Wonderbuhle - Inkunzi Isematholeni

1 Sep-14 Oct 2023

Gallery 1957
London SW7 5EW


The show takes its name from a Zulu idiom which literally translates as how the calf is raised will determine the quality of the bull and metaphorically emphasizes the artist’s belief in nurturing the youth and new generations as they become society’s future leaders. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, and also in the UK.

WonderBuhle’s new body of work is an exploration of the artist’s questing for self-discovery and personal evolution intertwined with his commitment to the community from which he has emerged. The starting point is a piece from his archive which features plastic spoons used in community events and parties. Through a captivating series of paintings and installation pieces, WonderBuhle reflects on his journey of ordination, emerging from his deep connection to his roots and his acceptance as a leader in his community and beyond. Wonderbuhle does not stay in contemplation but engages with these new pieces with energy and inventiveness to prepare what is his most diverse and revealing aspect to date. There is a vulnerability in Inkunzi Isematholeni that is both soothing and disquieting. The artist reveals his impulses and his signature. He presents self-portraits and utilises fashion as a language and medium for time travel.  

His introspection transcends his artistic practice, encapsulating the entirety of his existence. The artworks stand as a testament to his realisation that his life experiences serve as the very foundation of his art. For the first time, multiple self-portraits of WonderBuhle appear in a body of work, interwoven into various pieces. The portraits are emblematic of his ongoing process of self-exploration. This introspection, however, reaches deep and beyond mere self-interest, as the artist’s reflective journey is imbued with a profound desire to contribute to and uplift his community. WonderBuhle beats his own rhythm and dances to his own tune, but this tune is not devoid of origins. The community rooted in core indigenous matriarchal, feminist ideals has strength and malleability that transcends the surface of the materiality and into the studio and any space where the piece rests. WonderBuhle’s portraits are kinetic and have momentum and mass.  

At the heart of the exhibition lies the artist's profound recognition of the communal spirit that nurtured his growth and achievements. A striking highlight is the reimagining of a historical image of Marcus Garvey, a figure synonymous with passionate activism and empowerment. Here, WonderBuhle ingeniously replaces Garvey's visage with his own, symbolising that there is yet more to do and leaders are part of a chain of history. It is also a sort of homage to both the community and to the Great Marcus Garvey. The appropriation of colonial military uniform that adorns WonderBuhle underscores his perception of an ongoing collective struggle, echoing a call to action for a harmonious and prosperous future. He also highlights the role of the military as one of the foundations of colonial conquest.

This captivating painting further features two heads gazing in opposing directions. One head looks toward family, while the other is fixed on the community. The liminal space in-between signifies the artist’s pivotal role as an unseen leader, embodying the responsibility of guiding and supporting those around him, rather than seeking personal acclaim. This duality encapsulates the essence of his connection to both his familial lineage and the broader social fabric. It is a reminder of service, duty, love, and care that is the root of WonderBuhle’s practice.

Nature takes on a prominent role in this collection, representing WonderBuhle's deepening exploration of ecological themes, and his renowned use of flower-imprinted skin finds new expression within the context of the environment itself. Notably, his incorporation of hundreds of plastic spoons collected from waste unveils striking murals, serving as a compelling commentary on the necessity of preserving nature’s splendour.

WonderBuhle’s Inkunzi Isematholeni goes beyond a celebration of Wonderbuhle's multifaceted journey of self-discovery toward his unwavering commitment to his community, local and global. It is an acceptance of leadership and his calling. Through introspective self-portraits, reimagined historical references, and powerful ecological narratives, the artist unveils a captivating visual narrative that encapsulates his evolution as both an individual and an artist. The exhibition invites viewers to engage with WonderBuhle's profound contemplations, bridging the gap between self and community, and inspiring collective introspection and positive action.

Curatorial text by Azu Nwagbogu