John Ndevasia Muafangejo will always be a well-known name in the Namibian visual art industry. Famously known for his fine art, Muafangejo became internationally known through his work as a maker of woodcut prints who created linocuts and etchings as well.
In seeking to understand the enigma that is Muafangejo, one learns that he grew up in the former Ovamboland herding cattle. At a tender age he lost his father, which led him and his mother to join an Anglican mission. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
During his stay at the Anglican mission he attended a local missionary school at Odibo where he completed Standard 6. It was during this time that he discovered his passion for art. At the age of twenty an American missionary named C. S. Mallory recognised his gift and had him enrolled at Rourke’s Drift in support of his artistic talent.
That eventually became the stepping stone to the beginning of his creative art journey. The missionary helped Muafangejo with the application process to join the Arts and Craft Centre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa.
This Arts and Craft centre was believed to have played a significant role in South African lives by developing most of their art skills.
After having graduated from the school, Muafangejo became an artistic icon over the years with exhibitions in Sao Paulo, New York, Stockholm and Canada amongst others. As his source of inspiration he told stories in linocut from the Bible, current political events, historical events and intimate commentaries based on his own life and experiences.
Unfortunately his death in 1978 which means he had a relatively short career, however he is recognised amongst those who made an impact in printmaker who told his story about life in an oppressive regime.
One of his most prolific pieces was entitled “The Lucky Artist” one which he created upon learning that he has possibly won an award.
Today there is the John Muafangejo Art Centre (JMAC) established in 1988 for the sole purpose of showing of his printed art works through which the younger generation are able to showcase their artwork as well.
JMAC became fully registered in 2005 as an incorporated association under the Art Association of Namibia.
Annaleen Eins, a member of the Board of Directors at JMAC described Muafangejo’s life as having been short and often difficult for him which he used to his advantage to express his doubt, confusion and joy in a positively honest and creative but unique manner.
Eins noted that in many philosophical discussions with Muafangejo it was evidently clear that he was very concerned that there were no other young black Namibians following in his footsteps by making art their main source of income.
“One of his dreams was to make sure he contributed to the teaching and education of young Namibians. We then started talking about this dream and a conclusion was reached that something had to be done.”
Eins further explains by revealing that during the past years, many artists operating in the Namibian society originate from JMAC. Eins however highlighted that most of these artists are not able to survive or operate independently to earn a living wage from the production of art.
“The tourism sector and SME development of young entrepreneurs should find the best and most effective ways to assist our young artists”.
Namibians must work together as institutions of education along with the private sector and art associations to support art and culture.
Currently available for viewing at the Omba Gallery Craft Centre is an exhibition from JMAC comprising former students and young artists currently in the studio programme.
These former students have been influenced by Muafangejo’s art which has allowed them to emerge as artists with their own distinct identity and style.
The exhibition shows a set of artworks from sixteen artists covering the period from 1996 to 2018.
One of the artworks influenced by Muafangejo is entitled Ndinomolo and describes the that strange notion of ‘I came from where I am going by being’. This work of art created by an anonymous artist describes the life of being an artist as one that is difficult, weird and how it often makes little sense.
“I am an Afro futuristic theatre maker, who critically examines the process of theatre making in a world that is experiencing the most technologically connected period in record history whilst simultaneously experiencing division along racial, sexual, cultural, economic and social borders.
As a result, I create afro temporary performance art that expresses my experience of traversing, merging, disturbing and confusing work through mediums of narration, acting and dramaturgy”.Muafangejo clearly paved a way for many artists, who are now able to express themselves through their work.
Despite the lack of support that some may have as sometimes art is not seen as a high income generating career path, Muafangejo has allowed people to truly live out their dreams as artists.