The artworks produced at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift, KwaZulu-Natal, have been highly appraised and appreciated in South African art-historical circles, not in the least so as African expressions of postcolonial and anti-apartheid resistance. The work of Namibian artist John Muafangejo (1943–1987) is prominent amongst these. In this article, while borrowing generously from the methods of art historical research, our interest is primarily in works of art as objects of material religion. Erwin Panofsky introduced iconology as a way of determining the meaning of art. Iconology wants to enable the seeing of the unseen; seeing the transcendence—making it most applicable to the study of religion as a cultural practice. This article investigates in a critical way how iconology can assist in the study of material religion, especially as applied to the study of religious art. Because meaning is contextual, the conditions under which religious objects are made and interpreted are as important as the work itself. A discussion of a specific work by John Muafangejo originating from the Rorke’s Drift Centre will be conducted by testing the potential of iconology as an analytical tool in this African Christian environment.
This article emanated from a paper presented at the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) conference, 15-16 August 2018, UKZN, Durban.