“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” ― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
“The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of?” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
Escapism lures the mind in the direction of freedom. By way of play, intrigue and imagination we are able to reach a space in contrast to reality. Escapism by nature however also questions what we shift our mind from. The exhibition showcases the intriguing works of Namibian artists Anne-Lacheiner Kuhn and Michael Mansfield. The playful works of both artists invite viewers into a place of make believe; however, once settled in there, one is very quickly confronted with a questioning mind. Why would the artist’s want to go there and take us along? And what reality are we moved to escape from?
As part of the LGBTQIA+ community in Namibia both established artists find safety and freedom in their artistic practice. Using their art to propel their society forward. The current reality in Namibia, is one in which the queer community is unable to access their full fundamental rights to equality, freedom from discrimination and the respect for their human dignity, as stated in the Namibian Constitution’s Bill of Rights (21 March 1990 (Chapter 3)). While the majority of Namibians live by values of inclusivity and equality, an inherited colonial and apartheid-era Sodomy Law remains fiercely intact and continues to be used by the state to perpetuate and promote a culture of homophobia and discrimination.
The layered collage works of multidisciplinary artists Anne-Lacheiner Kuhn carry a good dose of humor. Their whimsical nature invites viewers into the lives and experiences of the queer community in Namibia. Intriguing and often lively photographic elements sit atop historical black and white images, reminding viewers of the archaic backdrop under which the Namibian queer communities are forced to live. In terms of practice, Anne cuts, collects and collages for hours a day. A meditative practice, and an escape from the resistance experienced in her lived reality. The artist sees this body of work as a collaboration with the wider Namibian LGBTQIA+ community “towards a common cause for equality”. The result is a collection of collages that present glimpses into memories and moments of a community that often identify as outsiders.
The hyper real paintings of Michael Mansfield offer an intriguing experience. Slightly provocative, extremely allusive and usually playful. While his connection to the history of Western art and Classical masters remains evident, Mansfield notes that his most recent works are different from earlier pieces. He explains, “I’m getting older, grouchier, and more things are bothering me. The paintings are less kind. Those clockwork chattering teeth seem to represent everything I find wrong with humanity these days. Greedy, cruel, grinning, brainless things. In a word, disturbing.” The technically strong works offer the artist enough opportunity to engulf himself in the world of his subjects. A process he sometimes describes as agonising. The vibrant tongue in cheek approach offers viewers a rich narrative to unpack.
A tactic of play, intrigue and provocation allow both artists the ability to disarm their audience. Luring their minds to a space where they are able to confront both history and current reality. The work of Anne and Michael, visually diversifies local identities. Contributing to a more realistic or authentic representation of our society- a society based on love, acceptance and inclusivity. More importantly their work, practice, and conversations contribute to the creation of safe spaces for queer Namibians. The artists find freedom in their artistic expression, a freedom which is transferred to their audience and the spaces in which their artwork lives.
Artwork above: Anne Lacheiner-Kuhn, Angelic Creatures, 2021, 30 x 40 cm Photo collage, R 6,400.00 ex. VAT
Michael Mansfield, Strange Device, 2022, 63.5 cm x 43 cm, Acrylic on canvas R 10.700.00 ex. VAT
Laschandré Coetzee is a Namibian creative, strategist and curator. Drawing from the skills of her day job in branding, communication, and design thinking her curatorial work primarily focuses on extending the impact and stories of Namibian artists and communities.
The most notable curatorial project which she developed has been the Blind Photography Project, which aims to explore new ways of looking at the city, build bridges between the blind and sighted, and challenge common assumptions about blindness. The project serves as a communication tool through the interactive exhibition called, I am blind, in which the photographic works of blind participants are presented. Thus far the project has taken place in 6 cities (Vienna, Berlin, Caracas, Windhoek, Abidjan, Nairobi) and exhibited in 3 (Vienna, Windhoek, Nairobi), the most recent being Nairobi Design Week 2020. Additionally, she has curated the works for two art publications, namely Namibia Unique by photographer Hentie Burger (2017) and Stein ist Stille an oevre of sculptor Doerte Berner (2020).
Laschandré is a partner in the local gallery The Project Room (Windhoek), a space for Namibian arts and artists. Beyond offering a consistent year-round exhibition programme of upcoming and established artists, the gallery also works closely with corporates and collectors to establish their strategy, contributions, and investments to the local arts industry. This strategic dreamer sits on the board of the Namibian Arts Association (NAA) and holds a MA in Social Design from the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
Anne-Lacheiner-Kuhn, Bridging Controversy, 2022, 30 cm x 40 cm, Photo collage, R 6,400.00 ex. VAT
Video courtesy of Aljuandre Bock
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