Fine arts Museums of San Francisco presents Lhola Amira: Facing the Future from December 17, 2022 to December 3, 2023.
Lhola Amira: Facing the Future, which opens on December 17, 2022, inaugurates the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s new African art program, emphasizing the permanent collection as a location of research for the dynamic character of African arts and their contemporary significance.
The program, directed by Natasha Becker, the founding curator of African art, highlights contemporary artists whose work draws on and engages with African aesthetic and cultural traditions. Lhola Amira (b. 1984, Gugulethu, South Africa) is the first person to embody South African Nguni spiritual practices in THEIR* life and work, highlighting the significance of remembering ancestors.
Facing the Future, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, brings together Amira’s new Philisa: Zinza Mphefumlo Wami—or portal for spiritual contemplation and connection—and THEIR single-channel video projection IRMANDADE: The Shape of Water in Pindorama (2018–2020). Amira’s Philisa installation or “Constellation” Zinza Mphefumlo Wami, created in response to the permanent collection’s ancestor sculptures, asks spectators to “be at rest with spirit.” This memorial and resurrection doorway blends beaded drapes with a ceremonial salt bowl for cleaning, golden pillars with candlelight and water pitchers for channeling, and music to aid invoke ancestral energies. The permanent collection’s ancestor figures, objects for communicating with the divine, and masquerades that animate and venerate previous generations further explore the many ways in which African artworks transmit the holiness of life.
IRMANDADE follows Amira as she travels through the Brazilian state of Bahia. The film, a work of “appearance” rather than “performance,” is the artist’s response to the wounding of water, land, and generations of enslaved peoples throughout the diaspora. IN THEIR “APPEARANCES,” Amira addresses the geographical, political, and social aspects of place. Their ceremonial foot washing of Afro-Brazilian women in IRMANDADE is an act of profound awareness of diasporic links as well as a gesture toward healing through ancestral wisdom. “To heal ourselves is to heal our ancestors,” the artist explains. Lhola Amira THEMSELVES describes as an ancient presence coexisting in curator Khanyisile Mbongwa’s body.
The new African art program is the Fine Arts Museums’ latest endeavor to present the work of live artists in connection with the permanent collections, as it has done for the previous six years with its Contemporary art program. The African art program will continue to bring artists who are deeply engaged with African art, culture, and society to the Fine Arts Museums, with a newly built temporary exhibition gallery linked to the permanent collection, to highlight the vitality of the African art collection. Amira will make a “Appearance” to inaugurate Facing the Future and dedicate it as a spiritual space.
*Lhola Amira uses the capitalized pronouns THEY/THEM/THEIR.