Why you should care
Because weaving can be cool AF.
While walking the hot, dusty streets of Windhoek, Namibia, I duck into the Goethe-Institut — a cultural center financed by the German government — for free Wi-Fi and some much-needed air-conditioning. Instead, I stumble across a haunting exhibition of war generals woven from drink cans by a young artist no one’s heard of … yet.
With no one else in the small, well-lit room housing the exhibition, I have time to savor every piece. “Shame on the Bribes” is an open hand with three coins (fashioned from the bases of cans) in its palm, while “Namibia” is a 3D map of artist Jekonia Ndakola Ndakola’s homeland emblazoned with the legend “I need a lot.” But it’s the various war generals and supers — with their menacing eyes and haughty postures — that leave the biggest mark on me.
To me, the cool drink cans symbolize a new colonialism in Africa that many people do not see.
Jekonia Ndakola Ndakola, artist
Ndakola learned to weave palm leaf baskets from his late grandmother, Kuku Mukwana GwIitshangala, in the tiny village of Okapeto in northern Namibia. Later, while completing a visual arts diploma in the country’s capital city, he adapted these skills to create the outspoken political works that would ultimately make up In Conflict, his first solo exhibition. “My artworks are here to wake up people’s minds,” he says, so that they can “realize what is wrong and what is right.”
Later, he explains over the phone that his muse is “what I see happening around me,” in Namibia and the rest of Africa. And it turns out his choice of medium is about far more than visual appeal. He sees the “huge sums” that are wasted on importing soft drinks and other luxuries from abroad as one of the root causes of the conflict that blights Africa. “To me, the cool drink cans symbolize a new colonialism in Africa that many people do not see.” Not to mention the fact that all of his raw materials are litter, collected on the streets of Katutura, where he now lives.
Using extremely basic tools — a school ruler, a scalpel and a pair of $1 scissors — he cuts the aluminum cans into thin strips, taking care to ensure that they are “perfectly straight.” He then summons his inner grandma and weaves them together using only his bare hands. This “fabric” is used to cover wire frames, much like the papier-mâché dinosaurs you may have made in grade school. “Weaving soft drink cans has become my second nature,” he says. “By now there is no chance of harming myself.”
Ndakola, who has sold about 20 pieces so far, is currently focusing on photography and web design for a second diploma in new media. But, he says, he will never stop weaving. “It is part of me. I cannot ignore it.”
See It: Tin Can Sculptures
- In Conflict has come to an end, but viewings and orders can be arranged through the curator of the show on email@example.com or +264 (0) 81 778 6607.
- Ndakola’s work has also featured in several group exhibitions at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, which is well worth a visit in its own right.