Namibianart.com caught up with the Tulipamwe 2017 International Artists’ Workshop Coordinator Ms. Ndeenda Shivute to chat about the successes, challenges of a muddy journey to Etupe Cooperative-where the workshop was based for two weeks…
What is Tulipamwe International Artists’ workshop
Answer: Tulipamwe means “we are together”. The Tulipamwe International Artists’ Workshop is a non-profit making empowerment project coordinated as a community outreach project, under the auspices of the National Art Gallery of Namibia, which provides an established administrative infrastructure. The first Tulipamwe International Artists’ Workshop was initiated by the Visual Arts Department of the University of Namibia in 1994, when 10 international artists were invited to work alongside 15 local artists for a two-week period. Since then, at least 13 similar international and a number of regional workshops have been held in Namibia. The project has involved more than 300 International and Namibian artists. Participating artists have described the experience of Tulipamwe as “stimulating, exciting and renewing!”
I understand this is your first time coordinating the workshop, what was your first reaction? Were you excited? Scared?
Answer: I was very excited at the thought of coordinating the workshop; I was enthusiastic to take on the challenge of organizing an international artist workshop. As I started to work on the project I would not say I was scared but I realized just how big a task organizing the workshop was. Having been a participant in the last workshop I feel that I had a little insight on what the participants would need and the kind of support they would want from us.
What challenges have you faced coordinating this workshop and how have you dealt with these challenges?
Answer: There were so many challenges some greater than others, in hindsight, one of the challenges that is not as bad was getting stuck in the mud. The workshop took place at Etupe, a farm that is 25 km north of Otavi nestled at the base of the Otavi mountain range. It had been dry all throughout the end of last year when I first visited the location and at the beginning of this year the situation hadn’t change and the roads in the farm were still good but unfortunately the weekend we were scheduled to travel to Etupe was the same weekend “Cyclone Dineo “ was predicted to make a fall. As you can imagine I was a little nervous with all the warning going around on social media. Nevertheless we kept to schedule and met at the gallery at the crack of dawn, we traveled until Otavi with no struggles. It had been raining the night before, when we got to the farm the roads were one big muddy puddle after the other. We got stuck! The bus that was carrying the artists, the truck with the materials and once or twice one of the bakkies also got stuck. But we made it, we pushed, we pulled, we fell in the mud but in the end we made it up to the top of the mountain where we set up camp. We left the truck and the bus in the mud overnight and brought it up the next day. Getting stuck on the way to the farm – this was stressful but luckily we got to the farm eventually- everyone was pushing- there was a lot of team spirit already by the time we started the workshop.
The greatest challenge I would say that I faced was time. Unlike previous years where the workshop was planned over a period of five or so months the 2017 Tulipamwe working group had little over two months to plan the workshop. I could list many more but there were more pleasant moments than not. The entire experience was a positive in the end.
What are some of the successes you can tell us about Tulipamwe 2017?
Answer: The 2017 participants were an amazing group that did not complain or worry too much; they were just going about their work- and were very helpful- comradely. There was a real spirit of “Tulipmaweness”. Being in a space for two weeks with the same people you start to rub off on each other, and that is exactly what happened. The artists shared and merged ideas and created amazing artworks. The exhibition says it all, the art produced is always a great success and all I can say is: people should come and view the show and see the results for themselves.
Was there a point you felt like giving up, or you just went with the “bulldozing through to the end” kind of approach?
Answer: Well the last week before departing from the workshop, I was working until 19h00 or later every evening trying to juggle the demands of my job as Curatorial Coordinator and directing the workshop. At the point of utter exhaustion was then on our way back, the last day at the farm- we woke up at the crack of dawn and I had to drive down materials in my Landcruiser to the bottom of the mountain to get materials and artworks to the truck. We did this because we knew that the truck would just get stuck if it tried coming up again. I drove up and down 7 or 8 times to deliver materials, luggage and artworks.
I tell you, that day I learned to use the Landcruiser to its full capacity, I towed two trailers, I towed a car that was stuck in the mud, we got stuck in the mud with the one trailer and learned to use all the fancy 4×4 controls the car has. I was exhausted by the end of it and then we drove 100km/h to Windhoek sometimes slower because of heavy rains, we arrived and we unpacked the artworks in the truck at 22h00 and I got home at 23h00. The next day we came to the gallery to unpack the materials. I would be lying if I said that I never did think of giving up but I was already really close to the finish line so I just bulldozed through.
What have you learnt from this experience, on a personal level working with people from many kinds of nations, traditions and backgrounds? As well as on a professional level as a young professional in an industry not so well advocated for?
Answer: It was a real learning experience. Working with people from different backgrounds was something that was not new to me as the industry is filled with people from various backgrounds and traditions. All the Working group and I did was to be prepared for the various needs of the participants in advance, but of course issues always arise but what I found works best for me is to approach every situation with a calm and open mind. This makes it easier to deal with situations as they arise. I also had to remind myself that when people criticized the workshop or the organization they were not criticizing me as an individual and that I should not get offended rather I should take it and try and use it to better the workshop. Tulipamwe is a massive project and one needs all the resources and help you can get.
As for an industry that is not well advocated for, I feel like well either we can join the line of other people in other nations that feel sorry for themselves and say no one is advocating for the ARTS or we stand up and start making noise and make sure people notice us. This takes a lot of time and dedication but I am willing to make the noise and let people notice. Worldwide there are people who will tell you that arts is not respected or seen with the same importance it holds.
Would this be something you would like to do again and why, or why not?
Answer: Yes, definitely I would do it again, it was a challenge but it was also a great learning experience. I cannot unlearn the skills ingrained in me, the connections I made and the challenges I overcame during the process. The insight I gained into various artists’ processes is irreplaceable.
Tulipamwe started 23 years ago, I know this is your first time but the number of participants haven’t increased in the last 23 years, is this standard practice for Tulipamwe? If not, are there any plans in the pipeline to see more participants, maybe not next year but in the near future? And what are the challenges you foresee?
Answer: I think that at this moment in time I cannot see the number of participants increasing. 25 creative’s in one space for two weeks is already quiet a task to manage, if we are to add artists we will not have the attention needed for each person. Adding on, we would need a bigger organizing team, a bigger work space and a massive budget. I think it would be best if we perhaps look into adding a number of workshops that branch off from the main workshop. Using the skills of the internationals to give workshops or presentations at the schools, colleges and universities to students in the arts or who are interested in venturing into the arts, to have discussions and start a discourse about Namibian art in the wider international Arena.
How would you some-up your whole experience, from the open call for applications until the day you saw all the artworks in the gallery space?
Answer: It was kind of like a storm, quiet and calm before havoc.
Do you have any last words?
Answer: We had a lot of wonderful discussions about the Art industry in Namibia, and one thing that came out of it is that we need to write more, there is a lot to be said and a lot of people out there who want to hear about arts in Namibia. In my final word, I would like to challenge people in the arts to write a little bit more about their work, publish it, even if it is just on your blog, write and put it out there. We have a discourse and we need to build onto if for the future.