Life-size sculp­tures meet Evita

Re­al­is­tic, a lit­tle spooky, a fam­ily of wax fig­ures is giv­ing sport, his­tory and en­ter­tain­ment a new face. Liz Clarke spoke to the artist about his work and was on set to meet a VIP guest, who is dy­ing to be done in wax

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THE only thing that Lun­gelo Gumede’s life size fig­ure sculp­tures can’t do is blink. On the other hand no­body would be sur­prised if they did, so eerily life­like are they.

This week Gumede’s wax­work “fam­ily” of fa­mous peo­ple, per­ma­nently housed at Dur­ban’s BAT Cen­tre, lined up to wel­come South Africa’s most fa­mous white woman, Evita Bezuiden­hout to their sanc­tu­ary of make be­lieve.

“Couldn’t be­lieve my eyes,” an ebul­lient Evita said when we asked how she came to be cen­tre stage in a wax col­lec­tion.

“There I was vis­it­ing the BAT Cen­tre for an in­ter­view on Dur­ban Youth Ra­dio, when I looked through a win­dow next door into a room full of mo­tion­less peo­ple. Stand­ing. Were they pray­ing? I didn’t want to dis­turb them with star­ing. Then I saw a ghost! Nel­son Man­dela danc­ing, laugh­ing. I recog­nised our pres­i­dent – I mean who wouldn’t. King Good­will Zwelithini was there next to Mor­gan Free­man, and not far away, the Ter­mi­na­tor and An­gelina Jolie. Was this a weird sort of coup d’état I asked my friend Illa Thomp­son.

“‘No, it is one of Dur­ban’s best kept secrets,” she ex­plained. “It is a unique trea­sure house of char­ac­ters cre­ated in wax. Of course I had to go in­side.”

Door open, it was an in­stant case of wit meets wax with South African satirist Pi­eter Dirk Uys’s al­ter ego Tan­nie Evita, grab­bing the chance to take cen­tre stage. She even dressed up for the oc­ca­sion in a range of ANC in­spired de­signs, from a green and yel­low flo­ral frock to leop­ard prints.

“If I didn’t have a show to do,” she tells a beam­ing Ja­cob Zuma “I would love to sit down and tell you what those Gup­tas did to my koek­sis­ters. They’re not do­ing you any good ei­ther you know.”

What does she think about the idea of her­self be­ing carved in wax?

“As long as I don’t melt like a Brexit can­dle, I could do it,” she smiled, her bright lip­stick shin­ing, her bouf­fant hair stand­ing stiffly to at­ten­tion. “These peo­ple would prob­a­bly need some­body like me to talk to in the mid­dle of the night. Some of them have very big prob­lems that need sort­ing out.”

With that, she spots the wax fig­ure of a laugh­ing Nel­son Man­dela in danc­ing mode.

“Ex­cuse me. I dreamt of danc­ing

Now is my chance.”

On the other hand she is em­phatic she wouldn’t be happy to share her space with the wax model of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, the Ter­mi­na­tor, gun and all.

“He’s got re­ally hor­ri­ble eyes and only half a head. It would give me night­mares.” But she was happy to give her home­spun ad­vice to other mem­bers of the wax gang.

To a seated Madiba she whis­pers: “Care­ful of that one on your left (Zuma).”

To Oliver Tambo she says: “We named an air­port af­ter you. Doesn’t that make you feel bet­ter about where we are go­ing?”

Her part­ing shot to Zuma as she left for her next pub­lic en­gage­ment at the El­iz­a­beth Sned­don The­atre was: “Who said: be­ing a mem­ber of ANC means never hav­ing to say I’m sorry? And by the way Mshow­er­lozi, you can al­ways re­tire for health rea­sons like Shabir Shaik…” have al­ways with Madiba. Notes:

– a re­vised his­tory les­son from South Africa’s most fa­mous white woman is on at the El­iz­a­beth Sned­don The­atre un­til Novem­ber 19.

Tan­nie Evita takes her au­di­ence on a great trek as she fol­lows the jour­ney of the Kak­tus of Sep­a­rate De­vel­op­ment (Kak­taceae Apar­tica) from its ar­rival in 1652 to its rein­ven­tion in 1994 – right up to the head­lines of to­day.

As­sisted by vis­ual aids re­flect­ing a fa­mil­iar ter­rain of his­tory, from the ar­rival of a small Dutch ship called the Drommedaris to the corona­tion of a for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­oner called Madiba. She will have you in stitches while tack­ling one of the most con­tro­ver­sial is­sues in our democ­racy: the real his­tory of South Africa and the right to laugh at the lies and to share her com­mit­ment to the fu­ture of her party, her coun­try, her grand­chil­dren and all South Africans.

Tick­ets: Com­puticket –­ 0861 915 8000/Sho­prite Check­ers Money Mar­ket Coun­ters.

It was back to quiet time as I chat­ted to 32-year-old Lun­gelo Gumede, born and raised in Nd­wedwe, about how he came to sculpt in wax, us­ing the same sort of tech­niques that make Madame Tus­sauds an iconic part of the Lon­don tourist scene.

“At school I loved draw­ing and paint­ing por­traits. I wasn’t in­ter­ested in buses or land­scapes. It was peo­ple that re­ally in­ter­ested me. I al­ways tried to cap­ture the per­son in­side and make them come to life. Maybe it was a call­ing. I can’t re­ally say.”

Af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing the young Gumede came to

Dur­ban to ex­pe­ri­ence city life. “I knew that the BAT Cen­tre was a place that pro­moted and helped young artists. I was so lucky. They in­vited me

to join their vis­ual arts and draw­ing res­i­dency pro­gramme,” he said. Gumede’s artis­tic tal­ents were soon recog­nised and he was of­fered a bur­sary to study fine arts at the Dur­ban Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, where he ex­celled at sculp­ture.

“It just seemed the right thing to do once I had fin­ished my de­gree. I loved por­traits and I loved sculp­ture, so when I put the two things to­gether, I came up with the idea of cre­at­ing life size fig­ures of real peo­ple, fa­mous peo­ple in South Africa and fa­mous movie stars. One day I hope to have my own mu­seum.

“I hope peo­ple will see it as a way of record­ing our his­tory.”

Among his fig­ure col­lec­tion are the Shembe kings. Tall and im­pe­ri­ous they watch over the likes of soc­cer heroes Cris­tiano Ron­aldo of Real Madrid and our own pocket rocket, Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala. lizclarke4@

LEFT: At a loss for words? Evita says not a bit of it as she meets the ANC, past and present and RIGHT: Lun­gelo Gumede with a wax fig­ure of Hollywood ac­tress An­gelina Jolie.

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