Abalozi Bayeza / Os Deuses Estão Chegando
20.07.19 – 07.09.19
SMAC Gallery is proud to present Abalozi Bayeza / Os Deuses Estão Chegando, a new ‘constellation’ of works by Lhola Amira. This body of work is born from a series of Appearances by Lhola Amira in Bahia and surrounding Brazil, over a period of weeks in late 2018. Translating from Zulu and Portuguese as “The Gods Are Coming”and comprising of new installations and photographic narratives Abalozi Bayeza / Os Deuses Estão presents an introduction to Amira’s ongoing engagement with Brazil.
Let there be light for all the beautiful ones who are born and die everyday. What is bestowed upon the beautiful ones in our mother’s wombs comes back to haunt ‘us’ in our everyday. To acknowledge rather than deny burdensome legacies and contentious episodes of the past, what does it mean to walk a landscape, where bones are still laid bare, fragile and broken? In Abalozi Bayeza by Lhola Amira we are taken on a journey defined as umzila wamakhosi, where we become witnesses to the loss of land and our collective identities in the diaspora of Bahia. The seashore becomes the vista where many who left the African lands were traded as slaves to become meagre labour in the Caribbean and the Americas. Amira traces the tracks of those who were forcibly displaced and forced into permanent exile through the gift of imilozi (whistles).
Umzila: Sibiziwe sasabela
In a song titled, Namhlanje by Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Dyani from the album Echoes of Africa, the opening verses begin with, “Bayasibiza bathi masigoduke, bayasibiza bathi masigoduke,… masigoduke siy’ ekhaya eAfrika…”. These lyrics reflect the content of the photographic narrative titled Obawo bayeza where we witness Lhola Amira’s journey, traversing the landscape of Pindorama, in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Armoured with a whisk as umkhomba ndlela and in the other hand carrying a blue suitcase. What seems clear is that Amira is on a quest, which I term umzila, a path led by those who guide her and the spirit of Yemoja – a sacred female force, according to the Yoruba people.
The Ishoba (whisk), held by Amira, gestures towards ukuzilinda (to guide oneself) but also pronounces a collective of abadala (spiritual ancestors) who accompany her to the territory of Bahia. This gesture of ukuzilinda further centralizes the word ukuhlonipha, linked to ukukhunga (to acknowledge that you are in union with another human being who is a spiritual being with a soul that operates in a non physical dynamic).
In Amira’s Abalozi Bayeza, this is done in the form of a prayer while holding a candle. But if we look at it in terms of African culture and religion, it means respect for people in power. Who are the people in power in the space and place in which Amira is situated within the photographs? The red beads in the image signify those in power and a gesture of sowing of beads is to solicit their power. How does one negotiate a space and place where the spirits of those who did not have a proper burial to place them in their proper positions in the world of the ancestors? This gesture allows the prevailing order and a march towards a state of being and as a symbolism of offering actualizing of a new state.
Imfihlo yobuhlalu (Secrets of the beads)
The installation Philisa, is a circular suspended beaded structure with a heap of coarse salt placed on the ground. Amira’s engagement with the potency embedded within symbolic materials, such as white beads (associated with amathwasa and healers) and coarse salt, points to processes of healing that our bodies need to go through. One might ask what forms of healing? When we talk about post-memory, in a country still grappling with effects of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, how do we erase the memory of violence in our psyches and bodies? And who has the responsibility of such a task? The installation was first presented in Cape Town, SMAC Gallery as part of SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo and as constellation witnesses we were invited to enter the sacred space resembling Indumba. One may ask what does it serve to have such a sacred space in a contemporary gallery and whom does it serve? Philisa as an installation serves to remind ‘us’ to take heed of the violent times we live in and through silence, we may find ways of starting to locate generational trauma, which is our lived reality as subjugated black people.
In the work titled Amakhosi So(u)ldiers, the choice of triangular approach resembles a militaristic formation used in combat when in a combative situation. What comes to mind is the role and contribution of womxn globally in various warring/wa-rlike contexts. What songs would they chant and sing? In the book The Southern Eastern Bantu (1930: 19) John Henderson Soga states, “ In all tribal wars the presiding figure who prepares the army, and instills into it courage and determination to conquer the enemy, is the war doctor (itola)”. In Amakhosi So(u)ldiers, Amira makes a proposition to revisit old forms of healing through Umthandazisi, Umkhuseli and Umboni holding a small forked branch as a whisk (ixhayi) and a wand called (icamagu), normally adorned in beads indicating each successive state of progress of their apprenticeship.
“Serving through stillness and presence, the So(u)ldiers gesture for the mending and repairing of the wound of the land and water through being in the experience of their truth. Umthandazisi walks alongside through the journey, witnessing the undoing of the wounds while validating their continuing existence. Anchors the energy for the work to happen: the call’s purpose, those participating in the fulfillment of that purpose, the consciousness that has evoked that purpose”.
“The guardian and custodian of the ancestral, the spiritual and the living. Warrior and defender as WE seek the wounds, work through and within the wounds. Umkhuseli is the safe-keeper of the sacred, the restorer of the ancient, as our bodies remembers, Umkhuseli protects through the journey”.
“The spiritual medium to gaze ahead and act as a divine intervention as to how the future may manifest itself. Seeks knowledge to map time as an unfolding past, present, future. The prophet that un-bounds the wounds through time. Becoming visible, as the future will not be colonized. Umboni, is an ancestral guide that serves time’s past, present, future”.
In this series of miniature sculptures, Amira proposes an alternative vocabulary to perhaps heal the “watery unhealing wounds” and aid in the navigation – to walk the overmedicated ground as result of homeless spirits who were displaced to foreign lands – and as witnesses of this work it is a way to remind, acknowledge and connect with overlooked silenced herstories.
Abalozi Bayeza by Lhola Amira, could allude to guidance from abantu abadala/amakhosi (imilozi) in assessing knowledge and the vast experience in dealing with ukuthwasa. (Mlisa,2009: 121). This is partly due to Amira’s spending an extraordinary amount of time half-submerged in a sea and atop rock. Lhola Amira seems to be calling for a reclamation and restorative gesture of the living dead and as both a personal and communal responsibility.
 Umzila: a mark or track made by dragging any heavy body along the ground
 The term makhosi or amakhosi in direct translation means king or a person of royalty. This term is used mostly by traditional healers when talking to each other.
 Before the colonization of Brazil, the territory was named ‘Pindorama’ by the Tupi –Guaran people, meaning “land of palm trees”.
 Umzila: a mark or track made by dragging any heavy body along the ground
 ishoba is an animal’s tail that is used by traditional healers as a tool to guide divination bones during divination.
 Indumba is a word referring to a hut in which a traditional healer or shaman carries out cleansing ceremonies and the ritual itself.
 Ukuthwasa: being called by the ancestors to train as an igqirha (prophet/traditional healer).
Marianne Hirsch, 2012, The Generation of postmemory: writing and visual culture after the Holocaust. Columbia University Press, New York.
Mlisa Lily-Rose, 2009, Ukuthwasa Initiation of amagqirha: Identity Construction and Training of Xhosa Women as Traditional Healers, University of Free State, PhD
Text by Sikhumbuzo Makandula