Putting the best foot forward

From an outsider’s view, it’s easy to think that running a national art gallery is an average Joe’s affair; sitting in an office and recording artists who bring in their work to be showcased, then Government sends you a cheque monthly.

Question is, what happens when no artist bring in their work for showcasing? What if the artist’s work does not meet the standards? What if no buyer pledges to buy? How do artists know about a showcasing at an art gallery? And the list of “what-ifs” goes on. The answer to all these questions is the National Arts Gallery of Namibia (NAGN).

Having a national art gallery means having a head who could manage it. This person needs to be service-oriented, goal-driven, disciplined, internationally exposed to global arts and one who’s academically equipped in the discipline... and so we meet Luness Mpunwa, chief curator and acting director of the NAGN.

Mpunwa is the one at the helm of the once troubled institution, which made headlines in the local media for all the wrong reasons. Prior to her taking the hot seat of acting director, she reigned supreme as the chief curator at the same institution.

As for her holding onto two positions at present, Mpunwa elaborates and clears the concern saying, “Being a national gallery director is as good as being a chief curator in general,” adding that the gallery positions are specialised fields, so in short, these two hats are “intertwined” as both positions require the usual planning, organising, controlling, leading and communication of ideas.

The spiritual arts expatriate before starting her day, gives thanks to the Heavenly Father. Her typical day at work starts with the moment she walks into her office.

Mpunwa entered the NAGN with three-year training in Contemporary Visuals Arts and a two-year diploma in Visual Arts College in Zimbabwe.

Presently, she is studying towards her bachelor’s degree with International Marketing and Management (IMM).

This, she says, is complemented by the impressive 22 years of practical experience in this field, in which she prides herself as being honoured to have rubbed shoulders with the ‘who’s whos’ of the arts industry worldwide.

“I have been in this field for 22 years and experience has enabled me to realise that you need special traits to succeed in this environment, which are to accept authority, loyalty, devotion, be work-oriented, aspiring and ambitious, hard working, mature, honest, decisive, trustworthy, self-confident, take responsibility whenever necessary and have faith in life, be positive and humble yourself,” she says.

The well-travelled administrator takes the broader African continent as an example to explain her toughest work-related challenges at the NAGN, as the continent has the very same challenges as her institution.

“In Africa, we have ethnic groups. So if you are not careful, ethnocentrism could strike at any time, thus intercultural communication is a vital weapon,” she explains adding that intercultural communication involves a high risk, because we may have to give up strongly held ideas and as a manager, “I must then mediate the way forward and by so doing, I build team spirit at work and among workers, as well as success as we consolidate.”

On a lighter note, Mpunwa is extremely proud of her accomplishments at the institution in the short space of time she has been in office.

“May I step out of my local zone and say I have achieved a lot in life. I have worked for the State University of New Jersey USA, Africa University, I have won awards in my profession and my recently published work entitled ‘Dialogue among Civilisations’ is a summary of major world exhibitions!

Having such notable achievements at an international level has encouraged her to stand firm at all the strong winds that have been blown her way or the institution since she took over.

“I talk about anything because God gave me a mouth to talk, no idea will discourage me. I am an over-comer and I always pronounce victory in my duties and in my personal life. Ideas must adhere and listen to my voice,” she beams before advising that whomever is confronted by an idea of quitting should first think positively and stop asking 10 people whether or not they are right. “More than three people will confuse you and the idea will eventually challenge you.”

She becomes philosophical when asked what advice she would offer to professionals who don’t have platforms to pursue their ideas, “It is vital for every professional to know that we all have a choice in life. Like managers, we are either changed by our ideas or we change the ideas that present themselves to us in our daily lives. We all use our creative abilities and imaginative powers to implement ideas.”

To you professionals out there, be open to new possibilities. Do not be reluctant to listen to new ideas, yet refrain from using negative ideas to build your own ideas, she warns.

“Remember whose idea it is. What characterises an idea? Most managers have a tendency of implementing ideas that they have heard from meetings and workshops. The question is, whose idea was it? When, how, who and why, are references to those who do not have platforms. My advice is, create your own platforms, dream about and pursue them.”

Namibian arts, she says, are internationally recognised, “It is imperative that we harness all forms of art; fine art, popular culture, new media and so on, to bring about diversity of cultural forms in society.

“The Sadc region is reaching out artistically and through cultural heritage as part of our transformation and healing of the liberation struggle is well projected by our artists in their paintings, sculptures and printmaking. Art is the voice of the voiceless and it is a communication tool amongst our people. Arts are also a vital instrument in bringing our cultural heritage together.”

Mpunwa says she is proud of her husband David for his unwavering support through thick and thin.
Looking into the future, she says that the NAGN is currently working on various projects with international partners she cannot reveal at the moment, “We are looking into creating regional projects with our stakeholders and some are underway. This year, we have projects with the EU Delegation and Unesco.” PF