- Buhlebezwe Siwani born 1987
- Video, high definition, 3 projections, colour and sound (stereo)
- Duration: 13min, 1sec
- Purchased using funds provided by the 2020 Frieze Tate Fund supported by Endeavor to benefit the Tate collection 2021
Amahubo (meaning ‘Psalm’ in Zulu) is a colour video with sound that can be shown either as a single-channel projection or a three-channel projection; in the latter version it is projected onto a specially constructed relief depicting a mountain landscape on the wall. It captures a ritual performed by a group of eight Black women dressed in white, filmed in alternating aerial and ground views upon the red soil of a wine farm in the landscape around Cape Town, South Africa. The women perform a choreographic ritual and embark upon a symbolic journey, also appearing beside a white colonial-era church. Their clothes evoke the white robes of the traditional South African healer, the Isangoma, as well as the robes worn by members of the Zion or African Apostolic church – a hybrid, colonial form of Christian worship founded at the end of the nineteenth century. They wear a red cape with a Christian cross sewn at the back. The colours of these robes are symbolic: white and red connoting transition or transformation.
The choreography takes a circular motion representing a meditation that is drawn from the Zion church. The circular motion refers to the beginning being attached to the end – a cycle that represents attitudes to time associated with traditional South African healing practices and spirituality, especially the presence of ancestry. Siwani has said that the women represent the faces of erased people: ‘in the Western Cape black women are erased from the narratives as if they never existed before, as if amaXhosa, baSotho, baTswana, Khoi-San are not interlinked [which they are]’ (in Sikhumbuzo Makandula, ‘Silent and Complex Histories: In Conversation with Siwani Buhlebezwe’,arthrob, 2018, https://artthrob.co.za/2018/11/05/silent-and-complex-histories-in-conversation-with-buhlebezwe-siwani/, accessed 12 November 2020). The three mountain peaks shown as reliefs in the complex version of the three-screen installation are South African landmarks related to the landscape where the work was filmed: Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak.
The video is one of a series of works – including Amakhosi, also filmed in 2018 – depicting dance and choreography performed by Black female bodies standing upon the ground of the South African landscape and evoking a relationship to ancestral history, African cosmology and belief that is embedded in the soil of that landscape, beneath the literal and metaphorical scars of colonialism. Siwani speaks of the demonisation of traditional healing (which was made illegal under the so-called Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957) in relation to Christianity. As a result of colonisation and the arrival of missionaries, there is tension in South Africa between those who practice ubungoma and those who practice Christianity. The artist has said that ‘The body is a vessel for all of these ancestral things which were demonised in Africa’ (in Makandula 2018, accessed 12 November 2020). She understands the work as a ritual of healing, digging deep into the history of African cultural practices in ways that go beyond the attempts made at healing through the post-apartheid ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ meetings. In a catalogue text for the artist’s exhibition, Buhlebezwe Siwani: Qab’Imbola at the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Cape Town in 2018, historian Nomusa Makhubu wrote that Siwani’s work ‘probes the historical entanglements of African religions and cosmologies with Christian beliefs. It locates the practice of healing within the convolution of neo-colonial conditions.’ (Nomusa Makhubu, ‘Women, Power, Healing and African Theoconomies’, in WHATIFTHEWORLD 2018, p.64.)
Amahubo was filmed on digital video and exists in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is number two in the edition and another copy is in the collection of The Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
Candice Allison, ‘Buhlebezwe Siwani’, africanah.org: Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art, 5 December 2016, https://africanah.org/buhlebezwe-siwani-2/, accessed 12 November 2020.
Jay Pather and Catherine Boulle (eds.), Acts of Transgression: Contemporary Live Art in South Africa, Johannesburg 2019.
Buhlebezwe Siwani: Qab’Imbola, exhibition catalogue, WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery, Cape Town 2018, https://www.whatiftheworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Qab-Imbola-Buhlebezwe-Siwani.pdf, accessed 30 October 2020.
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