Strauss & Co sets new world record for linocut by Namibian artist John Muafangejo.
He was born in 1943 in southern Angola and educated at various mission schools in northern Namibia. Muafangejo studied printmaking at the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift in KwaZulu-Natal in 1968-69. Mentored by Azaria Mbatha, Muafangejo skilfully used linocut. This is a relief printing method noted for its flatness and shallow depth-of-field. This produces richly autobiographical images as well as narrative works invested with social and religious themes.
Zimbabwe House, the top-selling individual lot in this sale, is noteworthy for its reference to Orde Levinson’s mother. His mother is the noted collector and writer Olga Levinson. South African-born Olga Levinson settled in Namibia in 1943 where she also established a successful career as a writer and patron of the arts. Zimbabwe House details the financial assistance she gave Muafangejo in the 1970s.
In fact, Orde Levinson inherited his mother’s enthusiasm and over time built up a large collection of Muafangejo’s work. This included prints and blocks acquired at a 1989 auction of the artist’s estate. He also supervised the production of I was Lonelyness: The Complete Graphic Works of John Muafangejo (1992). This definitive catalogue raisonné of all 262 of Muafangejo’s known graphic works made between 1968 and 1987. These factors added further credibility to the Muafangejo consignment.
The Orde Levinson Collection
The Orde Levinson Collection included the artist’s first linocut, Adam and Eva, a graphically complex evocation of the biblical paradise of Eden printed in 1968. The print sold for R58 625. Elephant is Killing a Lion in Funny Way, printed in 1975, also attracted serious interest and sold for R175 875. An uncharacteristically spare and humorous composition from 1981, Snow was Making Artist Fall Down Twice in Finland, sold for R117 250. The print registers the diverse places visited by the artist following his early success.
A printmaker of world class
In 1969, while still a student at Rorke’s Drift, Muafangejo, together with Dumile Feni and Sydney Kumalo, participated in the exhibition Contemporary African Art at the Camden Arts Centre, London. It marked the start of a distinguished career. In fact, the British art critic Edward Lucie-Smith in 1983 described Muafangejo as “consistently the best of all the modern masters” of his medium and “a printmaker of world class”. The results achieved by Strauss & Co with the sale of the Orde Levinson Collection underscore the longevity of this insight.
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