The landscape of the Namibian craft sector has changed a lot since independence in 1990. The hidden talents of rural Namibians had been largely hidden behind military zones where tourists did not venture. Only a handful of wooden carvings made their way to Windhoek.
But all this changed after independence with an explosion of excitement, as Namibia’s cultural treasures were unleashed to a public eager to celebrate everything Namibian. Coupled with a fast-growing tourism market and money from donors, the craft sector grew in leaps and bounds. Today every highway and remote by-way is dotted with small craft outlets and markets.
Omba Arts Trust has been part of this amazing journey, first as Mud Hut Trading supported by the Rossing Foundation and in 2004 as an independent Trust.
This year Omba celebrates 21 years working with communities in Namibia.
‘We have literally grown up with some of the crafters we met in the early years and with whom we continue to work,’ said Karin le Roux, Omba’s director. ‘We have seen young shy women mature into leaders of their communities through the skills learned and the confidence gained working in crafts groups,’ she added. “Take Xoan//an Allae and Kristina Ndimbi for example. Both managed craft programmes in their respective communities of Nyae Nyae Conservancy and today Xoan//an is chairperson of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Kristina sits on the local development Committee”.
Omba has started many craft groups and worked in 10 regions of Namibia over the years, trained hundreds of craft producers and developed many new ranges of products. Of the 450 or so producers, 60% are San living in remote and often in dire conditions. “Yet out of these sometimes harsh conditions, creativity unfolds and I am amazed every time when I see the beautiful things our crafters make,’ said Belinda Thanises, craft trainer at the Trust. Omba markets and exhibits exquisite baskets, contemporary jewellery, textiles with San motifs, and beautiful art works both locally at their stalls in the Namibia Craft Centre and Art-i-San shop in the Old Breweries Courtyard and abroad.
Sylvia Tjueza, who works closely with the groups placing orders and monitoring quality control enjoys the relationship she has built up over the years with crafters. “Take Steven from Kunene for example, ‘she said. “In the past six years we have increased his income by over 500%! He has been able to buy cattle and employ other people to help him with orders.” As a registered fair trade organization Omba provides training as well and each group is given a Craft Tool Book and meet once a year for a peer review workshop with funding from the Finnish Fund for Local Co operation.
To celebrate 21 years of working with communities, Omba will be hosting an exhibition in their Art-i-San premises Unit 5, Old Breweries Craft Market called ‘From Roots to Fruits.’ New contemporary paintings and prints from San communities in Omaheke and Ohangwena will be exhibited together with a host of new products that have been developed over the past 8 months.
‘The new products as always reflect something of local culture”, said Tashie Shalumbu, responsible for sales at Omba. “A basket weaving technique used in traditional beer strainers has been revived to make organic shape baskets that are very modern. Steffie Zoellner from Omba and Annie Symonds, a consultant to IRDNC have been working with communities around Namibia developing new products.
Art workshops have been held with Ju/’hoansi from Omaheke and !Kung from Ohangwena and a new series of prints, oil painting and textiles will be on show. Whilst the rock art in Namibia is the only remaining and lasting testament to the artistic skills of San hunter gatherers of the past, the truth is that very few San today have more than a few years of formal schooling, let alone art education. ‘These workshops bring a group of men and women together who explore their intimate knowledge of their environment through the medium of drawing, paint and print making,’ said Karin le Roux. The ensuing art works have a charm that is unique to the San.
The exhibition opens to the public on 30 August and closes on the 18 September.