Lhola Amira: SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo

SMAC Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
28 Mar 2018 - 28 Apr 2018

Lhola Amira | Ukhotho-Manxeba I  | 2018 | C-Type Print on Diasec Mount | 100 x 150cm | Ed. of 3 + 2AP

Lhola Amira | Ukhotho-Manxeba I | 2018 | C-Type Print on Diasec Mount | 100 x 150cm | Ed. of 3 + 2AP

SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo, is a solo exhibition of new work by Lhola Amira. The exhibition opens at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town on Wednesday, 28 March 2018, at 18h00.

The context of the Lhola Amira’s constellation, SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo, is the sinking of the SS Mendi on 21 February 1917, a tragedy which became one of South Africa’s worst tragedies of the First World War (1914 – 1919). A total of 616 South Africans, including 607 black troops serving in the South African Native Labour Contingent, died when the steamship sank in the English Channel on the way to France to fight in the First World War. It is this wound, this catastrophe at sea, that Lhola Amira examines in physical and spiritual realms via site specific ‘Appearances’ to create a harrowing contemplative encounter. We experience this examination in a constellation of film, photography, abstract painting, and sculpture.

For Lhola Amira, ‘sinking’ is ambivalent; for the Mendi men it meant death, but ‘sinking’ also refers to a path to the source of what she refers to as “the wound.” “I noticed that a wound can repeat itself over and over again which is why I asked myself what needs to happen to curb the agony?” This agony is captured on film, in the faces of the womxn, their laboured walk against forces man-made and of nature. This agony is revealed again in abstract paintings; salt-eating canvas in slow motion in an ongoing process, in yet another, layers of red plastic peel off a canvas; sinkings of black bodies continue, Sharpville, Marikana – other sinkings go unnoticed.  To curb the wound, Lhola Amira proposes that we ‘sink’; that we go to the source of the wound, that we peel off layers; layers of skin, layers of history, layers of time, layers of (in)difference, so that we can heal properly; so that we can curb the wound and the flow.

Healing here is multifaceted, speculative and gestural. In Nguni culture, when someone from your ancestral land has died, all they long for is for your feet to touch the soil where they died, to fetch their spirit. The gesture with regard to the Mendi men expressed in film is thus beyond aesthetic value, beyond the gallery space! Gestural healing in this constellation; it’s beyond an exhibition as Lhola puts it, about crossing borders of being and becoming. All the works in the constellation cross some boundary; past and present, pain and healing, physical and metaphysical, disintegration and integration, erasure and presence, invisible and visibility, fragility and strength. Ultimately, the SS Mendi tragedy is transformed into names, names that were sank and erased, Mendi names on canvas are an act of exhumation of men, brothers, lovers, fathers, sons who will never be exhumed again, practically and literally – a symbolic gesture towards healing.

SINKING: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo speaks of the ambivalence of generations, of material, of time, of space, and the precarious fault line that holds boundaries together. Bodies are fragile yet enduring, salt eats the canvas and draws borders between here and there, death and life. The sea sinks the Mendi men yet the sea is our cleansing place; it is a grave and a place for rebirth.

SINKING is a complex congruence of history, power, race, economics, life, and death. Ultimately, Lhola Amira’s ‘Appearance’ is an intervention for collective healing. We are introduced to Lhola Amira look-alike soldiers, battalions of them, trained in the quest of relevance, in the battle for radical black self-love. Yet there is no ego at play here, no bronze; the soldiers are small and made of plastic, one by one they painstakingly come alive, made by Ms. Amira herself. Wounds, the constellation tells us, sustain and repeat themselves through generations and likewise healing has to be sustained. In towing this line, Lhola Amira’s SINKING is an examination of the wound not as a forlorn exercise but for the purposes of collective healing. To curb the agony, her practice focuses on speculative gestural healing: “I would never say this will heal you, but I say gestural healing because ultimately the individual who has engaged with me has to continue the gesture to explore its healing.” The constellation cultivates many moments of awe before the healing begins.

– by Tigere Mavura


#lholaamira #sinking #xasinqamlaunxubo #smacgallery #smaccpt


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