lines but contains some incredibly rendered insects. His two centipedes are truly fantastic in the carefully segmented and many-legged detail and even his adorable scorpion has been highly embellished. Next to them are many patterned objects, no doubt rocks, and amongst them what I am convinced is the fossil of a fish – a rock on which the tiny body of a beautifully observed fish has been rendered. 
The layout of his various objects displays an incredible natural sense of design and harmonious balance and it is clear that in art making he has found an outlet for highly sensitive observational skills.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ekoka artist: Joseph Lasarus

Today’s Ekoka artist is Joseph Lasarus, a young man in his mid-twenties who was born in Ekoka to Kanemo Lukas and Matias Lasarus. He went to school up until Grade 4. He has two siblings and is married to the daughter of a fellow Ekoka workshop artist, Tate Simon. Sadly, at the time of the last workshop, their only child had died at birth.
He grew up in the Kavango region and this is where her learned woodcarving from a man by the name of Ismael Ndumba so unlike many of the Ekoka artist’s Joseph has made a living off his art before. He sold his carvings at Okahandja where he learned a little English. He is very interested in the art workshops but feels he will need to work at linocutting for a while before he will be as good at it as he is as woodcarving. He likes to carve animals, hippos, rhinos, elephants and also makes spoons and bowls. He also earns money by making bricks, building houses and doing general handyman jobs.
The linocut below (edition 4/60) is interesting in that it documents an observable interaction between animals; it has a documentary or narrative element. An enormous snake, whose twisted body fills up the majority of the page, is about to engulf a small four-legged creature with a very long tail. What this creature might be or even if he is a hybrid animal I am not sure, but Joseph has managed to convey through the positioning of his legs that he is attempting to make an escape, rather charmingly down the side of the page.
While the printmaking medium of linocutting is the most efficient medium for the Ekoka artist’s in terms of monetary returns (high editions mean the chance to sell the image many times) painting is often what captures the artist’s imaginations the most. The chance to use colour and the sensually delightful process of mixing paint and applying it is a truly expansive and enrichening process.
The artist’s are educated in colour mixing and colour theory in order to get the most out of their experience. Here we can see that Joseph has chosen a beautifully harmonious palette comprising mostly of natural earthy tones, yellow ochre, red ochre and sienna which are offset by a cool bluish grey and a cheerful pink spot on the body of one of his cows.
The cows are enclosed in a box surrounded by a zigzag border but on closer inspection this is not merely a design solution – this is in fact a cattle kraal as one can deduce from the markings for a gateway to the right.
Outside the kraal, stylized as symbols rather than objects sharing real space with the cows, are a range of hunting weapons. Here we see contrasted the two traditional lifestyles of South Africa’s earliest indigenous peoples. It is not commonly known that the San people and the Khoi had different survival methods – that the San were primarily hunter-gatherers and that the Khoi, who originated from slightly further north were livestock farmers who supplemented their farming with hunting. This led to a lot of little known conflict between the groups over land and animals.
[for more information on these two peoples click on the link below]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ekoka artist: Filipus Shikomba

The artist we will be discussing today is one of my personal favorites amongst the Ekoka group and is also described as one of the most talented artists in the reports written up following the workshops.
Filipus Shikomba, from the Kwakwa community, is in his mid thirties and has attended all of the workshops. He was born in Ekoka, where his mother still lives, and he is married with four children, two boys and two girls. He’s from the Quagga Xwanga tribe and his father was brought to Ekoka by the Finnish missionaries from Mangetti.
In addition to being described as one of the most talented artists of the group, he is also noted for his self containment and focus, always working at his own pace. His own words on the workshops are that they are, “A very nice project because you give something and you get something back”.
The two works below deal with a fairly common theme – animals amongst foliage – but what is interesting about fillipus’s work is his characteristic drawing skill – notice the observation apparent in the form of the rabbit, particularly around his mouth, and the exquisite shape of the cat-like animal in the second image. He also depicts an unusual variety of animals as if the natural world holds a great deal of fascination for him. The lion with his delightful mane, the ostrich, the guinea fowl-like bird and the peculiar lizard with a darting tongue are all individually realized. 

The beautiful foliage in the second image dominates the page in an intricate and beautiful sprawl that seems to indicate that the artist was temporarily suspended in that sublime timeless moment of creation, an unequivocal reveling in beauty, which is the joy of art-making. This foliage design has been lifted and used to create a highly successful textile design for which Filipus receives royalties for every meter printed.

In the next image he has taken the observation of plant life to the next level by making an entire linocut out of it. His beautiful depictions of seedpods, leaves twigs and trees make for a peaceful and truly beautiful image. This work has also been converted into a textile design for sale at the Kalk Bay Modern and to be features at the upcoming design indaba.

The last image of Filipus’s I will be discussing is in the ‘display’ format in which several objects are laid out almost as if on a cloth for a buyer’s perusal. 

One element that is particularly interesting about this image is its symmetry. Another is that it contains an instantly alarming shape – that of a gun. In my readings about traditional Khoisan artwork I found that while the element of ‘good’ was mostly represented in rock art by an eland, the element of ‘bad’ was initially represented by a predator, but upon the arrival of the western man the latter slowly changed to the image of a gun.
[for more information on traditional Khoisan rock art click on the links below]
What Filipus’s feelings behind the image of the gun are I cannot say – but it seems unlikely that a gun is something he owns whether in order to use for hunting or self-protection. Therefore a gun to him has always most likely been in the hands of others and quite possibly amongst them, those whom he would rather did not have one. On the other hand it may be something he would very much like to own.
It interests me that it is placed on top of a symmetrical (and therefore visually hierarchical) collection of goods that comprise of craft items (cups and what I imagine is a mat or simply another picture) and calabashes or watermelons (with his characteristic vine beautifully offsetting the symmetry).
I can’t say for sure what the relevance of this placement is but what certainly springs out at me is a progression from natural material, to useful objects crafted out of natural material, to a distinctly unnatural and fearful man-made creation – a gun, a singular item that sits alone, in the most commanding position, at top of the image.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ekoka artist: Filiemon Sakaria

Today we will be looking at the life and work of one of the youngest participators in the art workshops run by Cheryl Rumbak, director of the Kalk Bay Modern and supported by the Omba Arts Trust. The Trust is a non profit Namibian NGO that aims to support job creation and poverty alleviation through the development of the craft sector.
[To view the Omba Arts Trust homepage click on the link below)

At the time of the last workshop Filiemon Sakaria was 15 years old and lived with his parents. He has two years of schooling at the Ongongola School and has two brothers and two sisters, one of who is Ndapewa a young woman artist I will be discussing later.
Reports from the workshops indicate that Filiemon is very talented, productive and a good draughtsman. He is good at cutting lino and prefers it to painting. He is also very interested in different types of animals which one can see in the variety of creatures he depicts in his linocuts.
The work below (edition 11/40) is a particularly fine example of his lino-cutting  skills. 

In particular the oversized grasshopper looming from the branches of a leafy tree displays Filiemon’s remarkable observation and drawing skills. The charming figure of a peculiar little man is a rare example of the depiction of human beings, common to most of the artists in this workshop. He is very small in comparison to the animals and has an officious and chirpy posture that is offset by his clothing – he appears to be wearing a short sleeved shirt and pants with a fly and pockets. He carries a stick and certainly does not appear to be a hunter – the human archetype most commonly represented. It seems likely that he is a game ranger or some sort of an official – an interesting reference to contemporary changes to the traditional landscape.
Another inventive and original design concept is seen in the work below (2/7) in which a group of animals encircle a watering hole containing long-legged birds, undoubtedly flamingoes.

I find the composition to be intriguingly unique. Although Filiemon has not utilized conventional perspective he is nonetheless dealing with the concept of space; he has conceptualized it as an important aspect of his chosen image and come up with a way to convey his message. The result is both charming and decorative, forming a pleasing mandala shape with a strong design component. The animals are drawn with a beautiful sensitivity and delicacy – particularly the heads of the two seem in profile opposite to one another across the pool. This is obviously a perspective which he has had the chance to observe while the other animals are subjected to various inventive and charming angles intended to indicate that they are being viewed from above.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ekoka artist: Immanuel Khangono

The San artist we will be focusing on today is Immanuel Khangono.
Immanuel was born in Ekoka, a town in Ohangwena, Namibia. His father and other relatives still live in and around Ohangwena and Immanuel currently lives in Oniihwa, the far side of Ondangwa. He got the job through a nurse at the Ekoka clinic and he looks after the nurse’s father and their cattle. He is very fortunate in that his employer is happy to give him time off in order to attend the drawing workshops run by the Omba Art’s Trust. He intends to start saving some money and would very much like to open a bank account but, like so many in his position, has no ID with which to do so.
He very much enjoys being part of the workshop and feels he has made progress since the last one.
The work below, a linocut (editioned 7/40) displays a circular format in which elements of the natural world, and the artist’s familiar environment) are displayed in a manner that has little reference to real space but rather employs a pleasing use of pictorial arrangement. 

A tradition skill passed down from father to son that many of these men possess is the technique of carving small animals out of wood and one cam almost imagine here that what is displayed is several of these stylized carvings on a single substrate – they are arranged charmingly, each shown off to its best advantage in relation to the others, but no attempt has been made to have them ‘interact’ or form a story. In some of the other works we will address later, we’ll see that this is quite a common format for depicting tools, pots and other hand-made objects, an interesting and unique theme characteristic of their day-to-day focus.
In a rather different vein, the print below (21/40) features three wild dogs or hyenas under a night sky. 

The three dogs have their tongues hanging out and are bound together in a way that is quite unusual in its strong sense of a story or a legend. They are standing on grass and share real space, a feature that is fairly uncommon amongst the works produced in this workshop.
It is important to note that the method of linocut is a particularly efficient method to teach in these workshops for the reason that high editions can be produced. This means that the artist’s have a greater chance of creating an income out of their labour. All works discussed are for sale unframed at the Kalk Bay Modern. KBM also provides an expert framing facility.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ekoka artist: Abramham Hamunyela

Today I’ll be doing my first Ekoka San artist profile. The artist in question is Abraham Hamunyela (generally all the Ekoka artists sign their works with their first names). He was born in Enana where some of his sons still live.  He is married, with six children and two granddaughters and is a very quiet and self contained person.

Abraham’s work is very characteristic of this group. All the artists work with linocut and some paint with oil on canvas as well and their themes are very much centered on daily life in their communities and environments. The style is drawn from traditional San rock paintings but each artist shows interesting quirks and methods of their own.

This linocut showing a man with a spear in an environment of tree’s and birds, is an example of Abrahams work and, I think, shows his quiet and fairly conservative nature. While other artists from this group sometimes draw contemporary objects his images are always fairly traditional in terms of subject matter, possibly also because he is one of the oldest in the group.

 Men hunting, birds, animals and trees are things he likes to depict and he does so with a quiet assurance.
The work below shows a variety of animals and trees with only a spear on the ground indicating any human presence. 

As is the case with most of the artists’ work, there is a combination of stylization and observation in the depiction of the scenes. While the trees and animals are definitely very simplified, there are areas of what is clearly observation based drawing – such as the tail area and hind quarters of the buck in this picture and in the various bark patterns and leaf types of the print above. The stylized sun in this work is a rare reference to depth of field – usually only the immediate scene is dealt with.
For more information about the Kung Ekoka indigenous peoples of Southern Africa visit the fascinating Joshua Project website. [Click on the link below]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

San Ekoka Textiles Introduction

The Kalk Bay Modern is kick starting the New Year with preparations for the Design Indaba (26 Feb 2010 - 28 Feb 2010) in which they will be showcasing one of their most successful products – the Ekoka San Textile range.
[for more info on the Design Indaba click on the link below]
The story behind the textiles is a heartening one and at the core of the Kalk Bay Modern’s ethos to support community development and local creativity.
The Southern African San are made up of small communities spread out from the Northern Cape, Namibia, Botswana and Angola. Their way of life was shattered by the advent of the West into Southern Africa as well as the descent of more northern African tribes into these regions. The result is that today they resemble so many of the world’s displaced original peoples, living lives that straddle the border of the old and the new, lives that are often violent, harsh and in the clutches of alcoholism.
Over a decade ago Cheryl Rumbak, the director of the Kalk Bay Modern, came up with the idea of preserving the heritage of the San by creating textiles using the traditional imagery found mostly in rock paintings for the Kamatoka San shop at the Montebello Design Centre.
[To view the fascinating Montebello website, click on the link below]
Soon followed the powerfully uplifting concept and implementation of art workshops, run by Cheryl in Ovamboland and on the Angolan border, in order to reconnect the San with their roots, provide a fulfilling and healing creative outlet, and, possibly most importantly, a source of income for these poverty stricken people.
The result is the Ekoka label which comprises of a range of products manufactured from textiles printed with imagery taken directly from the work of artists who take part in these workshops. The artists work with the linocut medium as well as oil on canvas (these works are also for sale in the Kalk Bay Modern) and earn an income from royalty payments. 

The statements given by these artists on the affect these workshops and the creative outlet has had on their lives is extremely moving and as the Design Indaba approaches I will be writing about the individual artists and showcasing some of their work in my upcoming blogs.
The products are IFAT approved and are managed by Omba Art Trust in Namibia.