Gugulethu artist tackles social issues in post-colonial era

Lhola Amira visited Ghana last year as part of her project to assese the state of the country.

Art provides an opportunity and the space for artists to express themselves, and challenges people to be critical thinkers. So says Gugulethu-based artist Lhola Amira, when asked about the importance of art.

The 33-year-old is among many artists whose work will be showcased at the Cape Town Art Fair festival (CTAF) taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from tomorrow, Friday February 17, until Sunday February 19.

More than 75 exhibitors from established and emerging art centres including London, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Lagos, Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Harare, Nairobi, Accra and Dubai are participating at the upcoming fifth edition of the event.

Ms Amira, who is a photographer, film-maker and installation-maker, told Vukani that she was excited to be part of the event and would be showcasing pictures, installations and a short film of her reflection on Ghana.

Last year, she said, she visited Ghana as part of her project to assess the state of the country since it became the first country in Africa to attain its independence in 1957.

Her main aim was to assess the progress it has made in the post-colonial era.

She elaborated that colonialism had been deep rooted in Africa and that it was now time to reflect on the inroads African countries had made.

She highlighted that her artwork primarily dealt with issues such as political conditions of race, gender sexuality and geographical location.

She added that part of her work as an artist involved recycling waste material and creating something meaningful out of them.

She said when she discovered that there was a scrapyard in Ghana where electronic appliances and related waste material were being dumped, she used some of this to create some of the installations which she will exhibit.

Ms Amira said she strongly believed that there was a need for such platforms because they afforded artists the opportunity to showcase their work to diverse audiences.

She argued that art was one of the most powerful tools that could be used to highlight burning issues.

Asked about her love of art, she said as young child she had been involved in community dance groups and had often attended dance events.

But she never studied art, instead she opted to enrol in a sociology programme at the University of Stellenbosch.

It was in 2008 that she decided to pursue an art career.

The reality, she said, however, is that art was an expensive career and there was no guarantee that one would be employed.

“The truth is that it is an uphill battle for black people to get into art because it is expensive to buy the material to make the things you want to make.

“The world is reminding us that it is anti-black.

“The art industry is still white-dominated and it’s a mammoth task for us to break into the art industry,” she said.

Ms Amira said her obligation as an artist is to say what others do not say, or feel empowered to say.

She said her artwork aimed to engage with observers and encourage interrogation while creating conversations.

Ms Amira has performed both locally and abroad, most notably in Lhola Amira Will Make You Cry at the AVA in Cape Town last year. She has also participated in various residencies, including Jiwar Creation and Society in Barcelona, Spain in 2015 and at Vasl Artists’ Collective in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2010.

She said later this month she would have a walkabout at the SMAC gallery in Stellenbosch where her work is being showcased.

She said part of her dreams is to travel around Africa and create more artwork, with Kenya, Rwanda and Guinea being at the top of her list.