CityLife Arts

Visual artist Philiswa Lila decalred Artist of the Month

By CityLife Arts Writer

The Southern African Federation For Contemporary Art (SAFFCA) has chosen Philiswa Lila as Artist of the month for July.
Philiswa explores different mediums to create her artworks including animal skin (sheep, goat and cow), beading, wood, paper, canvas and video. Many of her techniques are linked to forms that will fit bodies or the recording of stories using bodies as archives and traces of personal experiences. She is also influenced by the nuances of language, meaning and experiences of individualismSome of her ongoing projects explore individual experiences as recognisable or familiar narratives to collective frameworks of culture – mainly in isiXhosa but also aware of the interconnectedness of cultures in South Africa. –          

 ‘Umcimbi 6’  
  Umcimbi 6 (2020). Oil on canvas.45 x 32 cm. R8,050.00   In Lila’s work ‘Umcimbi 6′ (“umcimbi” meaning a traditional ceremony or event), which forms part of a 7-piece series where she reflects on a traditional practice, gathering or ceremony, she takes us on a wistful journey of rich colour and delicate lines which dance and intersect each other across the canvas.

To contextualise this work, she gives examples of moments that appear in her childhood memory. Children were never permitted near spaces where rituals like slaughtering animals took place.  The same mystery that envelops these ceremonies seems to manifest itself in this artwork in the swirls of warm colour.  

Lila shares: “In these artworks, the secrets constitute the making of silences that have left room for speculation, gossip, curiosity, suspicion, confusion and assumptions that are not corrected.”  In the same sense that the entirety of these traditional ceremonies is not revealed in her memory, the image lends to the same layered ambiguity.

The combination of curiosity and confusion that one might have when exploring this work is where its true power lies. Not being able to ‘capture’ or ‘detain’ the dynamic energy of this image is what causes it to enchant the viewer; every time one relooks at the work the viewer is able to imagine small moments of this ceremony that takes place in the work.

The swirling lines on the canvas offer a reference to smoke from the fire that was used to prepare the many meals for those attending the ceremony. And with enough imagination, one might even be able to vaguely hear the lilting conversations around the fire of this Umcimbi, possibly even the traditional songs which accompanied them.      

‘At Birth’       At Birth (2020). Oil on canvas. 135 x 93 cm. R41,400.00  ‘At Birth’, according to Philiswa, “derives its meaning from acts of female violence. It reflects a relationship where there is emotional pain, loss and grief.”There is a visceral underpinning to this work.

Difficult to identify at first, as it pertains mysteries of its own, like in Umcimbi 6; but one cannot seem to easily escape from the grip of the striking tones of dark browns that cut through tints of red and nude tones.   “I am reflecting on what it means to be born, but the mother dies”, says Philiswa.  

These contrasting colours, which all seem to possess their own character traits, placed together serve as a reminder of words like: ‘earth’, ‘flesh’, ‘woman’ and ‘womb’ – all places where people and thingsare born, and sometimes die.

The significance of this image is found in the tenderness that she manages to achieve with her treatment of the canvas amidst what feels to be origins of pain and brutality. It is the unforgettable kiss of a wound after a beating.      

‘Like Father’ and ‘Like Son I’                (Left) Like Father (2020). Oil on canvas. 45 X 32 cm. R8050,00        (Right) Like Son I (2020). Oil on canvas. 45 x 32 cm. R8050,00    “In Like Father and Like Son I, I am focusing on the intergenerational transmission of traditional beliefs, behaviours, values and lineage.

These portraits are my reflection on the reproductive preferences of sons over daughters. I have experienced this in my family when a familytree excluded all the females (mothers and daughters) and the preference of sons being the ideal reproduction.

Therefore, in these artworks, I touch on the biological expression dynamics for kinship at the level of resemblance and likeness, while the verification of the same dynamics is filled with dishonesty”, says Philiswa.  At first glance, the physical resemblance in the two artworks is very evident from the choice of lines, textures and colours that Philiswa transmits through the canvas of ‘Like Father’ and ‘Like Son I’.

The similar robust tones that settle themselves proudly in both canvases unite the artworks, and the correlating titles that allow viewers to reflect on the phrase: “Like father, like son”.   

We see a very precise visual language of physical likeness. Likeness in the way that portraits are an important tool for the observation of identities, which in this case can be associated with a ‘family’ name. This display of kinship between the two works leads to unanswered questions and contradictions about other integral members of the family structure. On one hand, Philiswa guides the viewer in the interrogation for the inclusion of the missing female figures, meanwhile on the other hand, she is merely fortifying the male figures through representing them and not their female counterparts.

In doing so, the absence of mother and daughter continues to linger in the background of these images of father and son. The acknowledgement of the female existence is something we are desperately left longing for.  Philiswa shares the process of an element of these works.

Please follow this link to view the artist’s description of her process.     What a true honour to engage with Philiswa’s captivating sensibility in her art practice, that rests with us long after having encountered her works.

There is no doubt that she is sweeping through the Southern African artworld as gentle force to be reckoned with. We have truly enjoyed sharing on this small part of her powerful journey. – – 

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