Canvas Magazine: London Calling | WonderBuhle and Esiri Erheriene-Essi
Read here: a feature on amongst others WonderBuhle and Esiri Erheriene-Essi in the Africa Now edition of Canvas Magazine. The two artists discuss the role of the city of London in the rising tide of contemporary African art.
“What is it about the British capital that so appeals to African artists? Wonder Buhle Mbambo is a Durban-based visual artist from Kwa-Ngcolosi in South Africa and showed his work last autumn at Unit London’s exhibition, The Medium is the Message. “Showing in London was important because, for the longest time, we were not really given opportunities to be seen in museums or big institutions,” he explains. “Now, with these new platforms, we are able to revise the misleading narrative of who we are as Black people and say this is who we are, in our own language and representation.””
ABOUT Esiri Erheriene-Essi
Born in 1982 in London, United Kingdom
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Esiri Erheriene-Essi is predominately a painter of mid to large-scale paintings concerned with figuration, history and society. She is captivated by history – in particular, images, objects, and documents which we can return to, in order to examine both individual and shared memories and histories. A large part of her practice entails collecting and creating an archive, which could potentially become incorporated into her work. Archives are important to the artist as they create links and orders that she can question and play with – she searches for the discrepancies, the silences, in order to, through painting, create interruptions and assaults on the canonical historical narrative. With hindsight, bias and curiosity, she takes these discordances and brings them up to the surface. Erheriene-Essi continuously re-edits the narratives with the hope of robbing history of some of its tyrannical power by creating new scenarios. Or rather, she is incessantly attempting to imagine more humane and liberating narratives than what has gone before. In the process she perhaps slightly changes our readings of history and thereby shows how we write the present.
In her work, Erheriene-Essi makes many references to popular culture, because popular culture is profoundly mythic and loaded. The canvases she makes are a theatre of popular desires and fantasies, where we all can discover and play with the process of identification. These ‘theatrical scenes’ show the imagined as well as the underrepresented, not only to the viewer but also to the artist herself. The paintings ‘play’ in their own way – they are telling a story, even though the scenes have no beginning, middle or end – they are cut off mid flow, out of context, are frozen, silent and still. Yet they have ‘sound’ as if they are performing and want to be heard. The audience is continuously invited to watch as well as to try and decipher the haphazard plot in which characters are encased in. The good thing about performing on canvas is that anything is possible – and that is what intrigues Erheriene-Essi the most.
WonderBuhle, born 1989 in South Africa, is a Durban-based visual artist from Kwa-Ngcolosi, a village that is still ruled by a chief. He started making art as a hobby at the age of nine. He says that his mother encouraged him to explore art as a career as he used to play with charcoal from the fire and draw stick figures on the walls of the house as a child.
WonderBuhle received his first formal training through the BAT Centre Artists in Residency (AIR) Program and went on to study fine art through the Velobala apprenticeship program at Durban University of Technology, under the mentorship of Themba Shibase.
The artist states: “I understand my artistic practice as a space between my inner soul, my dreams and my identity. I communicate my views from where I am standing as a black youth in South African society and the world at large. South Africa is in a moment of self-realization; reflecting and embracing its cultural diversities, whilst rewriting its stories through the lenses of young people who are curious, like myself.”
WonderBuhle had his first solo exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery in 2018 and has been included in numerous group shows at Unit, (London, 2020); The Art House (Wakefield, 2018); Michaelis Gallery (Cape Town, 2017); KZNSA (Durban, 2015) and the African Art Centre (Durban, 2014). In 2016, he was the recipient of Bremer Kunststipendium Art Grant (three-month residency) and in 2020; he took part in the La Brea Studio Artists Residency in L.A.