South African Artist WonderBuhle on the Influence of Ballaké Sissoko

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Wonder is wearing a funnel-neck cotton shirt-dress and belted cotton trousers by UNI FORM. His own shoesPhotography by Justice Mukheli, Styling by Francois Ferreira

“I can’t understand the words on those tracks, but I can feel them,” says the South Africa-born artist of the cultural influence of Malian musician Ballaké Sissoko

This article is taken from the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine:

“I’ve been listening to Ballaké Sissoko for the past six years now. I can’t understand the words on those tracks, but I can feel them. When I paint, there’s this gap where the work goes beyond what I visualise, a balance of knowing and not knowing, creating a passage for me to grow. The first song on the album Sissoko & Sissoko, Sigi Gno Gonya, is like a spaceship moving you to these different places across Africa and beyond. I thought about the symbols in the pyramids – the snake was a symbol of protection, not evil. I was moving between works and one of them [Ama Tempest Calmers l & II, 2022] ended up with a big golden python in it. That was like a spice from the music, of thinking beyond my living space and travelling with my mind to incorporate old ideas into the new language I’m trying to build in my work.”

When he was a child, WonderBuhle Mbambo’s grandmother would point to the “lucky flowers” in the nearby fields of KwaNgcolosi in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and encourage him to care for them as a vessel through which to communicate with ancestors and manifest fortune. Since his grandmother’s death, these flowers have been a guiding light – a North Star – illuminating the faces, bodies or clothes in many of his works. Using charcoal and acrylic, he renders Blackness as bold and deep as the night sky that, throughout his early years, he gazed at. His figures float against single-coloured or patterned backdrops, guarding a spiritual world that exists beyond the threshold of the canvas.

Printing: RGB Pixel Lab. Special thanks to BKhz and Papi Konopi

This story features in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now. Buy a copy here.