Tsabong’s Sxaa’nana visual arts group anticipates survival
by Kebonyekgotla Baleseng
For a long time, many visual artists in the Kgalagadi region had no reliable places to market and sell their artworks. Many of them resorted to urban migration in a quest for better lives.
Unfortunately, that’s where most of them begin to lose their crafting composure to manual work when the selling of their works doesn’t occur sooner than they anticipated.
Their crafting skill begins to fade and, in a short time, potential clients begin to ignore them completely.
But some never give up. With hope to conquer through successful sales of their crafts. Some artists in the region anticipate good results in a new positive beginning. They have stayed in the region and formed a group with a mission to make a collective voice that can be heard by many clients.
Their mission was further stimulated by the President’s call to buy artworks from local artists.
Kago Barungwi, the secretary cum painter of Sxaa’nana Visual Arts Group, said that the establishment of an organization to cater for the artists in the Kgalagadi region has been long overdue and, therefore, he and other artists put their heads together to map a way forward.
“We have, for a while, realized that Kgalagadi has been in isolation as most people flock to urban areas for prosperity. We called Thapong Visual Art Centre for arts uplifting and we were quite fortunate to be included in the 2011 program,” said Barungwi. “The inception of Sxaa’nana Visual Arts Group came about after the Thapong drawing and painting workshop of 2011 under the auspices of the Botswana Insurance Limited.”
The week-long workshop was aimed to bring together artists in the Kgalagadi District for a common cause, identify their strengths, polish their weaknesses, create focus and create platform to be known and to effectively sell their artworks. Some independent artists and those affiliated to the Thapong Visual Art Centre graced Tsabong to give a helping hand.
“The workshop was held as Mokha Lodge and was sourced by a professional artist, Mokwaledi Gontswanetse,” Barungwi says.
The idea was further amplified by the presidential directive calling for the establishment of cultural centres in every district to act as purchasing centres for artists’ products. After the workshop, the region’s artists met to craft their road forward, and seemingly.
“Our big break came with the establishment of the first cultural centre in Tsabong. We are also on the lookout to further improve our artistic skills as we are affiliated to the Youth Centre in Tsabong,” he adds.
The group comprises of adults and most of out of school youth. It has an active membership of 20 artists and a committee led by a chairman.
The basic idea for naming the group Sxaa’nana cannot go unobserved. To a certain extent, it rings like the group’s totem entailing the spirit of aggressive survival against odds.
Sxaa’nana is the alien plant that was introduced to Botswana to reforest the otherwise barren environment of the Kgalagadi. It is a robust and evergreen thorny tree that produces sweet pods consumed by some browsers like donkeys and goats. The tree can flourish under the climatic condition of the desert, which brought hope that the desert might disappear one day, making the land green.
But it did not take long to realize that the plant had also brought its bad side to the exercise. It was discovered that it has tough and moist seeking tap roots that drain anything within its path. The roots can spread a long way underground on a hunt for moisture.
“The plant was blamed for drying up boreholes by farmers and we therefore came to admire the tenacity of this tree and adopted it as part of our association,” explained Barungwi.
The opening of Tsabong Cultural Centre is their latest embrace where they hope to distribute their work from. That’s when they even made their presence felt.
“We were involved from the first stages of site search where an old guest house was identified,” Barungwi says.
Sxaa’nana artists have already made their artistic mark at the center when they assisted the painter, Mokwaledi Gontswanetse, on the mural painting of which Barungwi says they learnt a lot from. It also bears the mark of the group’s potter, Mompoloki Senwedi, who displays his pots.
The centre is an impressive structure that can host a large crowd for exhibition openings. It has air-conditioned gallery and offices and its whole yard is paved.
The veteran artist, Philip Segola, informed the artists that the centre would make it well as an artistic home.
“His words couldn’t have come at a better time. We were experiencing problems as to where we could showcase our works,” he says.
Situated in the centre of the village – one would say in Tsabong Shopping Mall – creates an even bigger advantage for the artists. The place is at the intersection of roads heading in different directions.
“Tsabong is in the centre of routes to the Transfrontier National Park and Mabuasehube Game Reserve and it gives us the feel and need to tap into the lucrative tourism through our wares,” he emphasizes.
The centre was officially opened by the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Shaw Kgathi, and Barungwi and his group are hopeful for success. “With the establishment of the centre, we now know we can improve our socioeconomic status as we rely on sales of our wares for livelihood. And our involvement from the start makes us proud to say we have a sense of ownership of the centre,” he says.