Grada Kilomba is wise when it comes to describing her past work counseling war victims. “It was a long time ago,” the Portuguese artist and author, who trained in clinical psychology and psychoanalysis, told me on a recent trip to New York.
In a hospital in Lisbon, and later in Berlin, where she moved in the mid-2000s, Kilomba will meet refugees from different countries experiencing fresh trauma. “People were coming straight from war situations,” she said. He worked especially with women and children.
What stayed with him were the stories – and how they were told. “Most of all I was fascinated by the stories I was hearing, and the images that appeared to deal with them, to stage them,” she said. “And the same is reflected in my work.”
Kilomba, 53, is now a noted visual artist, whose work blurs the disciplinary lines associated with art and ritual; film, sculpture and performance; Greek mythology, black studies and feminism. “I don’t want to imprison myself in one format,” she said. “Each story wants to be told a certain way.”
it is shown in Sao Paulo Biennale In 2016, Documenta in 2017, and the Berlin Biennale in 2018. And this season he has major projects on both sides of the Atlantic: his first large-scale public installation in Lisbon, and his first United States exhibition, at the Ament Foundation. Brooklyn, through October 30.
Storytelling, as both essential and method to healing, is the thread that runs through her art and links it to her past clinical practice; her years teaching psychoanalysis and post-colonial studies; His writings, especiallyPlantation Memories: Everyday Episodes of Racism(2008), Drawing on interviews of black European women; And her personal journey to understand her roots and subjectivity.
“Grada’s practice as an artist emerged as a whole, nurtured by other practices,” said Omar Berada, author and curator who has hosted his talks at Marrakesh and Cooper Union. “She came with a world into the world of contemporary art.”
The kilomba is a distinctive figure, with a distinctive style of thick corners that extend into long braids, and spoke softly and precisely all at once. He offered me a walk-through of his exhibition in Amanta, a quiet venue opened this year, along with its artistic director Ruth Estevez, who curated the show.
One work, “The Desire Project”, is a text fragment projected on three walls of a dark room, in which Kilomba expresses how writing brings liberation: “I write almost as an obligation to find myself . . . .. I am the right of my own history.” At the entrance of the room is a shrine of Escrava Anastasia, a Brazilian folk symbol presented as a slave woman who is forced to wear an iron mask that prevents her from speaking. Estevez observed that this passage – from objectification and enforced silence to absolute agency – is a core drive in Kilomba’s work. “By becoming the subject, she frees herself to write and create what she needs.”
One installation, the “Table of Stuff,” consists of a hill of clay, surrounded by candles and studded with sugar, coffee, and chocolate. The pursuit of these luxuries, Kilomba said, brought devastation: plantations, monocultures, slavery. “The pleasures of the West and the horrors of the rest,” she said. “I wanted to put it into action.”
The showstopper is “A World of Illusions”, three performance films shown in a triangle, with Kilomba alluding to the myths of Narcissus, Oedipus and Antigone, building to pointed reinterpretations. In each, the actors quietly play the story with musical interludes against a blank background, while Kilomba, on a small screen, narrates—in the way, she said, of a West African grit.
Narcissus, she proposes, may tell us something about whiteness’s self-esteem. Oedipus speaks of the role of cyclical violence in maintaining the state. And Antigone – the women playing every role in Kilomba’s staging – suggests a need to be remembered. “These women are re-telling the past,” she said, “but preparing the memory to live in the present and design the future.”
Kilomba’s work illustrates how trauma and erosion are the wounds that tear society apart.
When she was born, in 1968, Portugal was waging war against liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, only to be followed by the 1974 coup in Lisbon, beginning the Carnation Revolution, and, a year later, for freedom. former colonies. But for African families already living in Portugal, like them, the laws still enforced the use of Standard Portuguese instead of African names.
Kilomba is a retrieved family name that he learned from his grandmother; His name is not on his passport. On his first trip to Africa in 1999 to the islands of So Tomé e Principe, he visited plantation sites, in search of documentary traces of his ancestors.
Growing up on the immigrant outskirts of Lisbon, Kilomba found both the beginning of his career in psychology and psychoanalysis and methods of self-understanding. But she found Portugal limiting: “I wanted to do a lot of things and all of them were forbidden,” she said. “I was the only black student in my university department. You are in constant isolation.”
She earned, and lived, a grant to complete her doctoral studies in Berlin; The city has been his home since 2008. That said, it attracted him to his role as a landmark of black thinking in Europe. web du bois time there in 1892-94 audrey lorde Nearly a century later.
Another appeal was Germany’s reconciliation with its Nazi past. “If other countries are in a state of denial and repression, Germany is in a state of guilt and shame,” she said. “It’s a starting point – you can ask questions, do experiments, work on difficult topics.”
Kilomba’s psychoanalytic approach places him in the lineage of thinkers – especially Frantz Fanon – Those who have resorted to this apparently western region to understand the ill-effects of colonial domination. But in his case, it has led him to find perfection in the visual arts.
“I look at art like an iceberg,” she said, “where you’re used to seeing everything on top, but I draw the viewer into the unconscious world, and disrupt the collective imagination. That’s what I need to do.” like.”
Kilomba’s work is resonating. their 2019 exhibition in Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo There was a sensation, for the inauguration of which people queued up all day. “There’s a seduction about it,” said Pinacoteca chief curator Valeria Piccoli of Kilomba’s art. “Their thinking is really sophisticated but when it comes to work the message is clear.”
In Lisbon this fall, Kilomba has installed 140 slabs of burnt wood outside Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. They form patterns associated with images of slave ships and their cargo holds. The waterfront site is highly charged: a huge one nearby”Monument to the Explorers“Those who built the Portuguese Empire, their ships often launched from these docks.
More than a counter-memorial, Kilomba’s “O Barco” (“The Boat”) is an act of healing. The public can walk between the blocks, some of which are carved with lines of poetry in European and African languages. NS artists Those who have joined Kilomba in dance and song at the establishment are non-professionals from Lisbon’s black community.
The project is quietly radicalized in Portugal where “addressing racial issues from a racial perspective is still not so common,” said the composer. kalaf applanga, who scored. Only recently, Beatrice Leanza, executive director of MAAT, said, “These topics have received the urgency they deserve.”
For Kilomba, the need goes beyond activism to a deeper catharsis: “How can you live in a city where you don’t have symbols and metaphors for elaborate trauma?” The stakes are universal given the global rise of violent ideologies. “I am concerned about the recurrence of vandalism,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to tell stories anew.”
Grada Kilomba: Heroines, Birds and Monsters
Through October 30, Amanta, 315 Mauser Street, Brooklyn, amant.org.
hey barco/the boat
Through October 17, MAAT, Av. Brasilia, Belem, Lisbon, mat.pt.