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Artist Profile

Muafangejo

John Muafangejo

b. 1943, near Oshikango, Namibia. d. 1987

John Muafangejo remains one of southern Africa’s best-loved artists. As a Kuanyama of the Ovambo people, living on the border between Namibia and Angola, Muafangejo has used the medium of the linocut to address the region’s history of conflict, and the daily tribulations and aspirations of his people.

Muafangejo received a formal education at St Mary’s Anglican Mission in Odibo in northern Namibia. In 1967, he was sent by Bishop Mallory to Rorke’s Drift in Durban to study at the famous art school, which later trained the likes of contemporary artists Kay Hassan, Pat Mautloa, Bongi Dhlomo and Sam Nhlengethwa. It was here that the renowned art historian and critic Edward Lucie-Smith encouraged and helped Muafangejo to organize a show of his work in Durban.

Muafangejo’s linocuts take the form of densely packed narratives, accompanied by a running commentary clearly identifying themes and figures. Scenes of everyday life from people in both rural and urban environments form the basis of the narratives: women making sourmilk and stamping corn, people going to the hospital, looking after oxen, taking an airplane, getting married. A lifelong religious connection provided Muafangejo with another rich source of material for his work, and his religious pictures range in theme from Bible stories to depictions of contemporary religious leaders like Desmond Tutu. These works however, are often marked by an element of reservation, as Muafangejo struggled between his own religious beliefs and the changes that Christianity had brought to the traditional lifestyles of his people.

Concerned with the violence that has plagued his land for centuries, as well as the hardships of his people in the face of apartheid, Muafangejo nevertheless refused to lose hope in reconciliation. One of his most renowned prints, Hope and Optimism in spite of the present difficulties, has inspired a global public art project. Supported by UNESCO and leading cultural institutions around the world, the project has collected submissions from close to one hundred international artists working in the graphic medium. In the spirit of Muafangejo, the project aims to document the current hopes and aspirations of each country in the last decade. Hope and Optimism was also used at the two Wembley concerts of 1988 and 1990 as a 70th birthday tribute to Nelson Mandela. As the concerts were beamed world-wide, millions of people saw and came to recognize Muafangejo’s work as symbolizing the hope and optimism for southern Africa that they all shared.

Muafangejo began exhibiting his work as early as 1968, and contributed regularly to the annual shows held at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. His work was included in a major group exhibition of South African contemporary art in London in 1969, as well as in a travelling show to Canada in that same year. He was also one of three artists selected to represent South Africa at the prestigious Sao Paulo Biennal in 1972, where he received a special mention. He was shown in Germany, the United States, Finland, Italy, Britain, and South Africa and Namibia before the opening of a major solo exhibition at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1987. John Muafangejo spent much of the last six months of his life preparing for a major travelling retrospective exhibition to be shown at twelve venues across South Africa and Namibia, sponsored by the Standard Bank Festival of Arts in Grahamstown. Here he was to have received the Guest Artist Award. At the age of 44, John would have been the youngest artist ever to have been awarded this recognition. One month after returning from London, however, Muafangejo died of a massive stroke. His art has inspired many artists and projects around the world which champion peace and reconciliation.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING:

1963/68: St. Mary’s Anglican Mission, Odibo [Ovamboland]

1968/69: Rorke’s Drift Art Craft Centre [Natal], studied graphic arts and tapestry design

1970/74: taught art at Odibo [Ovamboland]

1974: Artist in residence at Rorke’s Drift

1975/77: full-time artist at St. Mary’s Mission

1977/87: lived and worked in Windhoek [Namibia]

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

1975: Johannesburg

1987: Royal Albert Hall [London, UK]

1988: ‘Standard Bank Arts Festival,’ retrospective exhibition [Grahamstown and Cape Province]

1991: Hope and Optimism, Natalie Knight Gallery [JHB] July,
Knight Gallery International [Toronto] Oct

2000: Exhibition of Prints, Africa Centre [London, UK]

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS:

1968: Annual exhibitions at University of Fort Hare

1969: Contemporary African Art exhibition, Camden Art Centre [London, UK]

1969/70: Touring exhibition of African art [Canada]

1970: National Gallery [Stockholm, Sweden]

1971: Society of Graphic Artists [Stockholm, Sweden]
Sao Paulo Biennale [Sao Paulo, Brazil]

1972: Holland

1973: Botswana

1974: Museum of African Art [Washington D.C., USA]

1976: Public Library [Brooklyn] and Lake Buena Vista [Florida]
Arte Fiere ’76 [Bologna, Italy]

1979: Contemporary African Art in South Africa, University of Fort Hare; toured South Africa
Kunst Aus Afrika, Staatlaiche Kunsthalle [Berlin]
Modern Art from Africa, Commonwealth Institute [London, UK]

1981: Republic Festival exhibition [South Africa]
Graphica Creativa 1981 [Jyvaskyla, Finland]

1982: Moira Kelly Fine Art [London]
Commonwealth Institute [London, UK]
Ongediwa Training Centre [Ongediwa]
International Print Biennial [Reading, UK]
7th International Print Biennial [Bradford, UK]

1983: 7th International Graphics Exhibition [Frechen, Germany]
Commonwealth Institute [London, UK]
Diocese of Alabama (annual convention)
Leinster Fine Art [London]
World Print Tour, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [touring USA]

1984: Neue Kunst Aus Afrika, [Hamburg, Germany]
Group Show [Helsinki, Finland]

1985: STANSWA Biennale [Windhoek, Namibia]
Impressionen aus Sudafrika und Namibia, Schloss Langenrein [Germany]

1987: Vita Art Now exhibition [Johannesburg]
Rathaus Radolfzell [West Germany]
Wave Gallery [New Haven]
InterGraphik ’87 [East Berlin]
Frankfurt am Main

1988: The Neglected Tradition, Johannesburg Art Gallery [Johannesburg]

1990: Looking at Our Own: Africa in the Arts of Southern Africa, Pretoria Art Museum [Pretoria]

SELECTED AWARDS AND PUBLICATIONS:

1981: Republic Festival Graphic Award

1983: 7th International Graphics Exhibition [Frechen, Germany]

1985: Most Outstanding Artist Award, STANSWA Biennale [Windhoek, Namibia]

1987: Joint Winner of Vita Art Now exhibition [Johannesburg]

The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow: The Art of John Muafangejo, by Orde Levinson [1994]

John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943-1987): Commemorative Exhibition, Jubilee Programme, 1997, Arts Association and National Art Gallery of Namibia. Windhoek: National Art Gallery of Namibia, [1997]

I Was Lonelyness: The Complete Graphic Works of John Muafangejo: A Catalogue Raisonne 1968-1987, by Orde Levinson

SELECTED COLLECTIONS:

South African National Gallery
Pretoria Art Museum
University of Fort Hare
Durban Art Gallery