Wonder Buhle Mbambo, Between Soul and Identity

As a storyteller, Mbambo seeks to motivate and inspire change. His work 'To Find Me' explores some of the South African artist's core stylistic and thematic preoccupations, through his signature textures, patterns, and colors.

As a storyteller, Mbambo seeks to motivate and inspire change. His work 'To Find Me' explores some of the South African artist's core stylistic and thematic preoccupations, through his signature textures, patterns, and colors.

Wonder Buhle Mbambo, To Find Me, 2019. Estimate £18,000 - 25,000. Wired Online Auction. 

“I understand my artistic practice as a space between my inner soul, and my identity. I communicate my views from where I am standing as a black youth in South African society and the world at large.” – Wonder Buhle Mbambo

Exploring questions around identity, solitude, and authenticity, the luminous and captivating To Find Me exemplifies key thematic and stylistic preoccupations of contemporary South African artist Wonder Buhle Mbambo’s work. Executed in 2019 and dominated by bold colors, textured surfaces and careful attention to pattern, it remains one of the artist’s key works.

Born in the village of Kwangcolosi in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Mbambo relocated to Durban in 2010 in order to develop his artistic practice. Since his first solo exhibition held at Durban Art Gallery in 2018, Mbambo has garnered considerable international attention and has come to be representative of South African contemporary art on a global scale. Especially significant in Mbambo’s oeuvre, the present work shares its title with his first international solo show, To Find Me, held at GALERIE PHILIPPZOLLINGER in 2019. Opening to critical acclaim, this exhibition marked a radical transition for Mbambo, seeing him moving away from working exclusively with charcoal on paper to the bold application of mixed media on canvas that the present work is particularly representative of.

 

 

“To Find Me was not about finding my identity, I know my roots and the DNA of my bloodline I am carrying. Rather it was sharing an experience, a true reflection process of inclining my spiritual path with what I had already become in this society.” – Wonder Buhle Mbambo

Deeply biographical, in this important work, the artist represents himself in the center of the composition, surrounded by his entire Zulu village and flanked by two spiritual figures. Absorbed in meditation and picked out in tightly wound knots of brilliant white familiar from Mbambo’s portraits, these statuesque figures lend a sense of hushed ceremony and drama to the composition. Set out starkly against the darker hues of swirling blacks, blues and splashes of turquoise in the background, their open arms also create a striking framing device for the central supine figure who appears to float, suspended between them. Cut from red felt and painted over in a variety of longer brushstrokes and brilliant spots of color, the surface of this figure is highly patterned and absorbing, emphasized by the steady and confident gaze of the figure looking out at us. Taking place under the stars, the scene not only references Mbambo’s childhood memories, but reveals his highly regarded position within the community. The first person from the village to travel the world, he is seen as something of a guide and role model. As the work dramatizes, every time he returns, the entire village gathers around him, eager to hear all about his adventures.

 

 

Raised by his late grandmother and mother—the healer of their village—Mbambo foregrounds spirituality and traditional practices that occupied an important part of his childhood and have certainly been instrumental in shaping his art practice. Suffused with an aura of mysticism and magic, To Find Me expresses Mbambo’s desire to live beyond his imagination and to reintroduce the spiritual into the everyday. As the artist has explained: “I feel that we are in an in-between state: while we still carry old souls, we find ourselves alienated in this contemporary world of ours – we are disconnected and may even feel displaced. Through my artistic practice, I want to bestow a feeling of spiritual guidance, in order to better ourselves and to inspire a future for upcoming generations.”

As a storyteller, Mbambo seeks to motivate and inspire change. Through his work, he wants to highlight the challenges that young people currently face in South Africa and seeks “to shape up the country to those that are coming.”