The Bushmen of the Kalahari

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists of the Kalahari Desert from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa

“Lesedi La Rona”, in the local language “Our Light”, is the largest rough diamond to have been found in the last century, and was recently discovered in Botswana. It could also be the sinister symbol of the tragedy of a people, the Bushmen, once masters of Southern Africa, now reduced to a population of less than one hundred thousand, living mainly in the Kalahari Desert, which extends from Botswana to Namibia and South Africa. Their forced civilization and, above all, the diamond mining companies’ continuing search for new deposits, have devastated the habitat of the Bushmen, and it is in this changing reality that Imago Mundi asked 140 Kalahari artists to express themselves in the customary small 10x12 cm format.  

Nthomme Pana Badenhorst - Botswana, My Beloved and Fruitful Country (2015)


“The Bushmen, "boschjeman" in the language of the Boers – notes Luciano Benetton, the creator of Imago Mundi - are probably the oldest ethnic group in southern Africa and populated the region from the Cape of Good Hope to Angola and Zimbabwe. Traditionally nomads, they were the undisputed lords of the savannah where they lived by hunting and gathering wild fruits and roots. They were an egalitarian society, with no money or private property. If their protohistoric origin is mysterious, their tragic history is well known to us. With the arrival of the Bantu peoples from the north and, in recent centuries, the Europeans, the Bushmen suffered an authentic genocide. The survivors were forced to leave their native lands to live in villages located in areas not suited to hunting and gathering.”

Ketshotseng Sentsho - The Hunter (2015)

“The Imago Mundi collection - explains Benetton - incorporates many of the central themes of the culture of the Bushmen of the Kalahari – animals, plants, nature and man in nature – with an ‘archaic candour’ that, more than nostalgia for a lost paradise, seems to call for a reflection on the value of authenticity, in art as in life. An authenticity that within the confines of the small format once again proposes the eternal and extreme mystery of creation.”

Kago Barungwi - Tsabong Cosmic Feeling (2015)

Molemi Setso - Farming (2015)

Omphile Steve Bapalanga - Landscape of Lovely Flowing River (2015)

“Art Academies– says Oriano Mabellini, African art curator - do not exist in Kalahari. The majority of the Bushmen are illiterate and, especially in Namibia, there is no registration of births or places of birth. The few remaining artists practice a simple art form, almost infantile, that fundamentally reflects the deep respect that the Bushmen have for the nature they inhabit. The main themes sketched are of the animals that live in the desert, plants and flowers which, as well as having a symbolic meaning, represent the basis for traditional medicine.”


Katrina Magot - !Hana Kasi Piri. (Kraal with Goat) (2015)

Kuku Tsheleku - Dithupana (2015)

Maria Fritz - Mamaba Blaar. (Anti-Venom Against Black Mamba) (2015)

All these elements reflect the environmental characteristics of the Kalahari, where large areas are covered with red sand, but where there is only one permanent river, the Okavango, which flows into a single inland delta in the north west, forming swamps rich with wildlife. “Despite its aridity - adds Faisal Osman, art curator - the Kalahari supports a variety of flora. The native flora includes acacia trees and many other herbs and grasses. As days go by transformation is taking place and the savannah is concurring the rest of the desert.”

Selebogo T. Kgodumo - Dunes of Gakhibane (2015)

Lenah Manyoro - I Love My Country (2015)

Queen Mojombe - My Home in the Desert (2015)


Confronted with these realities, “the Bushmen - notes Karin le Roux from Omba Art Trust, a Namibian Non-Governmental Organisation - like to draw animals and etch the images with sharp tools into linoleum blocks, usually the profile or frontal perspective of the creature. They are challenged by the diminutive format of the canvases and paper, yet manage to depict the stealthy amble of a jackal or the mischievous grin of the honey badger quite remarkably in the detail of their small paintings.”


Tashie Fritz (Tsashe) - Erd Vark (2015)

Karin le Roux also paid particular attention to the women's artistic expressions. "The women – she reports - choose the brighter color paints and as they gain confidence, lovingly working on the detail of a headscarf (regarded as a status symbol) or the plants they have gathered earlier in the day. For this collection, several art works using glass beads are also included. The Bushmen have had an association with bead making and adornment for thousands of years. Glass beads have been traded since they interacted with traders and today still they are given as gifts to keep family relationships healthy.”

Elsie Dam - !Gai !Gas. (Medicine) (2015)

Betta Jan - Blanket (2015)

Seoko Onkokeditse - A Gift of Love (2015)

Sofia Abusema - Untitled (2015)

Katrina Kous - Untitled (2015)

Martha Kavantjindje – Untitled (2015)


Behind all the artistic manifestations of the Bushmen of the Kalahari lies a fundamental concept, notes Luciano Benetton: “For the Bushmen, the transcendental and the magical is not hermetically separated from reality but connected to it by a continuous exchange.” A world that is reflected in the simplicity of one of their ancient prayers: “Father, I come to you, I beg you, give me nourishment and all things necessary to me to live.”

Ntau Keromemang - Botswana Traditional Pot (2015)


http://www.imagomundiart.com/collections/bushmen-kalahari

Credits: Story

Project management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd

Curation
Feisal Osman
Karin le Roux
Oriano Mabellini

Organization
Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Texts
Luciano Benetton
Oriano Mabellini
Feisal Osman
Karin le Roux

Translation and editing
Emma Cole
Chiara Galasso
Pietro Valdatta
Demetrio De Stefano

Art direction
Namyoung An

Photography
Feisal Osman, Karin le Roux (Artists)
Marco Zanin (Artworks)

Production
Marco Pavan

Cover
Bennie Boepens - Honey Budgger

Special Thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Monica Banyana Selelo
Reginal Bakwena
Moses Maaramele Qaeqhao
Keabetswe Motswasele
Kago Moses Barungwi
OMBA Arts Trust (Unique Namibian Arts)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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