Sculpting our own wax museum to immortalise local figures


Lungelo Gumede notices the minute details. The turn of a smile, a single freckle, an old scar. He animates every feature, moulding wax into statues so lifelike they capture a person’s character. From Hugh Masekela to Nelson Mandela, Gumede is keeping South African icons alive with his sculptures. “When people see my statues, I want them to feel connected with their heroes,” he says. Now, Gumede is on his way to opening South Africa’s first ever wax museum.

Gumede grew up with a pencil in hand, sketching his teachers during class. For a long time, he didn’t realise what he was doing was art. His mother wanted him to become a doctor, but Gumede continued to pursue his artistic ambitions. “My grandmother told me if I wanted something, I must make it happen,” he says. Gumede worked at his skills and received funding to study fine art, later finding success as a painter. But while exhibiting his work in New York, he discovered an art form that captivated him – wax sculptures. At Madame Tussauds, Gumede came face-to-face with celebrities from across the world. “I wanted to come back and make our own wax museum here in South Africa,” Gumede says. So he gathered his tools, and set to sculpt. It can take Gumede up to a month to make a figure, and because of the materials needed, it can be extremely costly. But it’s worth it.

Gumede has since crafted an impressive collection of wax statues, including past presidents and local legends. While he plans on opening his museum later this year, Gumede has presented his work across the country and has an exhibition at the BAT Centre in Durban. “Every dream takes time, and as an artist I’m used to being patient,” he says. Gumede’s perseverance is paying off. When we chase our passion, no matter how peculiar it may seem, we free ourselves from convention. “If you can dream it, you can make it exist,” Gumede says.

Nuraan Shaik