Powerful symbolism in painting of strong leaders
Doctor Khumalo hopes his special project on women in leadership will reach Oprah's eyes and hands
Over the past five months, Mpumalanga-born artist Doctor Khumalo has been working on a special project: a stunning collage of the portraits of Oprah Winfrey, the late freedom fighter Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former first lady and human rights activist Graca Machel, and the late president Nelson Mandela.
The 30-year-old has been a professional artist since 2004, and has been commissioned for several challenging works, such as the portrait of world-renowned South African artist Gerard Sekoto, which he painted for the Steve Tshwete Municipality in Mpumalanga. He has also been commissioned for huge works for the corporate sector.
“But this collage of portraits is the most difficult work I have ever done since I became an artist. I first painted the portrait of Mandela before starting on the three influential women leaders, and then I stopped painting for weeks, without knowing how to proceed to create the message that women have the capability to lead, and what is needed now is for men to stand aside and give them a chance,” Khumalo says.
“I also wanted to send the message that the problem of abuse — mostly men abusing women and children — has got to stop, for it is one of the reasons why human progress is so slow globally. Given an opportunity to lead, women are capable leaders, and in some cases their leadership qualities are better than those of men.”
Khumalo says that his portrait was for a special woman, Winfrey, who will be in SA to co-host the Mandela 100 Global Citizen Festival at FNB stadium on December 2. Winfrey’s South African home is filled with local art.
“I am hoping to donate this painting to Winfrey in acknowledgement of her contribution to empowering girl children, after building the famous Oprah Winfrey School of Leadership in the south of Johannesburg. I am hoping to be afforded an opportunity to present this work to her,” he says.
Khumalo works with homeless youth in the Joburg inner city in his spare time, teaching them art in an effort to empower them and give them a second chance. He says when he donates his portrait to Winfrey, he would like to also raise awareness about his fund-raising efforts to build an art centre in Johannesburg that will teach the youth, especially those who are homeless.
His portrait of the three women surrounding Mandela is titled Ke Nako (Sepedi for “now is the time”). It is 165cm by 125cm, an oil on canvas.
Khumalo says his depiction of Mandela seated comfortably on a throne surrounded by three powerful women with the backdrop of the Union Buildings, symbolises the fact that power does not lie with men.
“A relaxed Mandela is giving way to women to lead. Mandela represents all men in the world, and the three influential women — Oprah, Winnie and Graca — represent all the women in the world,” he says.
Madikizela-Mandela is adorned in the protrait with a yellow, black and green doek by well-known designer Dyido Bacwengile. Her right hand is clenched in a power salute. Mandela’s widow Machel is also wearing a Xhosa doek with a matching dress.
“The message in this art work is about the possibilities that women have in the world to tackle the many challenges holding them back, such as patriarchy, violence and abuse,” Khumalo says.
“In this painting I am saying that women have the power, as represented by three of the most powerful women in the world that I respect hugely. I am saying that women are just as good as men when it comes to leadership.”
Khumalo has repurposed his inner-city Johannesburg apartment’s balcony into an art studio. He sometimes invites homeless young people to work with him as they learn.
“But the problem is, this place is not suitable to accommodate many of the people who I teach," he says. “Currently, I have about 20 students from the streets, who I also feed at my expense. When they are hungry they cannot concentrate on the lessons.”