Tuli Mekondjo, the quest for Namibian identity and cultures
It was during the 1:54 art fair of contemporary African Art that I came across the work of Tuli Mekondjo. The Namibian artist is represented by Gun & Rain, an art gallery based in South Africa.
Tuli is a self taught artist with a particular style and technique that has a captivating and emotional narrative. I was struck by the intensity of the artwork and the incredible energy that was coming out of it. Using diverse medium for the making of her painting, Tuli Mekondjo produces textured artworks, mixing earthly material such as pearl millet, resin, clay or Mahangu grain (a staple food in Namibia) with painting, drawing, and embroidery.
Born in the refugee camp of Kwanza-Sul, Angola, in 1982, Tuli Mekondjo belong to the generation that had to fled the country during the Independence War of Namibia between 1966 and 1988. Today, Tuli is based in Winkhoek, Namibia, and wants to explore the theme of identity through her own view: the lens of who they call the 'GDR kids' (kids raised in Germany during the war), and kids born in exile, who are considered like foreigners in their own country.
Using photography from the National Archive of Namibia and her own photographs, Tuli Mekondjo creates a personal and historical narrative. Focusing on the history of Namibia and the importance of identity in the country, Tuli studies and represents the loss and erasure of Namibian cultures brought upon them by the German colonisers. Her process starts with applying the resin and mahangu grains of the canvas to give it this special texture. For some works, she would do embroidery on the canvas first, and for some others she would burn some parts of it. Tuli then transfers a photograph on top of this textured surface that she would later decorate with acrylic inks or permanent makers, as well as plants and feathers.
It is hardly known that Namibia was a former colony of the German Empire and has been through one of the first genocide of the 20th century. Indeed between 1904-09, after years of conflict between the Herero tribe, the inhabitant of the land, the German settlers (rather colonisers), the Germans launched an offensive, attacking violently this population. They constructed annihilation camps on the land and what was called Shark island where Namibian were send to get assassinated, if not used as slaves. This event later has been swiped from history, passing on the next generation the idea that this period was a glorious empire war. These camps later influenced the creation of camp during the Third Reid with the Nazi's camps.
Tuli Mekondjo seeks to show that belonging and healing intergenerational trauma is possible. By recognising the importance and the terrible consequences of the colonisation and wars on the body and mind of the inhabitants of Namibia and beyond. Through her veiled figures and the botanical elements she pays homage to her ancestors but also to the ones who are still bearing the weight of the colonisation's consequences but also an incessant quest for truth.
Tuli Mekondjo had multiple fairs and groups around the world (South Africa, Namibia, France and the United Kingdom). This year, she has the upcoming 1:54 art fair again coming in October and 2 exhibitions in Paris.
All images belong to the artist, first image belong to The New African Woman Magazine
Gallery Representation: https://gunsandrain.com/