Perhaps more than anything else in the world, art has the power to transcend time and cultures. This was explicitly evident as 19 artists from the Kuru Art Project exhibited potent artworks in Gaborone.
Based in the village of D’Kar in the Gantsi District in the sparsely populated western region of Botswana, the project brings together Naro and Dcui San artisans to work on translating their cultural heritage onto new media. Titled: “Qóòm q’oo Koe e ko Tome,” the exhibition was a visual journey and vivid narrative of life in the middle of the Kalahari Desert.
Translating into “A Sprout in the Dry Land,” the exhibition was sponsored by Alliance Française in partnership with the Art Residency Centre (ARC) and Linneaus Sanitas. It took its audiences on a journey across time and space. Internationally acclaimed Botswana-based visual artist Ann Gollifer wasn’t short of celebratory sentiment regarding why they at ARC were pleased to enter the partnership. While some works were found at Linneaus, located at Botswana’s oldest and largest nursery and garden centre Sanitas near Gaborone Dam, visitors could also buy the works at Alliance Française in the heart of the city.
In her remarks, the Director of Alliance Française, Angélique Saverino, thanked Kuru Art Project for accepting their invitation as her organisation’s mission is “to promote the French Language, Francophone culture and local cultures”. The institution that also hosts the famous Fête de la Musique globally is finding its feet again in a post-restrictions Botswana by joining hands with other forces of culture to mark its presence.
While inviting the audience to her establishment, Saverino reflected that the exhibit “evokes a sense of hope and renewal when everything seems impossible.” Such a sentiment is no truer than when one looks at the artwork of Jan Tcega John whose use of vivid colour is both rudimentary and obnoxiously purposeful. There is no escaping the vibrance, yet there are also numerous books-worth of tales trapped in the details.
Alongside John and 91-year old Qgocgae Cao, who is amicably known as Sara, the exhibition featured the works of B.B. Mango, Cgoma Simon, Coex’ae Bob, Gamnqoa Kukama, Kg’akg’am Tshabu, Ncaote Thama, Ncg’abe Tãse, Ntcisa Kase, Qgam Khãx’a, Qhaqhoo Xare, Sholex Cgara, Sobe Qaragae, Tabax’ae Ntcõx’o, Thamae Kaashe, Xaga Tcuixgao, Xgaiga Qhomatcã, and Xgara Qoma. Speaking back to the impact and inspirational nature of the project, both Maude Browns (the mother and daughter pair that oversees the project) and Pieter Brown (the former coordinator) commented that more than giving the artistic heritage of the San a chance to be seen by the world, their joy comes from the consistent desire expressed by the world to learn more intimate experiences of this trans-generational form.
As borders continue to open again, it is one’s hope that artists from the Kuru Art Project will continue their national and cultural ambassadorial work. One thing can be said with great certainty: the wealth of the Kalahari Desert continues to be something that Botswana cannot overlook. Like a sprout that emerges in the Kalahari Desert, so too will many generations of San artists give us artworks that reveal the improbable vibrancy of life where it seems denied.