Biennale of Sydney

Lhola Amira

Lhola Amira, Philisa: Ditaola, 2018-20. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch. Photograph: Jessica Maurer.
Lhola Amira, 'Philisa: Ditaola', 2018-20. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch. Photograph: Jessica Maurer.
Lhola Amira, 'Philisa: Ditaola', 2018-20. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch. Photograph: Jessica Maurer.
Lhola Amira, 'AmaKhosi', 2018. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Art Gallery of New South Wales. Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.
Front to back: Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams, 'Hand-written notes of the artist (selected by Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and Sammy Dodd)'; and 'Experiments on found maps', 2012-2019. Presented at the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from Australia Council for the Arts and Fondation Opale. Courtesy Mimili Maku Arts; and Lhola Amira, 'AmaKhosi', 2018. Presentation at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney was made possible with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch; and Joël Andrianomearisoa, 'THERE MIGHT BE NO OTHER PLACE IN THE WORLD AS GOOD AS WHERE I AM GOING TO TAKE YOU', 2020. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with assistance from the Ambassade de France en Australie and Institut Français. Courtesy the artist and Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid; and Mostaff Muchawaya, 'Ndichawanewe', 2017, private collection, Melbourne. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Art Gallery of New South Wales. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.

Lhola Amira

Born 1984 in Gugulethu, South Africa
Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa


"Philisa asks us to remember our ancestors, who are woven into umlibo womoya (currents of energy), arching through blood and bone to inkaba (our origin). Our ancestors are energy that is transformed not destroyed. To heal OURSELVES is to heal our ANCESTORS too. The work is about listening.
Listening to the land, listening to the water, listening to the blood and bones of our ancestors, listening to what our bodies remember.
Listening to where the songs were last sung.
Listening to where rivers used to be.
Listen. To the silence.
Listen to find the wound, where it hurts, why it hurts, how it hurts.
Listen for the medicine.
WE look at objects as an act of creation, conceived as a process of becoming. Philisa in OUR practice is not a notion of representation, for WE see and understand objects as born to carry out a purpose. Objects in our everyday exist as signals. Thus, when WE make objects, they are intended to function as triggers. Here WE speak of triggers as remembrance, and an act of remembering."

Lhola Amira’s works address the wounds left by colonisation across many disparate contexts, to create spaces for healing through connection to the earth, the ancestral, and the spiritual. At Cockatoo Island, Amira creates portals for memory and rejuvenation, where through a beaded curtain above a ceremonial healing bed of salt, one can hear the sounds of singing, specifically created to heal and transform the body into a space of wellbeing, ancestral connection and self-care.

In an intimate set of mini icons placed on a bed of healing salt at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Amira’s multi-faceted so(u)ldiers stand in action to the grand military heroics often represented within historical museum collections. Here, THEIR mini selves embody notions of collective healing through attending to the memory of colonial wounds that continue to re-open and reverberate in the present. This work is connected spiritually and metaphysically to Amira’s large-scale installation on Cockatoo Island, a constellation of human-sized healing pods.

Lhola Amira is an interdisciplinary artist whose work translates into photography, video and installation. Amira defines THEIR practice as ‘appearance’ – a term that draws from African Nguni spiritualism. As part of THEIR work as a black, queer artist, Amira conceives THEIR existence in plural – plural existences in one body – as well as an understanding of the Zulu notion of Ukuvela, which contextualises an individuals’ existence in relation to collective historical and future narratives. Central to Amira’s practice are gestures toward collective healing, emanating from an examination of the wound left by colonisation and systematic discrimination, as well as its continued weeping.

Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons
Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch

Exhibited Artwork

Lhola Amira, Philisa: Ditaola, 2018-20, mixed-media installation; Philisa Portals (wood and glass beads), sea salt (naturally evaporated solar salt made in Australia), golden pillars, candleholders, salt water collected from Cockatoo Island, sound, dimensions variable. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch. Extended thanks, gratitude and acknowledgement to the following people who played an integral part throughout the journey of this constellation: Thembsie Mbongwa, Lolita Lungile Mbongwa, Noncedo Gxekwa, Barbara Thandeki, Pieta Magengenene, SMAC Gallery.

Photograph: Jessica Maurer

Location: Cockatoo Island

Lhola Amira, AmaKhosi (Umboni – The Seer (gold so(u)ldiers); Umkhuseli – The Protector (black so(u)ldiers); Umthandazisi – The Space Holder (red so(u)ldiers)), 2018, hand-cast polyethylene, open edition. Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation and assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons. Courtesy the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / Stellenbosch.

Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Location: Art Gallery of New South Wales