Anthony Bila – South African artist

A Photographer’s ‘Black History March’ Vision

Anthony Bila is a South African multi-talented visual artist based in Johannesburg.

In 2013, with the camera as a tool to achieve his objective he launched on his popular blog The Expressionst, the first volume of a visual narrative project series titled Black History March. The project is “inspired by African history particularly, and the absurdity that the history of Africa and its diaspora should be commemorated one month every year”.

Since, he has been making visual declarations by means of (re)claiming and (re)constructing narratives, with the belief that “black history should be venerated just as any other significant part of history is”. Thus, the project now in its second year, he has been launching each volume either before or after the Black History Month –traditionally held in February. His objective is to “dispel the notion that Black History needs a ‘special month’, the shortest month of all no less, dedicated to it as commemoration and remembrance of the incredibly vast history of Africa and it’s peoples”; especially given the continent’s enormous political, cultural, ecological, and historical richness and diversity.

Accordingly, through the lens, he (re)presents (his)story while challenging the Eurocentric notion of (Black) History which is also prevalent in the western popular imagination. The series is full of striking images that narrate profound messages that reach back to uncover the rich history while (re)creating memories of dignified African people, in his visual words. The body of work is no less metaphorically loaded as much as it’s illustratively direct.

His visual imagination and style is serious with a sophisticated street-style appeal; and though the images are simple, it seems loaded with symbolic depth. Each image captures young South Africans – tagged with “Africa is Love” – on the streets of Soweto; and while the presentation seems purposefully rustic, the subjects give an audaciously intense look conveying a carefully crafted fearless statement.

It can be said that Anothny Bila is a gifted visual narrator of our time, and in his own right creating an archive of visual memories. And through his vintage visual storytelling that exhibits visual harmony between artistry and content, he seems to reach further back – “deeper and further into Black History” – to reflect, reinterpret and document while aiming deep enough to tell stories. And through the project caption “Black History March” placed as a double entendre, he reminds us: while we should not forget to look back at history – lest we forget – it’s equally important to remember to “‘march’ forward and soldier onward,” even amidst the many struggles that may exist.

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