Philiswa Lila


Philiswa Lila (b. 1988) is a visual artist, curator, and scholar fascinated by the socially relevant and timely issues of authorship and agency. She is interested in memory histories and theories of personal identities. Lila works across disciplines like painting, installation, and performance art, and includes the use of mediums such as animal skin (sheep, goat, and cow), beading, wood, paper, photography, video, and poetry. Through her representation with The Melrose Gallery, Dr. Esther Mahlangu selected Lila as an ‘artist to watch for the 2019 SEED auction.

Lila has a Masters in Art History from Rhodes University, an Honours in Curatorship from the University of Cape Town, a Project Management Certificate from Unisa, and a B.Tech in Fine and Applied Arts from the Tshwane University of Technology. Lila became the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Absa L’Atelier and Gerald Sekoto Award, which included a residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. The artworks produced during this residency were presented in her solo exhibition titled ‘Skin, Bone, Fire: The First Album’, first hosted by the Absa Gallery in 2020. The exhibition then toured various museums and other spaces in South Africa in 2021. Lila participated in the residency program GendV Project: Urban Transformation and Gender Violence in India and South Africa hosted by the University of Johannesburg and Cambridge. Through this residency program, Lila created artworks that were part of the group exhibition ‘Stories of our Soil’ curated by Ruzy Rusike and hosted at The Melrose Gallery in August 2021.

The artworks included the beaded sculptural pieces Isilumo (period pains) and Ilokwe yeKresmesi-ndiyamensa mama (a Christmas dress-mama I’m menstruating).

Lila has also participated in artist residency programs at the Bag Factory Studios in Johannesburg (2013) and Greatmore Studios in Cape Town (2014). Other recent projects include a virtual performative work with the Institute for Creative Arts Online Fellowship (2020) and a photographic series with Home Museum (2020). Selected group exhibitions include the University of South African Acquisitions, Joburg Art Fair Dialogue with Masters, Pretoria Art Museum Neo Emergence, Review Exhibition for Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital Trust, Sculptx, Speculative Enquiry 1 (UCT), Stories of our Soil, Vitra Design Museum and Matri-Archi, to mention a few. Her artworks are in collections including the University of South Africa Art Gallery, University of Cape Town Collection, University of Pretoria, Absa Bank, Spier Arts Trust, and private collections.

Lila has presented papers at conferences including African Feminisms (Afems), 14th National Conference of the South African Journal of Arts History (SAJAH), 34th Annual South Africa Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH), and Narrative Enquiry For Social Transformation (NEST) Colloquium & Summer School. She recently published an essay on Creative Knowledge Resources ’bopa writers’ forum titled: ‘Navigating personal memories in my family photo album’ (2021).

She is represented by The Melrose Gallery.

Works in the collection