Shot in Sweden, the short film, ‘LAGOM: Breaking Bread With The Self-Righteous’ sees an Appearance by Lhola Amira. She does not perform, she Appears. She looks a little lost in a field of flowers in bloom, a vista of beauty, yellow everywhere – ‘everyone loves the sunshine’ reads graffiti on a wall at the harbour; she does not pluck a single flower.
‘LAGOM’ (pronounced laah’gom) is the Swedish ethos of “not too much, not too little – just the appropriate amount.” “I wanted to see the kinds of benefits that colonialism afforded a country like Sweden, and I have my own obsession with remembrance,” says Amira.
Sweden has successfully cultivated a neutral imagery; its footprints around colonialism and slavery seem non-existent, buried. Yet Sweden was the first country to colonise Ghana. It colonised the Island of St. Bartholomew from 1784 to 1878. “The axe soon forgets but the tree remembers,”says an African proverb. The self-righteous have skeletons in their cupboards. Lhola Amira is enacting wound dialectics to facilitate healing; in her red suitcase, she carries de-colonial love, an urgent antidote.
Sweden’s colonial history speaks of “a black woman for one’s health whereby it was regarded as good for one’s health amongst the Whiteman of the Island of St. Bartholomew, including married men to consort with a black woman. Children born out of such relationships became the slaves of their own father.”
Amira raises her iTshoba (Zulu divination stick) and asks white feminists uncomfortable questions. She raises her iTshoba in a field of yellow flowers, she knows the violence of Sweden’s bloom. Somewhere in the film, a man taps Amira on the shoulder and whispers “I have never seen anything this beautiful in 40 years.” She will settle for 40 acres.
Amira’s Appearance in Sweden speaks to “rememoration” that turns the narrative of bloom into a haunting memorial of what has been excluded, excised and evicted. Her very presence; every step, every glance is a quite rebellion that rips through the sly civility of ‘LAGOM’. There is a change of clothing to speak of marked bodies – blue for brown. The mining area that she is in reminds her of marked bodies in uniform, for sale, for cheap labour. In 1804, on the Island of St. Bartholomew, Swedish authorities passed new customs regulations to the effect that “the duty on a human kidnapped from Africa is now two dollars and the duty on an African born in the West Indies is now six dollars.” She remembers. But her body is maked in others ways too.
Lhola Amira worked with Swedish photographer, Annie Hyrefeldt. “It became an inevitable question to ask Annie, how does a white woman shoot a black woman? and that in itself gave her the space to possibly alter her gaze and maybe look at me and see or it sharpened her gaze with a lense of over 425 years of colonialism”.
In subtle and overt ways, the film reveals various negotiations around the gaze, the points of ease and unease. In some instances, the camera inspects the body, in some it exposes vulnerbility whereas in reverse we see Amira dominating the camera and claiming self and ’space’. It’s an on-going drama throughout the film but there are also other nuances of the gaze in relation to history, memory, political geography and material culture.
Towards the end, Amira spends time by the water. Bearing witness, her thoughts gather around bodies that navigate water for fun and bodies that navigate water for life and sometimes immediate death. “Poetic aesthetic is not possible no matter how beautiful I make the film.” Lhola Amira.
My practice is Appearance, translated from the Zulu word Ukuvela; an understanding of someone’s existence contextualised by a particular historic or futuristic narrative. Thus my Appearances are a demand from the present to engage with the past and the future. Appearance as a practice comes from a common ancestral/ spiritual presence amongst the Nguni people of Southern Africa and is understood as plural existence. – that in one body exist more than one person. I have a plural existence with Khanyisile Mbongwa and it for this reason amongst others that I am not performing nor am I a performance artist. – Lhola Amira
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KUBATANA, An Exhibition with Contemporary African Artists
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