A closed petrol station is enveloped in the darkness of night in a work titled Safe Zone. The interplay between safety and danger, are given expression not only through his deft use of chiaroscuro, the contrast between lightness and darkness, but in his implied subject-matter – a tussle between good and evil, hope and loss. A universal battle, but one inflected with current sociopolitical conditions.
The state of our nation is gleaned more readily when you travel through rural areas. Main streets are populated by unemployed people with little to do and nowhere to go. Houses, streets and towns are dilapidated and empty. Khumalo captures this sense of barrenness and hopelessness through his vacant landscapes. He avoids depicting subjects, barring silhouetted figures against a light in the work Umlindelo, referring to a funeral rite. They bring to mind Dickensian characters in the slums of Victorian London, who hover on the edges in darkness.
Khumalo’s works at the Red Room gallery aren’t all ‘quiet.’ Take the State of a Nation triptych, featuring a burning car, alluding to service delivery and #feesmustfall protests. Or what about the work hauntingly titled: Dead, Dead, Dead, which depicts the crying figure of a woman running towards what appears to be a dead person.