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Relentless: Wilson Ngoni’s brush on another level

Wilson Ngoni inside his studio PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
It is 15 years since his powerful piece the ‘Antenatal Tears’, better known as the ‘Pregnant Skeleton’, and a lot has happened in the life of an artist Wilson Ngoni. Much of it he has put down in his explosive bear-it-all memoirs titled ‘Doors to my Eyes’, but one thing has stayed constant, his painting.

Three days before his highly anticipated solo art exhibition titled Relentless at Thapong Arts Visual Centre, Art & Culture visited the painter at his studio in Kopong on the outskirts of Gaborone.

“Sorry I just woke up,” he apologies after a fist bump greeting. Inside his studio, which doubles as his bedroom, he pointed at the cause of his sleepless night. It is the painting titled Beating Around The Bush, which shows a close up image of an elephant grazing in the bush.

Ngoni is under pressure to complete his ‘Relentless’ collection before hanging them up on Friday and he says sometimes he paints throughout the night. Ngoni’s work ethic and prolificacy with the rush sums up the meaning behind the title of his upcoming exhibition, Relentless.

“I haven’t been giving up, even through pressing challenges, I kept painting,’ he said describing the reason behind the exhibition title.

“Artists, especially locally, come and go. They are quitting and move to other things or switch careers. Painters are dying out and I have been trying to find out why. Are they forced to bend by situations, by the frugal support we have here at home, what really makes them to die out because I am facing similar challenges. But when I look at my CV, I have been painting of 25 years and I am still going,” says Botswana’s most celebrated painter.

That is what Ngoni terms ‘Relentless’. He keeps going. “I have put more pressure on my brush when the challenges come, I just paint,” he said.

Relentless comes after the

‘Rebirth of Wilson Ngoni’. In September 2017 he burnt over 100 of his old paintings in a move that shocked many of his avid followers. He said it was just a clean up, just to remove some of his ideas.

“It is not that my mind is about to skip beyond its groove, just that it is very necessary for me to clean my mistakes so that I can start my art career afresh. The only way to grow from artistic puberty is by way of burning even the blanks, and discard the internal ideas one hosts,” he elaborated.

Relentless, therefore, comes after the newborn Ngoni. It mainly comprises works from the wilderness. There are elephants, zebras, wild dogs, wetland birds (kingfishers) and there are saltpans with rolling dark clouds that he credit the inspiration to me. Other paintings are portraits including one titled ‘Ancient’ and another showing a man on a mokoro. “My stay in Maun gave me an overdose of inspiration. There is inspiration in wilderness, everywhere,” said the fired up Ngoni.

He says Relentless is but a warm up of what he is about to paint. “I am about to paint seriously and on another level,” he promised. Before ending the interview, Ngoni completed the “Beating Around The Bush” painting that kept him up all night by adding some grass in the mouth of the elephant and putting the “Wilson Ngoni 18” signature.

Relentless – a solo exhibition by Wilson Ngoni opens at Thapong Visual Arts Centre today, March 9 to 24, 2018.




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