Paving the way for black women artists: interview with visua artist Inatu Indongo.
Article Type: Interview
Subject: Artists
Author: Lorbeer, Naana
Pub Date: 09/01/2011
Publication: Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126
Issue: Date: Sept-Dec, 2011 Source Volume: 23 Source Issue: 3
Persons: Named Person: Indongo, Inatu
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Namibia Geographic Code: 6NAMI Namibia
Accession Number: 278172137
Full Text: Inatu, when did you decide to be an artist?

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I was born in exile in Zambia and grew up in refugee camps in Angola and Congo. The environment in a refugee camp is a very abnormal situation, and my predominant emotional memory of that time is attention, anxiety and uncertainty. As a child I was very sensitive and aware of underlying emotions, and I think that I lived a lot in my mind and then used art as a sort of escape. I remember just naturally moving towards art and painting. Even now I still use art to deal with things, to get clarity, or to reach a place where there is no longer a conflict in me. Art gives me that courage to live with a difficult situation. That's how I moved into art.

How did you become a professional artist?

After independence, I returned to Namibia in 1992, at the age of 16. After completing High School I studied Art at the University of Namibia and from then on I've been into painting. I am doing exhibitions, I get commissions, and I also do illustrations for books for different ministries, especially on issues of HIV/ AIDS. I discovered that I like to facilitate processes that use art or dialogue about issues and taboos around HIV/Aids. You can use art to make people express things that they would not be able to express with words, and through art they experience what is happening within them. I learned this through my own experiences.

What does art mean to you?

Art is very empowering because it is part of creating. As children we are usually very confident with our ability to create, but with time we are losing this ability to believe and to try out, because we have become afraid of making mistakes and are holding back. Art is not limited to painting, the idea of creating can be experienced in all aspect of life and it can be very empowering. And it is also very intuitive. For me it is a metaphor for living that idea of creating.

Becoming an artist - was that different for you as a woman?

We do not have a history of prominent women artists in Namibia and in Africa. That made it difficult and it took me a long time to believe that being an artist is a worthwhile profession, also because after independence most people were looking for engineers, doctors etc. who would change society immediately, while art would change society more in the long term. I was the first black Namibian woman who had a solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery. You need role models, and in a way I feel like paving the way. My main difficulties were however my own mental blocks and my own limitations. Art is a very lonely business, you are your own judge and you need a strong character and a lot of confidence. I have been criticized for being too self-confident, and I find that my society does not encourage women to be self-confident about what they do.

Can art mobilize people to be critical? Is art also a form of activism?

It is! What drives me is this idea of justice. If I see something that is not right, I use art to say so. Right now I am working on a painting on the guys who are in the streets, looking for work. It really bothers me, so the only thing in can do in my own way is painting about it.

What is also disgusting are these expensive cars driving out there. The disparity between the poor and the rich is so disgustingly huge in Namibia, and I want to bring that aspect of injustice in our society to the fore. If you see the wastage of money, corruption and so on, I think that art can be used to show that. Especially women experience a lot of injustices, and we should use art as a way of saying: We are here in this society! But we should also use art to look honestly at ourselves, to ask why we are not taking the opportunities that are given to us, what is blocking us. I want to see more artists, more young artists, who are activists, who have the strength to say, this is not fair.

Would you like to tell us something about your painting "about love"?

I did that painting about six years ago, immediately after I got married. I was then in a sort of identity crisis, because I realized that I was playing a role which I had seen in society. I saw me really depending on somebody and it was just ridiculous. My husband did not want me to be dependent on him. Me taking on the role of depending on him and him taking care of everything is also very frustrating for him. So I did this painting to remind me that this kind of dependency is seriously dangerous. As you can see on the painting, this situation makes both very uncomfortable. Marriage is about supporting and nurturing each other, but you still have the responsibility to care for yourself and for your health, for your finances, for your spiritual and emotional needs.

What would you recommend to young women and men who want to be an artist?

To become an artist takes years. If you want to make art that people can relate to, you have to learn to be very, very honest with yourself. This is really difficult because you have to reflect and be self critical of your shortcomings and your strengths. I have to say that I can get paralyzed by fear and that is something I am always going to struggle with. As an artist you open yourself up, and if you open up you will get criticized. You have to make peace with being criticized. But what will carry you through is the ability to create - this is priceless. If you are an artist and you have this ability, your whole live can be a creative process. And your art can touch a lot, maybe millions of people, and you are going to still exist in the future through your art.

But art is also a business, and as an artist you have to learn how to run a business, marketing, writing proposals. You have to get away from the idea that as an artist you are poor and miserable. You can make a living out of it. It is a lot more difficult than in other jobs, but it is possible.

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