“Angihluphekile. Angixakekile" These words refer to a work produced for the artist’s latest show, “Comfort”, which opened at BKhz by Banele Khoza in December 2020, and perhaps best explains the name of the exhibition. The artist tells the story of his grandfather, who after losing his job and falling on thornier times, never lost his composure, the ease with which he approached life.
“Umkhulu after engesasebenzi, things went a bit sour edladleni but he didn’t want people to think that we were poor. We had food. We had clothes. So he always said, “asihluphekile. Sixakekile”, says Buhle. A reminder that they were not what they were going through. The situation was circumstantial. A matter of white supremacy, fate, geography. Who they were at the core of them, however, would remain unchanged. Wonder remixed this into a protective spell of sorts. Even when there are troubles, we will remain untroubled.
The painting features three figures locked in the center of the frame, the one in the middle hoisted the other two upon his arms, on either side of him. It feels convivial. There is love here. Care. Overlaid with Wonder’s signature star-flowers, the blues on their T-shirts become the blue of the backdrop they float against. The figure in the middle, his head abruptly chopped in half becomes both the foreground and background, expanding outside of himself into the ether. The star-flowers painted onto their faces work to protect them, but also obscure their identities. All of Wonder’s images are overlaid with a white star-flower figure. There’s an image, and then the image on top of the image, another layer of interpretation.
“I always try to give people a real painting, with multiple layers, before I charge the bodies with these flowers. However, I kind of like that it’s hiding their identities a bit when I play around with the symbol, especially on faces. The flowers are a symbol of protection. They become a shield,” explains the artist. “The boy’s head disappears into the sky… it’s a symbol of infinity. An endless knowledge. An endless space of possibilities. The figure in the middle, the one who’s carrying the other two, he’s the guy with the whole knowledge that he now has to pass on.”
Growing up in KwaNgcolosi, 41kms from Durban and on the banks of the Inanda Dam, Wonder was raised by his mother, a sangoma, and his grandmother. Growing up in this rural setting, he found himself playing outside, often chided by his grandmother to be cautious. “Ungadlali lapho,” she would say, steering him away from a patch of land sprouting white flowers. “Imbali zami zenhlanhla lezo.”. He didn’t question it at the time, accepting it with the innocence of youth, but later, after the passing of his grandmother, and as he began to experiment with his artistry, the flowers would make a prominent return to his life.
“I started to think about what fortune these flowers carry. . . I took the image of those flowers, and took the small yellow flowers that grow on imphepho, and stars, and fused them into a symbol that could purify the figures that I paint. To give them a sense of guidance. Protection.,” he says.
In a way, this star-flower overlay that coats all of his work is a mosaic or portmanteau comprised of the things a younger Wonder relied on for safety. The white flowers – his grandmother. The imphepho flowers – his sangoma mother. The starts – solid and unchanging in the vast and endless KwaNgcolosi sky.