Namibia on the African continent and Singapore are poles apart when comparing its size and population. Singapore is the second most populated country in the world, and Namibia is the second least populated. Besides, there are many other differences in the aspect of cultural, economic and geographical landscape that is little known due to lack of exposure to one another on both sides. This situation makes for a very good cultural exchange program. And as luck would have it, we were invited to share with them our art teaching method.
Our popular approach for engaging youths in Art education especially through ‘community batik’ which we innovated in Singapore caught the attention of Namibian art teacher Mdm. Christiana Matsuis, when we met at Unesco’s 2nd international Art Educators Convention in Seoul, Korea last year. She extended an invitation for us to conduct art workshop in Namibia and persistently brokered the support of her government ensuing an official invitation for a cultural exchange through their Directorate of Arts, Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sports and Culture. The arrangement is for the Namibian government to host and support our expenses in Namibia as we sought the support from the Singapore Internationale Foundation and The National Arts Council for travel grants.
The plan was then set in motion with a jam-packed itinerary for us to engage schools and art communities across Namibia from Windhoek (their capital city) to Walvis Bay which is over 400 km away. We decided to showcase our community batik workshop which is a unique method for introducing batik painting through a fun and engaging activity to produce a colourful artifact of the experience. It utilizes a combination of both Indonesian and Malaysian batiking techniques. That would be an interesting showcase of Singapore Art Engagement method and South East Asian cultural art form to the African. Mr. Rosman Sahid, an art teacher from Assumption Pathway School was selected to assist on this project.
The immediate challenge was packing a batik studio in a suitcase for flight and able to set up in remote area. We managed to do that with a customized kit bag that weighs 30kg which has everything we need for our community batik workshop that could be set up in half an hour. We also got the blessing of the International Society of Caricature Artists to introduce the organisation and promote the art of caricature through our fun-filled caricature drawing workshops.
We arrived on the cold morning of July 14th after traveling 16 hours via transit in Johannesburg, South Africa. We soon encountered our first lesson. It is not hot in Africa at this time of year as temperature can fall to sub zero degree. We were received by Mr. Samuel Amunkete, an education officer with the directorate of arts. He and Ms Christiana Matsuis has been dedicated to take care of us throughout the 12 day visit. The capital city of Namibia Windhoek is about 37km drive from the airport and what impress us is the vast landscape of Namibia.
Our first stop was at the College of The Art where we had a brief survey of their art education system. After settling our accommodation we were joined by another teacher Mr. Eddy !… The exclamation mark was to indicate that the Damara/Nama tribe have clucks and clicks in their vocabulary which makes it difficult for us to learn the language in a short time, and we are really hilarious at attempting it. Fortunately English language is the main medium of communication.
We were brought to Heroes Acre. It is a monumental tribute to the Namibian struggle for independence. Namibia is a very young country having won its independence through bloody struggle in 1990. Besides the breathtaking vista, it is a good introduction to the Namibian history and national pride.
Day 2: Our first workshop was at an art academy, the John Muafangejo Art Centre in Katutura Cultural Arts Centre, the meaning of the word ‘Katutura’ is no-man’s-land imposed during the Arphateid rule for an area where common people stay. Before the workshop began we had the opportunity to see student’s work in progress and understand their current practice in fabric art. Their version of batik is wheat-paste batik coloured with fabric paint. They are able to achieve the visual finishing with crack effects similar to batik done with wax but it’s a tedious process.
Our sessions typically starts with a brief introduction of Singapore and my artistic practices; As expected most participants have no idea where Singapore is and if they were to guess its somewhere in China. We’ll then roll out our community batik session with technique demonstration and then it’s free styling for all. In this instance we had 20 art students from the centre and another 40 students from Augeikhas Primary School. So we got the art students and staff to wax in their design using the tjanting while the primary school students fill in the dye. The students were very happy to experience authentic batik technique using molten wax and the tjanting and coloured dyes. We fielded many questions by enthusiastic participants who were keen to adapt this method. A five meter batik piece was completed after 2 hours and we extended the session by doing second layers of waxing.
Our caricature demonstration was an instant hit with the participants as they have a genuine sense of humour and happiness about them. Managing their excitement became a challenge though.
We got press coverage from their local paper ‘New Era’ for this session.
We did an unscheduled stop at the school of the deaf hostel in the afternoon and decided to do some caricature drawing to entertain them. It was obvious how art transcends language and cultural barrier. We were swarmed by these kids who were overly excited by these strange visitors that could draw funny faces. The room was full of laughter.
Day 3: Penduka Craft Centre is a social enterprise supported by government and NGOs, employing disadvantaged persons to produce Namibian art and craft. We were there to share with their artisan the South East Asian batik technique. They make wheat-paste resist batik in Namibia but generally for sale to tourists. They were delighted to learn our quick method of utilising wax resist and dyes and was delightfully surprised by the colourful outcome after just a two-hours workshop. As Penduka was a tourist attraction, we soon find tourists getting in on the act of our community batik session. The training we provide here is a bit more advanced so that the craftsmen could develop a sustainable practice.
Two ladies had to travel 500 km from Keetmanshoop in the deep south by slow train to attend our workshop so that they could teach other artisans in their centre to apply the authentic batiking technique for local craft production.
We visited the shantytown later in the afternoon to experience the real living condition of the common people. These huts made of zinc roofs are called ‘Kabashu’. There are rows and rows of them stretching for miles. We even stopped by a Kabashu bar to sample their kind of entertainment. We soon find ourself dancing to local music blasting from a jukebox on a sunny afternoon.
Day 4: We returned to the school of the deaf to donate two set of hair clipper and some art materials for the boys before setting off the home of Mr. Amunkete. We were introduced to delicacies of the Ovambo tribe. Dried spinach and Mahango porridge which is the meal served by a wife to their husband before a long journey. We also had a taste of their traditional fermented drink the Oshikundo. We were very happy with the hospitality extended to us for inviting us into their home to share their meal. We then bid farewell set off for a long drive. Next stop is a gold mining town of Karibib via the trans-Kalahari highway.
Day 5: Karibib Private School as the name implies is a bit special. However their teachers are civil servants. The students here are a bit more privileged. Their principal is a champion of art education for holistic development and is very delighted by our visit. The students were very responsive and enjoyed themselves too that they stayed back for caricature workshop.
Karibib is a mining town with a small population. We could not find an eatery or restaurant the night before and so we decided to buy some food and do a picnic today after class. We asked a local and was told of a spot on a hill with a view. It turned out to be the most beautiful experience to view the sun set over the vast Namibian landscape over the Eronggo mountains. Some local kids were playing up that hill and were happy to be photographed. We don’t see Singapore kids wandering around exploring their environment like this. These kids are happy despite their harsh living condition.
Day 6: Usakos is a small town and the students there were eager to meet us. They sang local songs while we set up. We also conducted an additional session for the local artist community there. So far we were greeted with a lot of enthusiasm everywhere we go and participants are highly engaged and very pleased with the result. Though its hard work, the joy we bring to others by sharing our culture and skill makes it worthwhile.
Upon completing workshops for the two groups, we hit the road again and stopped over for lunch by the rest-stop along the highway where we could have a view of Usakos town and the vast country side. We made a detour along the way and visited the Spitzkoppe mountain to see ancient rock painting. Yet another spectacular vista that this great ‘Land of the brave’ could offer. It’s also a camping ground for tourists that is very well managed by the local tribes that formed a co-operative. We wish we could stay there for the night with the other campers but we had to press on and arrived in Walvis bay late that night.
Day 7: Swakopmund is located 37 km on the other side of Walvis bay. It is a serene seaside town with a lot of beautiful houses. We conducted our lesson at Westside Secondary School where about 40 students joined us.
Day 8: Walvis Bay students selected from Duinesig Combined School, De Duine Secondary School and Kuisebmond Secondary School was assembled at the Walvis Bay Municipility Town Hall. A representative from the mayor’s office gave a brief speech to the students before we proceed with yet another community batik and caricature workshop. We were then joined by artists community from the Walvis Bay area so we had two sessions of community batik for about 20 ladies after the group of about 60 students.
We tried to squeeze in sight seeing and partake in touristy activity after the work is done. We drove to Dune 7 which is the highest dune in the area. Climbing a dune that tall is quite a feat but it was worth the effort as the experience is exhilarating and the view at the top is truly amazing. We simply tumble down afterwards.
Day 9: Young ladies comprising of mostly kindergarten teachers assembled at the youth centre in Walvis Bay with their own cotton cloth as we have already ran out of materials. Our reputation preceded us this time as some of them already had a go at batik the day before. By this time, our friends Mdm Matsuis and Amunkete is able to set up the equipment and conduct the workshops by themselves. This is our final workshop and despite the distance travelled we only covered two out of thirteen regions in Namibia, so they will have to carry on the workshop with what they have learned. We have decided that the kit bag will be donated to the Directorate of Arts for this purpose.
Day 10. We were invited to an early morning ritual for Mdm. Matsuis niece is a month old and they have a ceremony when a baby leaves the house for the first time. The pocession of relatives walk around the house chanting songs and clapping followed by the ceremonial hair cutting.
We went to the harbour to book a boat tour for the next day and then off for Quad biking in the dunes. It is a must do activity if you’re a thrill seeker. I’ll simply describe it as a roller coaster ride with you in charge. We kept going up and down the steep dunes till by the time we stop to rest, there was nothing else in sight just sand dunes all around us.
Day 11: Boat tour or Walvis Bay and drive back to Windhoek.
Day 12: Report to director and final meal at Xwama.
Day 13: Flight Back.
We have more photos of our adventure on www.photobucket.com