Take a bite of the golden apple – Africa is artist Reggie Khumalo’s Eden
South African artist Reggie Khumalo’s ‘Mental Revolution’ ponders the concept of Eden in modern-day Africa, asking the viewer to return to this metaphorical Eden, and become whole again.
Artist Reggie Khumalo paints with brushes dipped in memory of the past and visions of the future. Through his bold eye-catching paintings, he is on a mission to encourage viewers to imagine a continent where people are thriving together, and to ponder the meaning of ubuntu. Using bright, vivid colours that contrast with the rich, dark skin of the people he paints, Khumalo’s latest exhibition, Mental Revolution, is, portrait after portrait, a celebration of the beauty of Africa.
Presented at the Hourglass Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria, in April, Mental Revolution is a collection of paintings that place blackness at the centre, with framed figures that reflect light and seem almost ethereal. Khumalo’s use of striking reds, blues, greens and yellows digs into culture and tradition. The subjects of his portraits hold the viewer’s attention; Khumalo’s use of gold throughout each of the works, from palm leaves in the background to jewellery that adorns his figures, could be viewed as signifiers of the wealth of the African land – literally and figuratively.
“We should not be tempted by everything outside of Africa. We have all the wealth, the vegetation, the love – everything we need is here,” Khumalo tells Maverick Life.
Mental Revolution ponders the concept of Eden in modern-day Africa, asking the viewer to return to this metaphorical Eden, and become whole again. The golden apples that appear in several of the works, Khumalo explains, signify the reconnection to one’s true self. Drawing on biblical religious narratives of humanity eating the apple and being cast out of Eden, Khumalo proposes a return.
“That apple from Eden represents the fall of man, this golden apple is an opportunity to reconnect to the true self again. I’m inviting everyone to take a bite of this golden apple; come back to yourself, remember who you are. In Eden, you were running in paradise, you had plenty and you were enough. The apple says, ‘take a bite and remember that’.”
Africa is Khumalo’s Eden, and he encourages his audience to view his work hand-in-hand with the necessary introspection. After returning home to Eden, it is time for Africa’s people to thrive, he says.
“Now you know yourself, it’s time to thrive. Live with abundance, authority, power and strength. Now you’re thriving, flaunt it, be sure of yourself. Be unapologetically African. Walk with your head held high.”
‘Going anywhere, everywhere’
Khumalo explains that his work has been deeply influenced by his travels across the African continent, and his experiences have not only inspired his art but changed him too. Travelling on his BMW F650 GS, the artist has seen Africa in a truly unique way. His motorbike gives him the freedom to go beyond the usual tourist landmarks, offering him an opportunity to meet with people and share unique experiences along the way.
“Experiencing the Sudan revolution was moving for me. Sudan changed my work, it’s why you’ll find most of my work is black, dark faces. Seeing people united for change was so moving to me, it changed my perspective on what is possible for Africa if we work together,” he says.
This concept of a united Africa has forced Khumalo to consider how the continent can deal with its problem of xenophobia. His resounding sentiment is that travel allows one to see through another’s eyes; offering new perspectives and worldviews.
“Once you understand where someone is coming from, their background, their home, then you realise that they are just like you. If you go to Mozambique or Zimbabwe, you realise we are one and the same people. When you travel, you realise more similarities than differences,” Khumalo explains.
His travels have also inspired his own philanthropy, and he seeks to give back to communities in spaces he has visited and lived in.
“Throughout my travels, I have experienced love from people. People gave wholeheartedly to me with kindness, little deeds become big deeds,” he adds. “I try to do some good in building society and communities. It’s not huge, but I try to do the little I can. I think if we have more people doing the little they can it becomes one big thing eventually.”
Another inspiration is his mentor, Sindi Mabaso-Koyana, who has been a supporter of his work for a few years.
“My mentor guided me and helped me become the person that I am today. She supported me, loved me and showed me kindness when no one else did. When you experience that kind of love you want to give that love also. I think that is what inspires my philanthropy.”
Khumalo works with the United Nations’ World Food Programme, which assists communities in achieving food security, and also contributes to education funds for young adults to receive tertiary education – “Education gives people the tools to utilise the system we live in for their benefit,” he believes. DM/ML