John Ndevasia Muafangejo's international reputation as Namibia's most famous printmaker began in spite of a repressive apartheid situation in his native country, (known then as Rhodesia). Born in Angola in 1943, Muafangejo grew up in a traditional home, herding cattle by day, and playing communal and literary games with the village elders at night. These games had a strong moral and philosophical overtone, which influenced his early childhood and his artistic development, but it also had a strong influence on the content of his work which was largely autobiographical.
Muafangejo was only twelve years old when his father died. His mother was left with nothing and she moved to a mission, bringing her son with her. It was here that Muafangejo converted to Christianity and in 1964 he attended St Mary's Anglican mission school at Odibo (in Namibia). There his artistic skills were recognized and he eventually went to study art at Rorke's Drift from (1968 -1969) before returning to teach and establish an art school at St Mary's.
At the age of 25 his works were included in exhibitions in London, the 1972 São Paulo Biennial and the National Gallery in Stockholm, Sweden. His works then found their way into museums and galleries in Munich & Berlin, Germany, Alvar Aalto Museum, Alvar Aalto, Finland, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, USA, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, Great Britain, Grahamstown and Durban, South Africa and many other institutions.
In 1971 he held his first of several solo exhibitions in Windhoek and represented South Africa at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1972. In 1974 he took up at the position of artist-in-residence at Rorke's Drift, where he produced unique colored woodcuts. During the next several years, Muafangejo exhibtied his work in South Africa, New York, Finland, England and Germany.
In 1987, Muafangejo died at the peak of his career of a heart-attack, in Namibia. The next year, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, sponsored a retrospective exhibition of his work, and a second retrospective was held in England from 1990-1992.
Muafangejo is best known for his linocuts of figures, religious and historical scenes. His images have a strong narrative quality and illustrate African traditions. His images are all black and white prints, and upon his death left more than 5000 linoleum cuts – producing an astounding single finished print (one/per day) for 20 years!
In 1994, an art center in Windhoek was named in his honor.
Muafangejo's graphic motifs were taken from everyday life, history, from his immediate surroundings and the political atmosphere. Whatever the subject, his works are most memorable for their direct, clear subject, for their narrative foreground, and for being composed often around a very dramatic incident.
The aim of his work was to show difficult conditions, and speak the truth about important events ,causes, people; to view Muafangejo's work as social/political, but they are really about telling truths and passing on cultural stories as one often sees in non-western cultures and African villages who pass their heritage verbally through public gatherings. Indeed, this man's complete oeuvre is staggering in its numbers, but his integrity to visually relate a story about what he saw and the tenacity to keep at it in spite of an oppressive society, is admirable. How many of us can do the same, or choose to do the same concerning issues that eat at our gut? I believe there is room in the artworld for more like Muafangejo, and hope more artists/printmakers will join his ranks.
1981: Republic Festival, Durban
1983: International Graphic Competition, Frechen, Germany
1985: Stanswa Biennale, Windhoek (most outstanding artist).
1987: Vita Art Now Award
1988: Standard Bank National Arts Festival (Guest Artist Award).