Bongani Khumalo (born 1967, Soweto South Africa), began his art-making in primary school, inspired by his father who was also an artist. Due to political unrest Khumalo left Soweto in 1985 and lived in Kwazulu Natal until his return to Johannesburg in 1992, where he began a more rigorous art education at Funda Art Centre in Soweto.
It was at Funda that Khumalo began to explore sculpture, and the process of finding and recreating discarded materials into new forms. He began working with melted plastic, car parts, and other found objects that culminated into unique interpretations of animals forms, anthropomorphic urban creatures, and the beginnings of the more functional sculptures that he creates today. Khumalo recalls visiting JAG (Joburg Art Gallery) and being inspired by sculptures using car tyres. He then began to cultivate his own visual language with the abundant rubber that can be harvested from the urban landscape of Johannesburg. The first piece he made was a 7 metre long snake, in a darkened room, with car headlights for eyes and a BMW grill for a face, commenting on the dangerous speeds and serpentine driving styles usually associated with German engineering, and the dangerous South African roads.
Khumalo always has a strong intention behind his sculptures. In the same way that the snake was intended to spark awareness surrounding transport and road safety, his tyre couches reveal a multitude of ideas and insights into his medium and the human experience that they connect with and represent.
Khumalo started his couches early in 2012, taking the use of discarded tyres beyond an isolated and protected gallery-artwork, into a functional and near-indestructible sculptural hybrid. His work is an example of the bridge between the gallery and real life, where the work is both fine art, as well as a highly practical item of ‘green’ furniture.
More so, his work resonates with the ingenuity and passion that is required by creative minds to overcome the environmental crises we have created. By recycling urban detritus, Khumalo (like many other artists working in this way) begins the process of a very literal and conscious regeneration of the environment, as well as the minds of those who encounter his creations.
In the words of the artist:
“In hard times, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. With a lot of negative, there’s always more positive coming. Nothing is useless, with the negative you can create the positive”
The meaning behind this direct and simple approach to life is echoed in the laws of nature, as well as mathematics, where two multiplied negatives create a positive.
Khumalo’s intention for his couches is to have people enjoy the passive experience of sitting, while inviting them to consider the material that the couch is made from. When one becomes aware of the mileage that is contained within the couch, with every strip of white-wall taxi tyre holding a history of movement and relocation, we then start to question the position of passivity, and remember the enormous system in which we live, and the active and upright engagement that is required to survive within that system.
Similar to the concept of the tyre, the essence of Khumalo’s work is that of cyclic creativity and progressive transformation. The experience of sitting on the couches is different for everyone, however the common thread, whether consciously experienced or not, is that one is sitting on static movement, which is both energizing and deeply thought-provoking.
Tyres make the city “go round”, and on a deeper level it is our hunger for oil and plastics that is ravaging and damaging our planet in a suicidal way. With this in mind, both the form and material of Khumalo’s work connects not only to the city his immediate surroundings, but also reminds us of the greater challenge at hand - to recycle, regenerate, and remember our relationship with the Earth, for ourselves, and for future generations to come, that will no doubt be sitting on Khumalo‘s couches.
Bonagni Khumalo currently lives and works in Soweto with his family, friends and fellow artists.
Born 1976, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa
1992 to 1996 - Funda Art Centre
2000 - Absa L’atelier Gauteng finalist
2011 - Museum Africa group exhibition - “Liberation of mind and soul”
2012 - Math Room group exhibition - “Hunter - Gatherer”
2013 - Math Room - Joint exhibition with Frederick Clarke