Our visit to Maun recently, courtesy of My Maun Experience fellow journalists Thalefang Charles, David Baaitse, Sharon Mathala and I depended entirely on the camera and the pen to share our experiences of the holiday destination.
There was possibly no other way to tell the Maun story, or at least that is what we thought.
And that was until renowned local artist and multi award winner Wilson Ngoni launched his ‘Wild Brush’ exhibition at Nhabe Museum in Maun late last month. Only he could have told the story in a way very few (if any) people could. He painted his version.
The collection, oil on canvas, gives one a reflection of the indigenous Maun through Ngoni’s ‘wild’ brush. He rates it as his best collection yet.
“I feel like I am only just beginning to graduate as an artist,” he tells Lifestyle in an interview. “I have become an even better artist after my experiences here (in Maun). Coming here has been like coming to learn how to paint all over again.”
The enthusiasm with which he speaks about the place, its people and his subjects reflects incredibly on the paintings.
“The people of Maun are incredible. I have fallen in love with their way of life here,” Ngoni enthuses. “Their survival technique is different from what I am used to back in Gaborone. They depend so much on the environment surrounding them and they have become one with it.”
He says he has been inspired by small yet incredible scenes like watching small boys swimming in the Thamalakane River. “Unlike the people of Gaborone, they are not worried about catching germs and bacteria from the river water.
They know the behaviour of the wild animals they live almost side to side with and there is such a strong sense of connection between them. It’s interesting how they have adapted and adjusted to their surroundings.”
Ngoni is inspired by the innovation behind the reed shelters and woven baskets, the way they harvest tswii, phane, and fish without exhausting the natural resources. “They consume just enough. They are not driven by the kind of greed we see with a lot of people in the towns,” he tells Lifestyle. “Their understanding of nature is something that needs to be documented.”
He is also inspired by those still using donkeys as a mode of transport as reflected in some of his works. He loves nature especially the vegetation. It brings him closer to the creator, he says. Ngoni has fallen in love with Maun so much that he contemplates living there permanently. “My brush never seems to stop painting when I am here in Maun. There is so much inspiration.”
For someone this talented it is difficult to believe Ngoni has never received any formal training beyond senior secondary school. “I qualified for college after my Cambridge but I was more interested in my painting than getting a degree,” he says. “While my peers were out at university getting their degrees I was busy experimenting with my paint and brush.” He says he owes his brilliance to lots of trial and error, observation and concentrating on learning “how paint behaves”. He also read a lot and studied the works of Salvador Dali, a Spanish surrealist painter and Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter best known for her self-portraits. “She was incredibly beautiful and became my muse,” Ngoni says of Kahlo. “Most of her work was based on pain and passion.” Ngoni was also inspired by Kahlo’s personal struggles. “She inspired me to fight through my struggles in life as well.” The ‘Wild Brush’ exhibition runs until March 15. So, what is next for Ngoni after Maun? “I have another exhibition opening today (March 5) in Washington DC (US),” he says. “I’m also planning another exhibition at Thapong (Visual Arts Centre, Gaborone) sometime in May which will also have a Maun influence.” He says he has had a lot of exposure thanks to the ‘Wild Brush’ exhibition and everything has been going well since opening night on February 25.