Gender-based violence art exhibition

Part of the GBV art Exhibition show casing a bride muted with tape on her mouth and a young woman tied with a red ribbon on her ankles. Photo - UNDP

The National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) in partnership with UNDP, UNAIDS and Victims 2 Survivors successfully hosted a national exhibition titled “Unite to end Gender-based Violence (GBV)” from 28 June to 02 August 2013 at the gallery’s premises in Windhoek.


The exhibition aimed at raising public awareness on the severity of gender violence and to ignite action to prevent and end all forms of gender violence. In Namibia, violence is a serious issue with women being disproportionately affected. In fact, one out of three Namibian women experienced or will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. The idea for the exhibition came after a delegation of fifteen young people, artists, poets, and radio personalities climbed the Brandberg mountain from 18 to 21 April. Organized by the Namibian representative of the UN Women Creative Artist Advisory Council, Hem Matsi, this climb was part of a broader initiative to raise public awareness on gender violence and advocate for structural and behaviour change in Namibian society.


Having led her peers into the wilderness to focus on solutions to the mounting GBV crisis, Matsi returned to Windhoek to focus on the idea of a GBV exhibition she had discussed with the NAGN in February. "I thought there was a need to do a national exhibition so we can have a platform to educate the nation on GBV and also collectively find solutions to the problem as a nation and as one voice," says Matsi. “Every day I pick up a newspaper there is a baby dumped, woman raped or killed. If the HIV epidemic, unemployment and poverty cannot unite us as Namibians, let GBV unite us."


Gender-based violence (GBV) is a grave human rights violation and serious problem in Namibia. Women and girls are excessively affected by GBV. According to the Legal Assistance Center, one out of three women in Namibia has experienced or will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, and nine out of ten victims of domestic violence involve women.  “We can no longer allow our mothers and girl children to live in fear of violence,” said Madame Pohamba in her opening remarks. “We can no longer let GBV undermine our national efforts towards the realization of our development objectives, especially with regards to health and gender equality.”


GBV – both as a cause and consequence of HIV infection – contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS in Namibia. While there is no official data on the intersection of GBV and HIV in Namibia, research in neighbouring country South Africa shows that women seeking routine antenatal care who had experienced physical or sexual violence are 53% more likely to test HIV positive than women who have not experienced violence


The artists who offered their art work to be part of the exhibition have had enough. They filled the main gallery with stories, sculptures, poetry, suggestions, paintings, photographs and drawings inspired by real tales like the tragic one of Maria and Sophia and with artistic shadows of rumours heard about their neighbours, friends and the women whose lives were reduced to a name, an age and a gruesome story in a newspaper.


In collaboration with UNAIDS, UNDP is supporting a study to assess the services currently available to survivors of GBV with a focus on identifying concrete recommendations of how to improve the status quo. Together with the UN Gender Theme Group, initiatives are being explored to assist government to effectively implement the National Plan of Action on Gender-based Violence from 2012.


The exhibition gave everyone touched in some or other way by GBV a platform on which to express themselves by adding their voices to this exhibition. The exhibition had a "wall of expressions" set-up, which included text, sketches, notes, newspaper clippings and on that wall anyone with something to say and ideas to share in solving GBV did so without being a creative professional.