Buy­ers ‘even want to dump JZ art’

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By SUTHENTIRA GOVEN­DER

● While Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma still stands strong, his pre­vi­ous cham­pi­ons no longer seem to have an ap­petite for his face on can­vas.

That’s ac­cord­ing to Dur­ban wax sculp­tor and pain­ter Lun­gelo Gumede — the man who has cap­tured Zuma, and sev­eral other per­son­al­i­ties, in wax and paint.

He has been asked by clients to take back the paint­ings they com­mis­sioned of the pres­i­dent, one re­quest even com­ing from an ANC branch in KwaZulu-Na­tal.

Gumede — who wants to be South Africa’s Madame Tus­saud — has no qualms about tak­ing back his works, be­cause “I still like the guy”.

The fine art grad­u­ate’s proud­est Zuma por­trait hangs in the pres­i­den­tial suite of Dur­ban’s Moses Mab­hida Sta­dium.

“My clients have been call­ing me re­cently and ask­ing me to come take the por­traits back. They said they’re cross with this man, one said he took down the paint­ing . . .

“An­other asked me if I could paint Ramaphosa on top of Zuma. I just laughed.

“There’s even an ANC branch on the north coast that bought a paint­ing from me for R100 000. They said to me, ‘Com­rade you must come and take down your paint­ing.’ ”

The self-taught wax sculp­tor is not one to shy away from mak­ing repli­cas of con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures.

“I’m work­ing on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the mo­ment. But I’m scared to tackle Julius Malema. That’s one man I’m afraid to make,” Gumede joked.

The late Hugh Masekela, Robert Mu­gabe, Queen Eliz­a­beth, Richard Bran­son and Oprah Winfrey are next on his list.

He has made wax­works of Cyril Ramaphosa, King Good­will Zwelithini, mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Patrice Mot­sepe and Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo founder Joseph Sha­bal­ala.

They all stand in his Lun­gelo Wax Mu­seum at BAT Cen­tre, an arts devel­op­ment hub in Dur­ban’s har­bour dis­trict, un­til he se­cures a big­ger spot for a fully fledged mu­seum.

Be­hind the show­room is his tiny workspace, where he works his magic.

Gumede reg­is­tered his mu­seum with the Com­pa­nies and In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Com­mis­sion.

It has been 11 years since Gumede got his first taste of wax, af­ter vis­it­ing Madame Tus­sauds in New York.

“Nel­son Man­dela took me there. Well, I was in New York in 2004, for the auc­tion of my paint­ing of Madiba at the Hoops 4 Hope gala din­ner in the Hamp­tons, New York.

“That’s when I vis­ited Madame Tus­sauds. I was so shocked by what they did.

“With Madame Tus­sauds, they took me be­hind the scenes of how they do the wax stat­ues. I in­cor­po­rated knowl­edge of what I learnt briefly with my art skills.”

Gumede could not shake off his de­sire to start do­ing wax fig­ures when he re­turned to South Africa.

His first wax sculp­ture, of former Dur­ban mayor Obed Mlaba, took him four months.

“It’s been trial and er­ror, it took me for­ever. I had to learn how to in­stall the hair and put the eyes, how to dress the wax statue and the eye­lashes.”

Painstak­ing as the work was, Gumede per­se­vered, pre­sent­ing the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion with a jiv­ing Madiba in 2006.

“In 2009, be­fore the na­tional elec­tions, I did the 12 ANC pres­i­dents, which cost me over R100 000. Maybe some­day they will find their place at Luthuli House.”

Now it takes Gumede less than a month to fin­ish off a fig­ure. It took him three weeks to com­plete Ramaphosa.

The stat­ues are made from clay and fin­ished in wax, sil­i­cone or resin.

He uses bees’ wax for the face only, to cap­ture finer de­tails.

“The ma­te­rial is costly. I use real hu­man hair, the teeth are porce­lain. I have to buy con­tact lenses and eye­lashes. I cure the bees’ wax with some cat­a­lyst so it doesn’t melt in the Dur­ban heat.”

He de­votes hours of re­search to study­ing his sub­jects so he can cap­ture ev­ery de­tail of their weight, height and stance.

“I also buy the clothes, mainly suits. I have an en­tire wardrobe for my fig­ures. It costs me about R30 000 to make [a fig­ure],” Gumede said.

The 32-year-old artist — who was sup­posed to study medicine — has come a long way from his sketch­ing days at school in Nd­wedwe, north of Dur­ban.

“I knew noth­ing about art be­cause we did not have it as a sub­ject. All I knew was that I could draw, I didn’t re­alise that what I was do­ing was art. I would draw a teacher, while he was teach­ing.”

Gumede was ad­mit­ted to the BAT Cen­tre’s artist res­i­dency pro­gramme be­fore grad­u­at­ing in fine arts at the Dur­ban Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in 2007.

The city of Dur­ban com­mis­sioned Gumede to do a por­trait of Hol­ly­wood star For­est Whitaker, who was vis­it­ing Dur­ban, in a tra­di­tional out­fit.

He went on to paint Barack and Michelle Obama, Halle Berry, Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, Chris Rock, Lau­rence Fish­burne, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Queen Lat­i­fah and John Leg­end, all in tra­di­tional wear.

In 2015 he had a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ex­act Sci­ence Mu­seum in Los An­ge­les.

“I sold half of the paint­ings to ac­tor and pro­ducer Tyler Perry. Let’s just say I made a lot of dol­lars.”

Pic­tures: Jackie Clausen

Wax sculp­tor Lun­gelo Gumede work­ing on his sculp­ture of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Be­low, Gumede with his sculp­tures of Ja­cob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, and left, hold­ing a cast of Madiba.

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