Artists work on their artworks at a market in Okahandja, Namibia, September 20, 2022. Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space along the main road to Okahandja, a town 70 km north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. (Photo: Xinhua)


An artist works on an artwork at a market in Okahandja, Namibia, September 20, 2022. Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space along the main road to Okahandja, a town 70 km north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.  (Photo: Xinhua)

An artist works on an artwork at a market in Okahandja, Namibia, September 20, 2022. Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space along the main road to Okahandja, a town 70 km north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. (Photo: Xinhua)

An artist arranges artwork at a market in Okahandja, Namibia, September 20, 2022. Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space on along the main road to Okahandja, a town 70 km north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.  (Photo: Xinhua)

An artist arranges artwork at a market in Okahandja, Namibia, September 20, 2022. Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space on along the main road to Okahandja, a town 70 km north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. (Photo: Xinhua)

Namibian artists are maximizing the tradition of woodcarving to preserve cultural heritage and access larger markets from an open space along the main road in Okahandja, a town 70 km north of the capital Windhoek of Namibia.

The artists are heirs to the centuries-old craft of woodcarving in the Kavango East and West regions of northeastern Namibia, known as the birthplace of the country’s woodcarving. Skills are passed down from one generation to the next.

Over the decades, artists have gradually moved to other parts of the country to explore alternative markets, such as Okahandja.

Building on his skills, Hiipo Johannes is one of the artists from the Kavango East region who now carves wooden products in the open space of Okahandja. The city’s informal market trade catapulted him into business.

“My father taught me how to carve wood into useful products and decorative items. I never dreamed of commercializing the wood carving business, but the exhibit here changed that. art industry is now my lifeline,” said Johannes in his 40s.

To date, he has created over 5,000 wood products from it. Carvings include wooden products such as plates, stands, mugs, canoes, and even statues of wild animals. The products are sold to locals and foreign visitors.

It’s not easy to be an artist, he says. “Although the passion for woodcarving is inherent, sales are sometimes difficult to come by,” Johannes said.

To create a niche, artists are strategic in their approach. They give customers a chance to see first hand how the products are made.

“This is done so that customers become fully immersed in the culture and enjoy the products they are buying. Such items have sentimental value to them,” fellow Art Market artist Jack Moyo said on Tuesday. .

Artists also use small electric machines to enhance primitive woodcarving techniques by hand.

In addition, the preservation of the environment is at the heart of woodcarving. They source their wood from local trees classified as weeds by the local municipality.

“Not only is it cost effective and reduces the transportation of raw materials, but in this way we contribute to environmental sustainability and the ecosystem,” Moyo said.

During this time, artists have created a cooperative organization that facilitates marketing and the division of labor. Profits are shared proportionally.

“Some members carve the wood into art, and others market and sell the products. In this way, we leverage the various skills to establish an efficient supply chain, especially after a slow performance due to the epidemic of COVID-19,” Moyo said.

This business model has allowed over 50 artists operating from the open space to generate income and support themselves.

“Woodcarving here has transformed my life, which I couldn’t have done if I had stayed in the village. I was able to send my children to school and now I make a living,” Johannes said.

They also hope to leverage social media platforms to boost business activities.

“As more and more tourists return after the economy fully opens up, social media will market us to reach a more international clientele. We aspire to serve as a one-stop center for handmade artwork, showcasing Namibia’s rich culture through art,” Moyo said.

The southwestern African nation celebrates the annual Namibian Heritage Week from September 19-25.