Amy Ayanda Lester’s Return to Land, Return to Skin offers a meditation on home and motherhood, on becoming a mother and losing a mother. Revisiting the themes and motifs she first explored in her 2014 graduate exhibition, Here is a Home, Amy continues her poetic retelling of family history. She returns again to her great grandmother’s flower farm in Strawberry Lane, Constantia, from which the family was forcibly removed in the1960s under the Group Areas Act. There are flowers, always flowers, in her work; painted and pressed and photographed. “I began to collect flowers in an attempt to understand this more,” Amy wrote in her catalogue essay, “to understand and accept [this] process of loss; most of them had been given to me after they had served their purpose of love, life, or death.”
As Amy revisits the past, she also revisits methods and styles, poured paint and deeper tones. She begins each canvas with washes of transparent colour that mark the fabric as they pool, then works into them with layers of opaque paint, creating a rich surface of impasto marks. But where her early paintings were largely abstract, she now moves towards figuration and form; and extends her mediums to include collaged images, found objects, lace, and photographs. Her paintings are dense with detail and colour, more evocative of a mood than a remembered scene or figure. Here the particular gives way to the indistinct, the universal. For this exhibition, Amy draws from her archive of personal references – the land, plants, the moon, female forms. They are familiar to her work, her illustrations and designs; symbols of fertility and change.
Amy’s works, for all their vivid colours, are tender and intimate; longing and belonging caught like dust in the paint. The places she paints are both real and imagined, a place to come back to – the body of a mother, a mountain, a field of flowers. “Coming back to your mother is a very important thing,” the artist’s mother, Colleen, told her a few years before she died, “and it is a wonderful thing. It is a wonderful thing to have your mother to come home to.” Return to Land, Return to Skin marks a homecoming.