John Ndevasia Muafangejo

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Article

Uneasy memories

The painter and draughtsman John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943-88) is the most famous artist to have practised in Namibia, and already by the end of the 60s his increasingly numerous works were being shown in museums and galleries in Europe and the USA. His motifs came from everyday life and Namibian history and were provided with long explanatory titles.
15 years after his tragic death in November 1988 the painter and draughtsman John Ndevasia Muafangejo is still one of the most famous and respected Namibian artists. His international career began early in spite of the repressive apartheid in his homeland, known during that period as Rhodesia. In 1969 at the age of 25 he was represented by works in the exhibition "Contemporary African Art" in the Camden Arts Centre in London and in the National Gallery in Stockholm, then in 1972 in the São Paulo Biennial. His works then found their way into museums and galleries in Europe and the USA.

Recognition was due especially to his graphic works, which make up a much larger and weightier part of his oeuvre than of most painters. Whereas he left hardly more than a dozen paintings altogether, he left more 5000 linoleum-cuts, implying that over 20 years he made on average nearly one a day – a feat equalled by few other draughtsmen.

His motifs were taken from everyday life and history, from his immediate surroundings and day to day politics. Whatever the motif, his works are most memorable for their density of presentation, for their narrative foreground, and for being composed often around a very dramatic incident. Whether showing a traditional wedding like "A Kuanjama Wedding" (1982), a Christian religious scene like "Jesus meets Zaccheus" (1981), or a metaphorical figure like "Lonely Man. Man of Man" (1974), Muafangejo draws attention subtly but surely through compositional devices to the central statement, which is often augmented by the title in the work itself.

Most impressive is the clear visual language used in treating political and historical themes in a well night documentary and didactic way . In "An interview at Cape Town University in 1971" a black bearded man in a suit is faced by a phalanx of white men, and the flattening of perspective through the apparent tilting of the table towards the viewer, the boggling eyes of the commissars and the ornamental treatment of the image´s rim make the meeting almost threateningly stuffy.

The aim of showing untenable conditions and the truth about important events guided Muafangejo through many series of historical drawings. The "Battle of Rorke´s Drift" (1981) about a clash between British Invaders and Zulu in 1879, or the "Murder of a Chief, Mandume" (1971) about a political murder in 1916 are typical of Muafangejo´s concern not to let sleeping dogs lie.

Author: Ulrich Clewing

Bio

John Ndevasia Muafangejo was born in 1943 in Etunda lo Nghadi in the area Ovamboland in Namibia, was sent to a missionary school then studied from 1967-69 at the College of Art in Rorke´s Drift. A bit later he began teaching at the evangelical Lutheran centre for arts and crafts in Odibo in Ovamboland.

At the peak of his international career he died of a heart-attack in 1988 only a month after the opening of a well received exhibition of his works in the Royal Festival Centre in London. In 1994 his name was given to an art centre in the parliament gardens in Windhoek – the John Muafangejo Art Centre.

Works

Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation,
2006
2001 "The Short Century“, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany "The Short Century“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany 1981 "Graphica Creativa Third International Exhibition of Graphic Art”, Alvar Aalto Museum, Alvar Aalto, Finland 1976 "Black South Africa: Graphic Art”, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, USA

Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
1990 Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, Great Britain 1988 National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa 1975 African Art Center, Durban, South Africa

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)