Joe Madisia’s Transformation

Josef Madisia’s life journey and his evolution as an artist is in many ways intertwined with and symbolic of Namibia’s recent history.

Born in 1954 in Lüderitz, Madisia belongs to the generation that has witnessed the final stages of apartheid colonialism and the first decades of the country’s Independence. His opportunities and artistic development were largely affected and influenced by external circumstances.

As a fountain of wisdom for his craft, he aims to share his acquired techniques and the significance of the aesthetics implored into cardboard printmaking. His accolades and personal achievements as an artist on a global scale place him in the top tier of visionaries on the continent.

Madisia believes in the humanitarian and spiritual power of art to evoke social change. He was never inspired by partisan politics, but by an inner creative energy to achieve unity and reconciliation and reshape a new Namibian pride and identity after apartheid.

However, Madisia’s significant contributions to the Namibian art community did not end with his artwork or by being an exemplary role model for black youth at the time; instead, his achievements as a teacher, board member, and art administrator must be considered for the role they played in reestablishing a contemporary culture and creating opportunity for younger artists.

Born at a historical harbor town, Lüderitz, Madisia remembers crayfish fishing as a child with his friends, a free delicacy for him growing up. He credits his grandma, a seamstress, for provoking his earliest inner artistic ability. He would play with scissors and textiles and make elementary art with that.

From 1974 until 1983 Madisia worked as operator instructor at Rossing Uranium Mine. Those were the years when he discovered his talent for innovation and used it to simplify certain operations of the machines he was working on. At the same time, his old love for visual arts resurged and he started experimenting with different media and techniques. In the period between 1978 and 1982 – the years he had his home in Swakopmund – he also received his first informal art instruction from Koos van Ellinckhuizen – landscape and surrealist painter and philately stamp designer who taught him basic artistic principles.

In 1983 Madisia moved to Windhoek. There he found a job as an assistant photographer and designer at a public relations agency. A year late he was promoted to a graphic designer and assistant photographer at the same company. In the evenings, he attended Graphic art classes at the Academy for Tertiary Education under guidance of Lecturer Demitrious Spirou (1983-1985).

He studied at UNAM from 1996 to 1999 for his Bachelor of Arts Degree, where after he served for four years as manager of the Katutura Community Arts Centre. and further on as the first black Director for the National Art Gallery of Namibia from 2005 to 2011.

Today he resides in Mariental, a small town in Southern Namibia with his family where continues to practise as a full-time visual artist in his art studio, and getting engaged in assisting his wife Josephine, an ardent animal lover with livestock farming in the well-known Swartrandt region of southern Namibia. He is currently exhibiting at the Woermannhaus Gallery in Swakopmund under the theme, “Visual Art Narratives at the Coast.”

How would you describe yourself?

Joe Madisia is a pensioner artist and an ordinary human being, who does not consider himself above others, but rather as part of the Namibian society.

My life journey and my evolution as an artist named Joe Madisia, is in many ways intertwined with and symbolic of Namibia’s recent history. Born in 1954 in Lüderitz, I belong to the generation that has witnessed the final stages of apartheid colonialism and the first decades of the country’s Independence.

My opportunities and artistic development as a young an artist that grew up in a harbour town were also largely affected and influenced by external circumstances.

Was visual arts always a natural choice for you?

Yes, visual arts are and has been always my spontaneous choice. My craft and skills as an artist are a kind of subjective narration to connect with people who get a message through my art on different aspects of life.

Did your background and or upbringing have anything to do with this?

Growing up in a devout Catholic community and later attending a religious boarding school helped me discover early the questions of life’s meaning and purpose of existence, the nature of the universe, the issues of morality, compassion and empathy. At the same time my background has also indirectly taught me how to be pragmatic and even heretic when circumstances demand. However, such upbringing hasn’t made me particularly religious, but it did influence my general worldview and my fundamentally spiritual attitude towards existential life’s issues.

Who or what was your greatest inspiration?

The two people that inspired me immensely were Namibian artist, John Muafangejo and Dutch South African artist Jakobus van Ellinckhuijzen. One of the best photos to manifest it, is when the latter had to create a philately stamp of the former whereby, I feature in a photograph with both.

What was your relationship with the late John Muafangejo?

The late John Muafangejo was the first indigenous Namibian artist that I came to know during my humble beginnings when I entered the artworld during the early 1980’s when I arrived on the art scene in Windhoek. I was also one of those early Namibian artists (apart from the late John Muafangejo) who had the courage to break free from the rather conservative and parochial dominant paradigm that dominated the Namibian art scene when I arrived at it.

What is your style of art?

Most of my artworks today do speak in a dreamlike transcendent mode to the viewer. Filled with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, whilst at the same time reflecting my joys, sorrows, dreams, taboos, and desires which can be at time controversial, that may pass on through some viewers thoughts in some sort of open minded silent peaceful and at times satirical as poetic beauty.

What features prominently in your art?

People, places, and moments in history.

What role does Namibian cultural influences play in your art?

A lot as one may witness in my artworks.

You’ve exhibited throughout the world. Tell us about your experience?

It is evident in my brief CV that my international presence as a Namibian visual artist through attending and participating in exhibitions, symposiums, master class workshops as a Namibian artist worldwide over many years till date, shows tremendous growth and acknowledgment to me as an artist in my mature age of 69 years till date.

Many artists hate being asked this question, but where do you sell your art the most?

Living today in a small town called Mariental with limited physical connection and interaction artists away from the mainstream arts of the city for the last 10 years, has not only allowed me as the artist to turn inwards within my own locality and reach out to other regions in Namibia, but also enabled me to adapt and thereby to innovate and find my own point of selling spaces for my art that simultaneously expanded my visual arts mindset for inspiration and connections wider than one can imagine, abroad, beyond borders, and into other regions, on cyberspace through various international art platforms, blogs and social media.

This has helped to sell works recently outside institutional galleries to private collectors in Namibia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Germany and even the USA.

That is why some of my artworks recently also featured on Pinterest.

Do Namibians have an appreciation for your art?

I can proudly say most of my art is purchased privately from my studio and they feature on the office walls of some lawyers, businesspeople and some also commissioned for National Namibian Monuments. So, it is a yes, but my artworks feature and are mainly appreciated in private collections.

I must say most of my artworks ares very rarely sold through local galleries.

How does Joe Madisia the family man, relax?

I reside today in Mariental, a small town in Southern Namibia with my family where I continue to practice as a full-time visual artist in my art studio, and getting engaged in assisting my wife, Josephine, an ardent animal lover, with livestock farming in the well-known Swartrandt region of southern Namibia.

An artist in my view never relaxes because art is a fulltime passion and not a job. I only relax when I spend quality time surrounded by children and grandchildren at home.

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