Artist Lungelo Gumede is making waves in the art world Picture: Shelley Kjonstad

Durban - A Durban artist is to open a wax museum displaying life-size figures of local personalities.

Lungelo’s Wax Museum is the initiative of Lungelo Gumede and will open officially at the BAT Centre in Durban harbour in January next year.

Some figures are already on display and are so realistic that a visitor would be excused for trying to start a conversation with the “people” standing around. As art lovers walk into the museum they see wax figures of King Goodwill Zwelithini and former Durban mayor Obed Mlaba, while portraits of President Jacob Zuma and former ANC president Albert Luthuli hang on the wall.

Gumede, who has painted Nelson Mandela, US chat show host Oprah Winfrey and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, has also been commissioned to make bronze figures of all the ANC’s presidents. He has been working round the clock to complete the project before the end of the party’s centenary celebrations this year.

Gumede’s big break came when the eThekwini municipality commissioned him to do a painting of Whitaker when he visited Durban in 2008, soon after winning an Oscar for his role in the movie The Last King of Scotland.

Since then he has been commissioned by various individuals and organisations, at home and abroad.

Originally from Ndwedwe, the artist’s plans for the wax museum include launching a new wax figure every month and inviting the person represented, and relatives, to attend the red-carpet unveiling.

While art had given him the chance to travel and mingle with celebrities, Gumede said establishing himself was hard.

He started out doing portraits on the beachfront and at fleamarkets, charging only R50. Now one of his portraits costs R5 000.

He also had to contend with his mother’s persistent efforts to get him to become a nurse.

“My mother didn’t approve of art,” he said.

But, seeing how much art has changed her son’s life, Nonhlanhla Gumede, actively encourages others to allow their children to express themselves through art. - The Mercury