As I revisited these works in my writing, I could not help but think of the ever-relevant parables that appear throughout the bible. They are lasting and effective because of their approachability. The Parable of the Lost Son, for example, offers accessible archetypes and conditions: a father, a son, loss, shame, reunion, forgiveness. Both, parabolic and allegorical, Namoda’s paintings appeal to the viewer in a similar way. In Carcass of Remembrance, a pregnant woman carries a burden on her head as she walks before the carcass of a dead whale. Death is recogniSable to us, as is nativity as represented by the pregnant woman. In this way, this otherwise mimetic portrait of a commoner going about her day is upended by the appearance of the skeleton of this grand animal. The whale is a recurring motif; we see it in motion, as it is dying and finally we see its remains, stripped totally on the shore.
As we spoke, Namoda explained that the whale emerged from her reading of the novel Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto. As I understand it, the whale in Couto’s context is a metaphor for a precious resource, one that is immediately pillaged for its meat and fat. Couto likens the whale to his nation. Yet, in Namoda’s context, the whale is refashioned and takes on a mystic quality. I learned that the whale is an anomaly because once the Civil War erupted in Mozambique, the staple fish on the island was mackerel or carapau. Because of this, when a whale washed up on the island it represented a departure from the monotony of daily life. Still, without knowing this, one senses the import of the whale’s presence, its size, and its stature against an otherwise stark shore. There is an insistence in these paintings on the relation between human subjects and their landscapes.
For me, the whale is a kind of connective tissue between the seascape of the paintings and those figures who exist within it. The interconnection between human and non-human life is a criterion of the way people live and the values they hold. Namoda says of these paintings that, “climate change and scarcity were part of her thinking.” The complexity of phenomena as calamitous as global warming or depleting natural resources is embedded in the allure of these sometimes cryptic and enchanting paintings.