08.02.20 – 17.05.20
Lhola Amira | Three Films
SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Three Films, a solo exhibition by Lhola Amira.
The exhibition, comprised of three films by Lhola Amira including Looking for Ghana & The Red Suitcase (2017); LAGOM: Breaking Bread with the Self-Righteous(2017); and SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo(2018), is an overview of Amira’s journey through her search for collective healing. Amira’s search is a response to the wound left by colonisation and the systemic discrimination it has left in its wake. As Tigere Mavura points out, Amira’s practice is as much about this search as it is about subverting the gaze on black bodies, through the notion of Amira’s filmic journey being a practice of ‘Appearances’ as opposed to ‘performances’. The practice of Appearance, translates to English from the Zulu word Ukuvela, which, in the artists words, refers to ‘an understanding of someone’s existence contextualised by a particular historic or futuristic narrative’. In this sense, Amira’s Appearances which form the basis of these three films are a demand from the present to engage with the past and the future. Historically, black bodies have been shown to audiences—exhibited world-wide for their exotic beauty, objectified, commodified and traded. This is the kind of visibility that Amira’s Appearances subvert. Her films can be seen as negotiations around the gaze, moving both through points of ease and tension (Mavura, 2017). She commands the camera, claiming her space within the frame.
Looking for Ghana and the Red Suitcasefirst shown in 2017, was the beginning of a physical investigation into the assumptions and contradictions associated with definitions of contemporary Africa. The project was described by Amira as ‘Looking for Africa in Africa’, the location chosen due to Ghana being the first sub-Saharan country to demand independence.
“For as long as I can remember, Africans have been Futurist…Every time a Black Womxn gives birth she is a futurist … Everywhere in Africa there are monumental colonial reminders. Present in the economy, institutions, street names, buildings, infrastructure, language, clothing, culture, and yet Africans are labelled immigrants or aliens by the colonisers.”
LAGOM: Breaking Bread with the Self-Righteous, the second film, was first shown in 2017. ‘LAGOM’ refers to the Swedish phrase meaning not too much or too little, evoking the idea of neutrality that Sweden has cultivated as their ethos. Amira uses this title provocatively, as a way of pointing out that the neutrality was, in fact, manufactured. Sweden was the first country to colonise Ghana, colonising the Island of St. Bartholomew from 1748-1878. The axe soon forgets, but the tree remembers. The film speaks to the haunting bloom as depicted by the flowering fields—the manufactured sunshine that Sweden speaks of, basking their shores. Amira passes through without picking a flower, holding her iTshoba—a Zulu divination stick—high.
SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubois the third investigation, first shown in 2018. The film is a gesture of healing for the sinking of the S.S. Mendi that sank on 21 February 1917. There were 616 South Africans aboard, 607 of which were Black men serving in the South African Native Labour Contingent. The ship sank on its way to a war that was not theirs, fighting for the British—a people who they had been oppressed by. In acknowledging the tragedy, Amira also acknowledges other Mendi’s that sank: the 1960 Sharpeville massacre; the 1976 Soweto uprisings; the 2012 Marikana massacre; and the continued violence in South Africa. As Mavura puts it, “The fundamental concern here is how to curb the agony… how to enact a narrative of living.”(Mavura, 2018). This concept is a reflection of the video’s title, which refers to how to stop the flow of agony. In response, Amira gestures towards collective healing, making an attempt to heal within the pain.