Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi

Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi (b. 1988, New Haven, CT, USA) is a Namibian multimedia artist. She uses art as a tool for self healing, exploring trauma, negotiating identity and inter-generational memory. Katjavivi focuses on two subject matters – memory and the OvaHerero Genocide (1904-1908), using photography, moving image, clay sculptures and material from sites of trauma.


In her award-winning installation The past is not buried (2017, the National Art Gallery of Namibia), and her subsequent exhibitions and installations They tried to bury us (2018, the National Art Gallery), Unearthing (2019, Goethe Institut Johannesburg, South Africa), They tried to bury us (2019, Yaounde, Cameroon), and They tried to bury us (2019, Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Germany), as well as her works in the Ovizire.Somgu: From where do we speak? exhibitions (2018-2019, Hamburg, Germany; 2019 and 2020, Windhoek, Namibia), Katjavivi explores two subject matters – memory and the OvaHerero Genocide (1904-1908), using photography, moving image, clay sculptures and material from sites of trauma.


Her more recent works include Swapo Office, London 1977. Redacted. Outlines of memory. Missing narratives (2021), Namibia Centre Jackson Kaujeua, 1985. Redacted. Outlines of memory. Missing narratives (2021), At home, 1984. Redacted. Outlines of memory. Missing narratives (2021), and Namibia Centre baptism, 1985. Redacted. Outlines of memory. Missing narratives (2021) as works from An everyday archive of independence online exhibition by StArt Gallery, Windhoek, Namibia and We speak from the grave (2020) a work for the Ovizire.Somgu: From where do we speak? exhibition (2020, Frans Nambinga Arts Training Centre, Windhoek, Namibia). The former works ‘Katjavivi has traced, blacked out and carved into these photos, rendering the people in them anonymous. Photographed again, against sand, the images link to Katjavivi’s broader creative process, where she works with the earth as a site of witness to the historical violence inflicted on Namibians by oppressive regimes. The grand-narratives of state sanctioned history tend to erase all but the most prominent figures from the story. Here Katjavivi makes this tendency visible, while also highlighting the personal items that surround the silhouettes, subverting their erasure. The four images Katjavivi chose to work with all feature the same drawing by Álvaro Cunhal (Portuguese communist revolutionary and politician) who gifted the artwork to the Katjavivi family around the time of Angolan independence from Portuguese colonial rule (1975). Objects like this one are a continuous reminder of the interconnected histories of liberation in Southern Africa.’


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Katjavivi has won two art prizes:


Bank Windhoek Triennial 2017 – Overall first prize winner,

Bank Windhoek Triennial 2014 – 3rd Prize in New Media. She lives and works in Windhoek, Namibia.

Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi



History is marked in physical and emotional spaces. Memorials tell of armed encounters, and victories, and for those who perished from the colonial powers. Memorials for those from the colonies who suffered and were defeated usually come much later.


In Namibia, families hold in memory the dreadful losses of the OvaHerero, Nama and others living in central and southern parts of Namibia, who died during the colonial wars and genocide of 1904-08, at the hands of German colonial forces. The physical memorials to them are still to be built, but the sites of armed encounters are known to some. Not much has been done to preserve them, and if this knowledge is not passed on, the stories as well as the sites will disappear.


These sites are scattered around the central and southern parts of Namibia. Through oral history some of these physical spaces, history and people are remembered. Half hidden by the roadside are places where we stop to pay our respects. Rivers, bridges, trees, termite mounds, tell where OvaHerero resistance fighters fell or travelled whilst in battle with the German colonial forces. Overgrown with grass, scattered with twigs, are sites marked by stone. When you stop, you add a stone to the those that are already there. This physical act of remembrance honours those who died and upholds their memory.


Though Namibians were not taken and displayed at the STIGA in Leipzig, there are many overlapping parallels between Namibia and Tanzania – where people were taken from and sent to Leipzig. Tanzania, also a former German colony, too suffered at the hands of General Luther von Trotha. They too suffered violent acts such as lynching and starvation.


Connecting the two countries within this artwork are the Bismarck rocks which stand near Mwanza near where people were forcibly taken to Leipzig to be displayed. These rocks remain reminders of colonial power, of claiming and naming, of erasure. This connects with the rocks and stones used in Namibia to mark important sites in remembrance for lives lost to ensure their lives and the history is not erased.


No stone left unturned allows the audience to participate in the act of remembrance.