Wonder Buhle Mbambo - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Born in the village of Kwangcolosi in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Wonder Buhle Mbambo was raised as an only child by his grandmother and mother. Growing up, Mbambo wanted to be a clinical psychologist, yet failing to reach the grades, he decided to turn to art as a form of psychologically therapy. This innate desire to cure was perhaps inspired by hearing people discuss their problems with his mother, a traditional healer in the community.


    Mbambo’s grandmother’s aversion to electricity intensified the extreme colours and dramatic silhouettes formed in the shadows of the nearby mountains, under the wide expanse of the South African night’s starry sky. ‘It is a beautiful sky. And when there is a full moon everything is identified by silhouettes. You can see people moving but as silhouettes and there are these beautiful colours, your grey.’i Whilst nature provided the formative intense colours, Mbambo’s grandmother’s cooking on the open woodfire provided the charcoal from which the artist would draw on the walls of the Rondavel- a traditional circular African dwelling with a conical thatched roof.


    Creating a place that both encourages quiet reflection and stimulated spirituality, each element of Mbambo’s portraits are carefully considered, with poignant recurring icons of profound personal significance. The blank background spaces divulge no place or time; the afro is a symbol of confidence, beauty and power; the dark black skin harks from Mbambo’s early use of charcoal; and the signature flower-star design represents loved family members and childhood memories of the African night’s sky. 


    The mosaiced flower motif which reoccurs throughout Mbambo’s output and decorates the skin in Usbani, is a personal fictional symbol, made of three key elements:  the yellow Impepho flower, the lucky white flower and a star. As a child in Kwangcolosi, Mbambo’s grandmother would frequently warn him against playing in the fields of lucky white flowers. The yellow Impepho flower represents the artist’s mother and her spirituality: when you burn it, it serves as a medium to communicate your wishes and dreams with your spiritual entities. The stars represent the night sky. The inclusion of this symbol highlights how these are more than just artworks, they are blessings which the artist sends out into the world. 

    'I fused the three and I came up with the symbols to charge the figures with, to purify them, to give them a guidance and to give them a space of belonging so you can see or track where they belong. It doesn’t matter where they are going in the world but if they have this, they will have a sense of belonging.'
    —Wonder Buhle Mbambo

    As in the present example, Mbambo’s use of gold in the background not only creates the balance of textured light and dark and perceived goodness and shadow, but also refers to a dream in which the artist found himself walking on a beach. He reminiscences, ‘It is in the morning and I am walking by the seashore. Every time the water comes out it leaves gold and it goes back again, you see how the ocean works? The waves kept doing that and I was picking gold and putting it into my pockets every time and there was a lot of gold and I am walking in it now and I was laughing at what am I going to do with the gold. I am taking the gold, it is all over my pockets now and I can’t take more… and then I woke up… That’s when I started to incorporate it, I had to look for gold paint. In Durban it is very hard to find many materials but I found it and I was like ‘yes’ and I used it and it blended like this with my black figures.’ii  


    Within his artworks, Mbambo unites his personal history and history of country with his own developing story.  Through his depictions of his relaxed protagonists, who engage the viewer, looking out with relaxed calm, quiet and confidant, Mbambo gently celebrates his community and highlights his desire to inspire better. 


    i Wonder Buhle Mbambo in interview with Mmutle Arthur Kgrokong in relation to the artist’s exhibition The Wonder of Comfort, 2020 at BKhz Studio, Johannesburg, online

    ii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      BKhz Studio & Gallery Braamfontein, Johannesburg
      Acquired from the above by the present owner




acrylic on unstretched canvas, in artist's frame
114.5 x 114.5 cm (45 1/8 x 45 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £34,020

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021