10 Aug

To commemorate Madiba’s 100th birthday in July, Durban artist and sculptor Lungelo Gumede created a collection of life-like wax sculptures in honour of this great icon. And this is just the start of his dream … writes Andrea Abbott

The Nelson Mandela Centenary Wax Sculpture exhibition in the Pearls Mall in July was a showstopper, those life-like sculptures radiating the essence of Madiba. The serious-face of the young lawyer, that generous smile, the joyous stance at the ballot box, the triumphant raising of the Rugby World Cup trophy, the benevolent gaze – traits of a man and highlights of a great life captured wonderfully by award-winning sculptor, Lungelo Gumede.

“I studied hundreds of photographs so I could present an authentic, chronological depiction of Madiba,” Lungelo tells me when we meet. This talented young artist explains too that growing up in rural Ndwedwe, he always drew but had no idea there was a subject called “art”, or even that he was an artist. “I just thought of it as a hobby.” At school he’d draw his teacher’s portrait while she was teaching. “I also drew diagrams, like of the eye or ear on the board because there was no photocopier at school and only the teacher had a textbook.”

After matriculating – he was an A-student – and still in the dark about art, he moved to Claremont and took a gap year to try to find a career. “My mother wanted me to be a medical doctor but we didn’t have the money.” Serendipity stepped in when local artist, Mandla Gasa, saw Lungelo’s work. “He took me to the Bat Centre, and for the first time I met other artists doing ‘real’ art.”

Accepted into the centre’s Residency Programme in 2003, Lungelo was also awarded a bursary to study fine art at DUT. In his first year, in 2004, he came face-to-face with his destiny. “An American charity, Hoops for Hope, wanted to auction one of my paintings to raise funds. They flew me to New York for the event. During that trip I went to Madame Tussauds – my first visit to a wax museum. I was blown away and knew then that I wanted to do that kind of art.”

His ambition was further cemented when Lungelo took sculpture classes in his second year at DUT and proved to be a natural. On receiving a Mayoral Award for Excellence that year, Lungelo decided to create a statue of the then mayor, Obed Mlaba. “It was my first wax statue and it was displayed on the stage at the next Mayoral Awards event.”

His confidence boosted by the many favourable reactions to that statue, Lungelo started making others. These included King Goodwill Zwelithini and Chief Albert Luthuli, that statue now housed in the Albert Luthuli Museum in Stanger. Last year, Lungelo hit on the idea of the Mandela Centenary Collection. “Anand Singh of Video Vision Entertainment then approached me to exhibit the collection at the Pearls Mall.”

Each statue took about a month to complete. “I have a team of four – my brother Mdu, Scelo Gcabashe, Zola Cibane, and Mampintha Mzimela – who help me with the non-creative work like pouring the moulds, bending the statue into shape, painting the base coat, and dressing the figures.”

Creating statues of one of the world’s greatest people must rank as a high point in any sculptor’s career, but Lungelo isn’t resting on his laurels. “My dream is to start the first wax museum in Africa. I want to open the public’s eyes to this art form.” To that end, he has already made statues of personalities like Michael Jackson, Hugh Masekela, and a number of soccer players. “I envisage different sections such as a Superhero department where children can see their heroes like Spiderman, a Movie Star section, and a Royalty area. I’ve already done King Zwelithini, Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and King Cetshwayo kaMpande, and now I’m working on a statue of Queen Elizabeth.”

There’s just one obstacle – space. “I need a place big enough to house the museum.”

With his passion and drive, Lungelo is sure to realise his dream. After all, he’s been working towards it, albeit subconsciously, since he was a child in that under-resourced school. And as Madiba once said, “We understand … that while children need to be guided they also have an entrenched right to be whatever they want to be and that they can achieve this only if they are given the space to dream and live out their dreams.” *

Lungelo Gumede  n072 828 2596

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