Warns the pres­i­dent of the Gup­tas in Dur­ban’s ver­sion of Madame Tus­sauds

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

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 by star­ing. Then I saw a ghost! Nel­son Man­dela danc­ing, laugh­ing.

“I recog­nised our pres­i­dent – I mean who wouldn’t. King Good­will 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 bestkept 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 of her­self be­ing carved in wax?

“As long as I don’t melt like a Brexit can­dle, I could do it,” she smiled, 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 have al­ways dreamt of danc­ing with Madiba. 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 Sch­abir Shaik.”

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 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.” Gumede’s artis­tic tal­ents were soon recog­nised and he was of­fered a bur­sary to study fine art 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 foot­ball heroes Cris­tiano Ron­aldo of Real Madrid and our own pocket rocket, Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala.

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