Khanyisile Mbongwa is an impressive woman, stately and handsome, postured like a Hollywood star from the great movie studio era. Under the mellifluous moniker Lhola Amira, she is a serious, original artist with a remarkable presence on screen and in photographs. With red lips, impossibly high heels and elegant head wrap, she is the central figure in her own ritual. She features in and is the finely tuned inventor of the performance art recorded in the exhibition Sinking: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo, a riveting show at Cape Town’s Smac Gallery. Amira has taken up the theme of the sinking of the SS Mendi in the First World War, just more than a century ago, when more than 600 South Africans, mostly black troops serving in the South African Native Labour Corps, died after the steamship sank in the English Channel on their way to France to fight in the war. The restoration of this great tragedy to the South African historic psyche has in the last few decades been an important marker in the wider...

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