Video frame "Illusions Vol. II - Oedipus", by Grada Kilomba. Photo: Levi Fanan

“It is unthinkable not to position ourselves on what we do. If I don't position myself in what I do, then my position is so great in power and privilege that I don't need to mention myself, and being an exercise in power, then it's a colonial exercise,” defended artist Grada Kilomba in debate. at the Pinacoteca do Estado at the opening of his Poetic Disobediences exhibition, running until September 30th.

Kilomba answered an audience question about the reasons for biographical elements in his work, so positioning there indicates this first–person character: “It is important to explain why in the first person; I don’t talk about others, I have to talk about myself, about my issues,” said Djamila Ribeiro, a journalist who today embodies the debate around the place of speech, one of the elements present in the Pinacoteca debate.

For Kilomba, taking a stand to represent a major break in art history, the “many artists and many white women artists base their work on the absolute exploration of blackness, testimony, language, speech, images, archives and performance of blackness”. In writing this, I remember the paintings in which Adriana Varejao portrays herself as an Indian in one of her series, and I think that one really needs to question representation strategies like this one.
Kilomba herself acknowledges that “this worked until recently because many black female artists did not have access to these platforms, but in 2019 it is absolutely impossible to give credibility to these works. It is important that there is in the reenactment of colonialism. When we speak on behalf of the other we are reproducing the essence of colonial discourse, which is to use the other as an object for which I speak as a subject. ”

Grada Kilomba and Djamila Ribeiro in conversation at the opening of the exhibition. Photo Levi Fanan

In his deep, paused voice, Kilomba uses the words precisely, as in the narrations of two of his second–floor video projections of the Pinacoteca: Illusions Vol. I Narcissus and Echo and Illusions Vol. II Oedipus. In them, the artist recounts the Greek myths in a performative way and then deconstructs them from questions surrounding race. While Freudians understand the death of their father as a family conflict, Kilomba points out that “this fixation on the (white) family ignores the historical and political dimensions of this conflict,” according to his own narration.

She goes on to say, “Within a colonial relationship, however marginalized people obey the law, we rarely become the legal authority, instead we become the punished and murdered by the law itself.” , how to portray in an exemplary way the daily discrimination in Brazil.

Already in Illusions II, the artist deals with how “narcissistic is this patriarchal white society in which we all live that is fixed in itself and in the reproduction of its own image, making all others invisible”, using here also its own narration. In the show's catalog, Djamila Ribeiro points out how, in Brazil, Cida Bento already used the same idea with the term “narcissistic pact of whiteness”. According to her, this concept advocated that “white people consent to a pact to reward themselves, to protect themselves, regardless of the circumstances and, thus, to maintain an unfair state of affairs towards black people.”

Nothing more appropriate, then, to see works like this on the second floor of the Pinacoteca, where is the collection of the institution, so that they function as a disruptive agent in the official narrative of art history that has made minorities so invisible in Brazil. majorities.

The works of Grada Kilomba occupy exactly the rooms in the corners of the collection, as to allow, between one displacement and another, to be able to reflect on the trauma of the colonizing process. In Table of Goods, for example, she creates a sculpture with coconut, coffee and sugar, precisely the products produced by slaves in Brazil. Topped by candles, this sculpture becomes a kind of memorial to the sacrifice of millions of black women.

Already in The Dictionary, it creates an environment where five words are described in their meanings – denial, guilt, shame, recognition and reparation – establishing a kind of pathway for how oppression can go through different phases until it is eliminated.
What is notable in this small set of works is the use of the body in a performative way, particularly in the videos, where Kilomba herself works with a group of actors who act on the boundaries between dance and theater.

This strategy is consistent with its position in defense of decolonization. As she states: “The key moment of decolonization is to position ourselves in our subjectivity to always say which place, what time and space I am writing, who I am and what biography of mine is what leads me to write this and to this production of knowledge. I am reflected in my work and this is the key moment in the decolonization of knowledge and the arts. 🇧🇷

The Pinacoteca discussion is accessible at:

Besides participating in the opening of his exhibition, Kilomba was in São Paulo to launch the book “Memories of Plantation. Episodes of daily racism ”, his doctoral thesis by him defended 10 years ago in Germany, a text that questions not only social violence in discrimination, but the academic format itself.

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