Ground Art Caffe, Cape Town
04.07 – 13.08.2019
It is a rare thing to find someone like Amy Ayanda Lester. A multi-faceted artist, business-owner, musician and mother who creates throughout the process of her presence firmly being grounded in the present. In utter fascination I take stock of her achievements and can do little but marvel at her story, and the stories begotten by her and her work. ‘Return to Land; Return to Skin’ is a shift in perspective from her earlier exhibition ‘Here is a Home’, in the way the definition of motherhood changes when you become one. Her latest exhibition delves deeper into the narrative she began to navigate in her graduate show, now nuanced with new pouring methods, new perspectives and her endless ingenuity.
“Personally it means more when I play and realise why it has been done after the fact, which comes up more than not in the process. I like to have fun with my art,” Amy says when asked about her process. “Art also means being able to see the world differently; to entertain a surreal, more absurd way of visualizing the world around us that so often places us and everything else in boxes.”
The initial impact of ‘Return to Land; Return to Skin’ is a visual pirouette of texture, medium and womxnhood. Flecks of colour and texture are arranged into movement that runs from one frame to the next; filling the idea of the silhouette that inspired it, with what inspires her. Pools of colour for the eyes to rest in, collages nestled between thoughts and ideas and the patterns that harmonise with them. Amy Ayanda’s use of colour is what has always drawn me closer to her canvas; there is no question only impulse that bleeds into prismatic pigments. Teal Skies calls to the eye with apparitions of blue tangled between a bold frame and multicoloured hills. Me Looking Her and Her Looking Me is a collaged homage to the endless blossoming relationship between mother and daughter, nuanced by the echo of mothers and daughters before.
Within the exhibition are two photographs that were a collaboration with the well-known photographer Meghan Daniels, a name synonymous with a more intimate and unapologetic approach to form and sensuality. The works, titled Suburbs and Vibacrete feature Amy Ayanda poised, dusted with flowers, her body removed of any onus or assumption, simply left in stasis, allowing it to be, existing as it pleases to. In our discussions surrounding femininity in her show and her body, Amy Ayanda said, “For me, it connects me to the other woman in my family. It tells a very intricate story. People do not know if I am white or coloured, people do not know what it has been through. Or hasn’t. It holds secrets, but isn’t afraid to be loud. It has protected me and held me together when I could not keep it together mentally. I am so grateful to it.”
Moreover, discussing the aspect of “land” within her world, and this exhibition Amy touches on not only her history, but our city’s history, saying, “The land lost in Constantia is a distant dream now, my father being five when they moved. Only having ever so slight memories of the ways in which the flowers smelt or the way the light hit the leaves at a certain time of day. The artworks have always worked from a space and then become imagined. Similar to the way in which we hold on to the memory of owning the land with its lush stream and strong tree trunks. What is captured in my work is the power of memory, the way in which we can romanticize and beautify a loss or trauma in order to hold fast to what was precious about it.” The Group Areas Act affected her family then, as the gentrification in our city affects families now. It’s these truths that Amy uses to draw upon, chooses to not shy away from upon her artistic inspection when creating her identity as an artist.
Her work ethic of endless revisiting is also how she holds herself accountable politically, describing her idea of feminism as accountability itself by saying, “At the moment it is more around postcolonial feminism. Western feminist views seem to universalize woman’s issues [and I do this too]; thereby excluding social classes and different ethnic identities, but every woman’s experience is different. So incredibly different. It is our job to be sensitive and to be willing to listen.”
When asked about her identity as an artist of colour, she said, “I can only represent my personal experience of being a privileged mixed race woman. Even though I come from both coloured and white,” I then asked if that affected her sense of identity, to which she said, “I never feel like I own my identity enough. Perhaps that’s my concern, not finding the correct balance in what I put out. But that comes with careful curation and selection.”
Choosing what to ponder, and what to dismiss as an artist is something Amy Ayanda has made a habit of challenging herself with. A skill I’m sure was in fact earned in her personal life. Her family history being intertwined with Apartheid and the Group Areas Act, which was reflected in ‘Here is a Home’, but instead of subsummating her art in the pain that evoked it, she chooses to extend the creative process, bringing it further out of the source, or cause, and reclaiming it for her own. It is this strength, and this resonance that I believe elevates her work, and calls the audience forward to her canvas. It is also this act of reclamation, I believe that aids the process of her continuous challenging of her art; allowing her to be at peace with the elements of her life, since she allows herself to physically do something with all of it.
Her work is an active catharsis; both contagious and freeing for the audience to experience. I asked her which impressions would she’d like the exhibition to leave us with, and she responded with, “Peace with whatever chaos might be underlying within. We all have our demons, our trauma. But, I like to think anything can be made beautiful through art. I would like that to be my gift to the viewer.”