In the Footsteps of John Muafangejo
The John Muafangejo Season is underway, a season to remember the iconic Namibian artist who helped to put art in Namibia on the map.
Despite his very evident influence, little is known about the man and the artist. “Many printmakers today will say that John Muafangejo was an inspiration in their work.” Says Gina Figueira the Collections Curator at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, who goes on to say that “John Muafangejo is so known but so not known at the same time. There is a narrative on him that has become the predominate narrative. We are trying to investigate more of the narratives and bring more out about John Muafangejo, the person, to understand more of who he was. So the way that we curated this exhibition was to ask questions; where do we find his work; why is it accessible to some and not to others; what was his legacy; who are the Muafangejo’s of today; where do they exist? Looking at his art as a way to look at what’s happening today in the world. A lot of the themes that you see in his work are still relevant today.”
The John Muafangejo Exhibition, titled Muafangejo: Memory and Activism, is a collaborative effort between the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN), the John Muafangejo Art Centre (JMAC) and the Arts Association Heritage Trust (AAHT). The exhibition forms part of the John Muafangejo season which was initiated by JMAC and which aims to honour the remarkable legacy of John Muafangejo through a programme of community engagement activities with local and guest practitioners from the Southern African region. The season falls on the advent of John Muafangejo’s birthday and is framed as an intersectional dialogue of art, archivism and activism, in remembrance of Muafangejo and his work as sites of activism.
Gina explains that “Communication was a main theme in John Muafangejo’s work and we are still communicating with him today, many years later, through his art. It’s an interesting thing. It’s interesting to look at the themes; the similarities and differences between today’s print makers and the content they are putting into their work. Because of John Muafangejo’s story telling, each piece has a story to tell and I think that Namibian printmakers are doing the same today. So much content in one print, which you can sit and look at for ages and see different things in.”
“Art needs to be a combination of content and context. Even if there is no content or only one singular piece of content that has a clear message, when you put that in different contexts or in different times it’s going to behave very differently. If you look at Muafangejo, there are works that are heavy in terms of text that you actually have to sit and read and then there are ones that are really simple; like hope and optimism which has a very simple message and its still a great work, one of his iconic works. Now a different generation, yet we are dealing with similar narratives but also different narratives.” Says Gina.
We can use the lessons of the past and by talking about them today, we can learn from the past. What the lessons are and how we can interrogate what the art is that we make today as well as what themes we deal with today. This extends to life and how we treat each other today.”
In remembrance of Muafangejo, his work will be on display until the 5th of November 2016 at the National Art Gallery of Namibia.