Narratives of Space

Narratives of Space

-artwork by Barbara Boehlke

An exhibition of artworks from the Permanent Collection of the National Art Gallery of Namibia*

“Space is the breath of art.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

The permanent collection of the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) houses a large variety of works collected from the inception of the gallery as an institution in 2005. The mandate of the NAGN is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of Namibian art and art about Namibia. Specifically, this mandate prioritises artworks which collectively showcase the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards. The Permanent Collection of the NAGN echoes this mandate by striving to preserve and exhibit works that show artistic talent in Namibia, as well as offer a voice to issues and themes pertinent to Namibian society.

The NAGN Permanent Collection is as varied as our society is diverse. As such, there is a broad spectrum of ways in which to exhibit it. Part of advancing our collective knowledge of Namibian art and artists is to continue engaging with works from our past and our present in new and interesting ways, to open up possibilities of continual learning.

There are many ways in which we can conceptualise the idea of space throughout art history, artistic practice and indeed the works represented in the Permanent Collection. We see space as a metaphorical place, as well as a literal place in many artworks. Metaphorical spaces can be constructed through surreal, conceptual, abstract, and many other approaches to create artworks. Literal spaces may be rendered figuratively in depictions of physical spaces. Literal spaces may also be the inspiration for the construction of metaphorical spaces. Whatever the processes engaged in, the spaces that are produced drift between the real and the imagined, the historical and the contemporary, the local and the global, the abstract and the symbolic, and the specific and the generic. Space is therefore a complex topic to engage in. It is this complexity that is of interest in this collection of artworks as it allows for a multiplicity of narratives to emerge.

Metaphorical and abstract spaces in art and culture have historically been, and continue to be used as platforms from which to visually reflect on the state (or space) of being. This ‘state of being’ could be that of an individual, artist or another person,  as well as that of a larger entity; social issues, land issues, politics, a nation, war, etc. Exploration of this kind is also constructed through figurative, realistic renderings of people in spaces, spaces themselves etc. These explorations of space and state of being therefore use varying tools to speak to the multiplicity of voices represented through the artworks. Arguably, any representation of space is linked to the different ways in which they are perceived, experienced and imagined. It is important to look at the space an artwork creates, and is created from, as well as the space an artwork is seen in and the space of society and state of being at the time that the artwork is produced. Through this process, we may reflect on our collective space as a Namibian society as well as move toward an open, accommodating space for the future to grow into.

*This exhibition includes two artworks on loan from the Arts Association Heritage Trust (AAHT). The NAGN gives great thanks for the generosity of the AAHT in contributing to this exhibition. Between the collections of the NAGN and the AAHT, there is a wide representation of Namibian art and art history.

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