Helena Uambembe’s practice is personal and particular and her work is primarily performance and research-based. Her Angolan heritage and her father’s experiences as a soldier in the 32 Battalion – a South African Defence Force military unit made up of black Angolan men – are recurring themes. Uambembe feels that performance has allowed her to capture individual and collective emotions. Her installations weave together connected symbols and archival material, using printmaking, photographs and videos to explore narratives surrounding the Battalion.
Uambembe draws on her own history rooted in the small North Western Town of Pomfret, where she was born (of Angolan parents) and where her father was recruited into the 32 Battalion. Once the home of the Battalion recruits and soldiers, the town has glided into a ghost town as it is slowly becoming deserted and forgotten. In an attempt to understand her family history within the bigger context of the country’s history, Uambembe wrestles with painful memories, absences and erasures.
Uambembe’s work is probing and experimental; her 2018 piece, Can you hear me, uses archival imagery of Angolan leaders Jonas Savimbi, Agostinho Neto and Holden Roberto, where she inserts her shadow against the backdrop of the three leaders in what becomes an agonising image representing millions of Angolans who have suffered at the hands of war.