"He had something hard in him, something like a testicle." This is how artist Wilson Ngoni describes his brilliant painting titled 'Ancient', which shows an old wrinkled man, light in complexion and pensively staring into the distance.
Ancient was the poster image for Ngoni’s The Human Experience solo exhibition at the Nhabe Museum in Maun and it is not for sale.
Ancient was completed in March 2018 and it debuted at Ngoni’s 2018 exhibition titled Relentless at the Thapong Visual Arts Centre in Gaborone. But Ngoni says he is not ready to part ways with the old man just yet. “Maybe the time to sell it has not come,” he said during the Mmegi tour of The Human Experience in Maun.
Ancient is a great telling piece that is central to the title of The Human Experience. The old man’s advanced wrinkled face, the murky red eyes with a stare that is devoid of any smile attempt to express his own story. Ngoni says he has actually met the old man he depicted on the Ancient painting and in him he saw something hard.
That probably explains why he did not put a smile on the old man because, as he says, “He had something hard in him, something like a testicle”.
The comparison of the hardness of a testicle is also telling as it tries to show the fragility of the hardness in the old man. And that is classic Ngoni painting the human experience.
Ngoni says he has been inspired greatly by people’s life experiences.
He said, “The way of life of people, the way they talk, the way they think has been great inspiration to me, hence this exhibition titled ‘the human experience’.
Another piece that stands out is the one titled ‘Smile’. It is one of his fresh new paintings that are making their debut at the exhibition.
The Smile shows a close-up portrait of a San woman with a heartwarming and beautiful smile. Her eyes stare out to the left where it appears something has interested her. With a glowing face, lit up from the top right and a black background, the piece stands out when hung on a white wall. During the Mmegi tour of the exhibition, Ngoni keenly inspected the painting like he has never seen it before.
“Some of the things on her I am only seeing them now,” he interestingly disclosed as he looked at some of the amazing details that he has added onto the artwork.
From Ngoni’s explanation, it appears the talented painter actually gets into some sort of a painting trance where he would create masterpieces that wow him too. That is probably why it takes time for him to part ways with some of his masterpieces.
Another new artwork is the one titled ‘Beyond Love’, which depicts old San women wearing traditional attires and blazing the smoke of Nyoka – their favourite traditional tobacco.
Smoking San is a favourite subject by Ngoni because he has done a number of similar great pieces in the past.
An artwork that has been trending from The Human Experience exhibition is the one titled ‘Gaze’. It is a 2018 painting, which shows a man, possibly a San too, gazing over a shoulder straight into the view. The gaze from the man’s big eyes is piercing and bores into the viewer’s eyes. The painting background is smoothly blurred and produces a beautiful sharp focus onto the man making it so photogenic and that is probably why it is the people’s new favourite from the exhibition.
Ngoni has also interestingly added a number of unfinished works at the exhibition. He said the reason for adding unfinished work was to show people the progress of some of his artworks. Other great pieces included the Okavango Delta landscapes as well as many amazing wildlife paintings.
The exhibition also included some brilliant artworks by Ngoni’s protégé called Motlogolo Keaja. And it looks like Ngoni’s mentee has deep fascination with the zebra because all of Keaja’s artworks displayed included a zebra.