Wonder Mbambo Buhle // painting “Flowers like Stars”

“It is always a combination of joyful and emotional moment whenever I start to lay these “Flowers like Stars” symbols in my paintings. They are a reflection of the energy that has been passed on to me through the bloodline of my grandmother as a guidance to be fearless, to learn to appreciate, to purify the soul and to connect with my spiritual entities in favour to unwrap my universal gifts. They are a poetic symbol that is easily drawn to understand the peace of the moon, moon as in our dark beautiful faces that appears to be black. When I paint these faces in juxtaposition with these symbols, I feel accompanied and purposeful. As a kid who grew up playing in the fields a lot, my grandmother will always advise me not to destroy the “Lucky flowers” this grew a curiosity about their purpose and she said “I will tell you one day but just know, they carry our fortunes”, it has been three years after she had passed on, but her teachings is the attitude I give to the world, My work is not about finding my identity, I know exactly who I am and where I am from, I know about my richness and the wisdom of my people. The layers of blackness I give to these faces they are the assurance of our kind.”

Wonder Buhle

Untitled; 2018

Flowers like Stars, maternal generational wisdom like moonlight magik unraveling cosmic gifts and the moon; as in beautiful dark faces that appear to be Black- this is what moves at the heart and fore of Wonder Buhle’s artistic expression and its underpinning conceptual terrain. Born in 1989, in Kwa-Ngcolosi in KwaZulu Natal, “which is one of the villages still ruled under a chief. Having started art as a hobby at the age of nine, [Buhle] says that he was encouraged by his mother to further explore art as a career as he use to play a lot with charcoal from firewood making stick man drawings on the walls of the house as a kid”. With a bold play of texture, colour, symbolism and composition, where Wonder predominantly imagines and brings his works to life through the mediums of acrylic paint and charcoal, one would be quick to characterise the artists’ technical approach to his work and its execution as brazen. However, I am of the mind that it takes a certain kind of intentional delicate balance and tender connection to the affective life of “dead materials” to be able to create with them in what at first encounter seems like “with reckless abandonment” but is actually with a delicate balance and a keen understanding of elements such as colour and composition. The artist who had his first solo exhibition titled Ukumisa Insika at the Durban Art Gallery in 2018 and his second solo at PilippZollinger Gallery in Zurich titled To Find Me, is set to have a show with BKhz later this year, speaking to Banele Khoza who is the director of the gallery about what drew him to Wonder and his work he had this to say:

“He is a talent that you can not ignore. His works linger at the back of your mind and each time they are encountered they stretch the conversation. I have been personally watching Mbambo’s work for over a year now and seeing the strides that he [has taken]by himself for his art; holding his own on social media and building a community that supports his work- independent of representation. It is remarkable to witness and this is the future of engaging with artists. We can not ignore the reality that we all have the same tools- and who can articulate their own narrative other than artists themselves? Our collaborations are to build with the artists and foster what we can with them and not hold them to our institute as we still have limitations. Mbambo’s voice is one to keep an eye on. He has a ground to stand on, thanks to his gift of mark making.”

Umcebo; 2020

Speaking to Wonder via cellphone I asked him some questions with regards to his practice and the imaginative terrain he creates within.

Looking at  your work it seems as though you work primarily with the mediums of acrylic and charcoal, which I find extremely interesting in relation to the conceptual and thematic explorations of your work and the experiences and multitudes of Blackness it speak to. Both can be incredibly unforgiving materials, however, both can be manipulated and worked over to produce beauty and magic. Were these mediums a matter of symbolism or was using them driven by other intentions?

Wonder Buhle: Charcoal has always been a very central medium in my works. I don’t know maybe because of the space I grew up in – growing up in the rural and stuff – its been something I’ve seen all my childhood from the fires made by my grandmother and the ashes left from the fire which I would draw with but fast forward to when I first engaged with the material at art school, it took me back to these memories and this created a bond cause it was a material I knew really well. I had always wanted to paint but was also afraid cause I wasn’t confident about my painting, which I had to overcome. I then invited the acrylic into my work as I found it easy to use and I work very fast when mark making in charcoal so I wanted to apply the same technique with acrylic. But it also taught me lessons, like patience through layering and layering, to find what I’m looking for but it’s always a process. I guess this is the primal relationship I have with both mediums.

Learning the hard way; 2020

Symbolism seems to be a very integral part of your work and process, can you tell me a bit about that relationship you have, and have fostered with it and its incorporation into your work?

Wonder Buhle: The symbolism in my work, I think they really came from the conversations that I used to have with my grandmother as a spiritual person hence my mother is a Sangoma as well. So as a child I used to play in these big open spaces like fields that you get a lot of in villages and there were these flowers that looked like stars. My grandmother would always warn me from messing around with them as she saw them as lucky flowers that carried spiritual powers but I didn’t understand cause I was a kid and I also didn’t know that this is what my journey would become. The transition of inviting the symbols into my work happened in 2018 which is also when my grandmother passed on. I took the symbols as sort of spiritual entities to accompany me in the journey and provide guardians to help cleanse and invite fortune. So I started to charge my figures or rather to layer the figures I paint and draw with this symbolism. They also have this look like stars so I started trying to understand, how we as human beings relate to the stars and universe, and how do we absorb energy from these entities?

As an artist whose work I am not familiar with, Wonder encapsulates it asa much needed “constant reminder of our greatness [as Black people]”. “Wonder is one of the artists who are still based in KZN. [His] voice became an important one because it reflected the values, hard work and aspirations of artists in that community. Mbambo, visited the gallery [BKhz] before on different occasions and establishing a relationship with him was easier due to the mutual vision we shared”, said fellow artist and and member of the BKhz team Papi Konopi who will be overseeing the facilitation of Wonder’s show.

Kusinda kwehlela; 2020

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