25.05.17 – 26.05.17
Hotel Catalonia Ramblas (Pelai 28, Barcelona)
SMAC Gallery will be presenting Looking for Ghana & The Red Suitcase by Lhola Amira at LOOP Barcelona in Spain from 25 to 26 May 2017.
Coming late to the independence party, South Africans tend to look for inspiration in countries with longer post-colonial records. In the local pan-African circles, Ghana is fetishised as a freedom role model, being the first sub-Saharan country to be set free from colonial rule. This sentiment, powered by the fact that this year the West African country celebrates 60 years to the historical shift, motivated the mysterious and provocative Cape Town based artist Lhola Amira to pay a visit to Accra. After ten days of exploration and months of post-production, Lhola Amira presented her souvenirs from the Ghanaian experience to a South African audience in her first solo constellation at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. After numerous travels, to three continents, Ghana was her first destination on the African continent.
Titled Looking for Ghana and the Red Suitcase, her presentation included a series of photographs, an installation and a short film by the same name. Lhola Amira worked with Ghanaian artists in documenting her journey and through this visit she tackled her own ideas of de-colonialism. The short film was indisputably the heart of her constellation – central, beating, bleeding, looping, and pumping the gallery halls with prayer-like sounds – the work of Ghanaian musician ELi. After the show was taken down, the film lives on. In this 11m 4s video Lhola Amira walks -in 6 inch heels- for 6 hours across Ghana’s capital city, Accra. Wearing her signature jumpsuit, navy blue turban and carrying Ishoba (a Divinity Rod), she journeys as slowly as high heels demand, from a minibus taxi, to a motorbike cab, via the market, to the ocean shore. Where is she going? “Looking for ‘Africa in Africa’”.
The heels make the journey harder, symbolising her femininity. Gender politics is as equally close to her heart as post-coloniality. In a red journal Lhola Amira wrote notes during her visit to Ghana; “Black Womxn super heroes. We see Black Womxn anywhere in Africa, in the iconic image of her with a baby on her back, walking barefoot, carrying tons of stuff on her head, working hard- this image is a representation of our toil and labour. In almost every advertisment that we see about capitalism ‘working hard and working smart’ is spoken of. It’s a lie – ‘work hard and it will pay off’ – it’s bullshit. Black People have been working hard all their lives; on farms, in mines, cotton fields, other people’s homes, cheap labour… Black Womxn are super heroes – they raise kids to become amazing human beings from scratch, from sitting on some street corner and selling fruit or food”. Also in Lhola Amira’s red journal is a prayer that she said to Yaa Asantewaa, a celebrated Queen in the history of Ghana who led a rebellion against the British: “This revolution is in the wombs of Black Womxn. We have been pregnant for decades”.
Lhola Amira’s Ghanaian pilgrimage is filmed in sepia – an interesting choice that mutes the colourfulness of West Africa, which could be confused for celebration. Every shot by Ghanaian filmmaker Wanlov Kubolor is stunning. You can pause at any point – and there you have a striking photograph. However the reality of life in Ghana is not as pleasing as Lhola Amira’s visual and audio aesthetics. It’s probably the opposite of your touristic video advertisment. Lhola Amira looks determined, but sad. “You think I am sad? Listen to Nina Simone when she says, ‘the world expects me to be sad because I am Black’… I am not sad child, I am troubled by what has happened and continues to happen – troubled because I am imagining Africa in the wake of it all”. A shore piled with waste, neglected buildings, a billboard of Ghana’s first elected Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, prolific foot traffic on the imagined pavements, flags, a man lying on a side of a road. Her journey through Accra ends as she enters the ocean. Lhola Amira describes this act as a troubled cleansing, and sites American author; Nayyirah Waheed when she says “We return to each other in waves. This is how water loves”. Floating in the water are the infamous black plastic bags, Accra’s answer to a nonexistent sewage system. Lhola Amira states; “There is a relationship with the West in the pollution… but this is not voluntary love”.
Did she find the de-colonial love in Ghana? No. “Ghana is still in love with the coloniser, whether they want this affair is something else altogether”. Yet Lhola Amira presents her audience with an honest disclaimer: “Lhola Amira remained a visitor during her time in Ghana, seeing and experiencing only a small collection of the lifestyles possible in the country. Looking for Ghana and the Red Suitcase should not be seen as a summary of an entire country”. This short film makes a valuable contribution to the current de-colonisation discourse. It serves both as a complex answer to the romanticised branding of the African struggle for freedom; and a practical example of historiography without the Western filter. Historiography that has no choice but to look forward.
“The only Africa we get to see is written by white anthropologists, captured through a white gaze. I can’t be nostalgic about the past, because that past is engineered by oppressors. I have this Nostalgia about a future I do not know. It’s important to imagine Africa alongside breaking
– Valeria Geselev is a Cape Town based curator and writer
Hotel Catalonia Ramblas, Carrer de Pelai 28
Thursday, 25.05.17 | Professional public: 12 pm – 9 pm | Vernissage: 7.30 pm
Friday, 26.05.17 | Professional public: 11 pm – 4 pm | General public: 4 pm – 8 pm