The day protest art came to town

“The Democracy of Self” was young Gatsby’s second in what looks like will be a series of exhibitions focusing on political issues, including and especially youth unemployment. GOSEGO MOTSUMI nipped down to the National Museum and Art Gallery on Independence Avenue in Gaborone for a peek

Art activist Raven Gatsby (not his real name) combined his creative power to produce 40 political pieces of art for his solo exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery in Gaborone recently. Styled “The Democracy of Self,” Gatsby’s art is a digital illustration that is designed to provoke the status quo across Botswana’s political landscape ahead of this year’s general elections. Each piece is a depiction of grievances that explores issues of unemployment, the death penalty, Botswana’s flawed education system, nepotism and how money has corrupted the minds of women, among other pressing national concerns.

“When I came up with the title, ‘The Democracy of Self,’ I realised that within a democratic state, we have organs such as governments that are supposedly mandated to work for people and deliver on their promises. But sadly, most governments ignore the core reason of their existence and every man is out there looking out for themselves. The lives of citizens are made harder because governments do not live up to the promises on the basis of which we elected them. So, when I say ‘The Democracy of Self,’ I feel that I am living within myself,” said the artist who preferred a nom de plume for fear of victimisation.

Gatsby decided to channel his state of chronic unemployment despite his eight certificates, two diplomas and one bachelor’s degree, into art. The exhibition was his second after his debut that he called “Ten Grievances of a Motswana.” Explaining his latest collection and exhibition, Gatsby said he wanted to bring the struggles of an ordinary Motswana and the urgent need to respond to them to the attention of President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

“It beats me how people would rather talk about their grievances on social media,” he said. “People also have a tendency of saying Batswana are cowards because we never protest for the reason that we have never been in a political struggle. But between fearing for your life and not having benchmarked with political activism, we are doing this for the first time. We can’t have just old hags in Parliament. Quite frankly having at least one youthful minister is a step in the right direction but we need to have more youth. Our President is surrounded by ‘yes men’ and doesn’t get to see what is happening on the ground.”

In Gatsby’s view, the flaw in Botswana’s democracy consists in its preference for the majority to the detriment of minorities, which he said is by default. With this year’s general elections looming, this politically-conscious artist said he also wanted to enlighten and remind people of critical national issues across different sectors.

He disclosed that his next project will be titled “The Statue of Patriotism” and will follow a similar theme of political advocacy. “My next project is even more ambitious,” said Gatsby. “I want to erect a statue within the city to which people can go as a form of protest when they have a grievance. So instead of always rumbling on social media, standing by a statue in a peaceful protest may compel the government to pay attention to issues it has been overlooking.”