THE central subject of John Muafangejo's linocut prints is
undoubtedly himself. It is his own feelings that he expresses
through these vigorously original, sometimes humorous, often
touching black-and-white printed images. Words frequently are part
and parcel of them, too: explicatory texts, titles, dedications,
and narratives - remarkably phrased poetic additions that add to
the openness of his work.
The personal viewpoint of his art is worth emphasizing because
although it is unmistakably African, it breaks away from the
impersonal notion of artmaking that is traditional in Africa.
Muafangejo was an individualist no less than a European artist
would be - but for him such an attitude must have required a
cultural leap that a European would not even think about.
What he depicts are his memories of childhood in Angola, his
knowledge of history, proverbs and stories he knew from his
upbringing as a member of the Kwanyama tribe, contemporary events
he experienced, and trips he made as his art became known and
exhibited outside Africa.
His art displays a keen feel for Biblical narratives he had
learned from his missionary teachers, and great interest in events
connected with the Anglican and Lutheran churches in southern
Africa. He counted clergyman among his closer friends and patrons.
In addition to these themes, he sometimes pictured just plain human
occurrences or states of mind. All of these varying interests seem
to have heightened his urge to make art. It was clearly a strong
Talking about his print "An Ark Noah" he said, "... something is
pressing, pressing to come out. See this work ... . When it came
out I was relieved." He also observed in an interview, not long
before his death in 1987: "My themes, I do dreams, look around me,
and read the newspaper ... when I dream something and then in the
morning I begin immediately before I forget. That is what I mean -
I dream some pictures."
The animals Muafangejo represented with such sympathy and fresh
stylization were a familiar part of his environment, but were also
carefully observed. In "Etosha Pan Wild Life," the animals are all
identifiable, even though they have been brought together in this
tapestry-like crowd. A strong decorative sense, very conscious of
the play of black and white across the surface, underlies much of
his work, and it seems more instinctual than calculated.
His approach has been compared to that of Cubism, but his art
training apparently included little art history. And although his
work certainly leans toward 20th-century European art in some ways,
it really has less in common with Cubism than with conceptual art
or Pop Art (notice his cartoon-strip approach to some narrative
compositions, for example). Those who attempt to see his work as
"naive," similar to Douanier Rousseau's, would be off the mark,
except perhaps to say that Muafangejo's work is not in the least
His contrasting of black and white is primarily the result of
his chosen printmaking medium. Black/white juxtapositions (often of
different faces) have obvious significance in southern Africa that
can't be overlooked, but he is not a political artist. …