grada-kilomba, ILLUSION
grada-kilomba, ILLUSIONS, video performance. Poetry, theater, dance. In her work she combines Greek Myths with video, texts and stories.

At the entrance of the KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin, a photo depicts the 14 most representative figures of the place, in a selection of its own employees. This is “Legendaries”, by the Brazilian Cinthia Marcelle, a series started in 2008, which has already been made at Copan, Centro Cultural São Paulo and Parque Lage, in Rio.
Strange in the image is the absence of the site's founder, Klaus Biesenbach, who has just left his post as curator at MoMA, in New York, to become director of MOCA, the museum of contemporary art, in Los Angeles.
The image is a kind of reenactment of a photo taken by Man Ray in 1941 that included Peggy Guggenheim, André Breton, Mondrian and Marcel Duchamp, a stellar team in modern art. Marcelle's image, on the other hand, presents, in a way, the backstage of cultural institutions.
The work fits perfectly into the 10th. edition of the Berlin Biennale, “We don't need another hero”, on view until September 9 in the German capital. Curated by the South African Gabi Ngcobo, who participated in the Jochen Volz team at the Bienal de São Paulo two years ago, the show brought together artists who, like Marcelle, seek to reveal layers that are often opaque in society.

Cynthia Marcelle
Cinthia Marcelle, 1st Meeting of the Legendaries at KW Institute for Contemporary Art/Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, 2018. Photography, metal plate, document. Courtesy of the artist.

For the first time in Berlin – and what never happened at the Bienal de São Paulo, it is good to remember, the entire Ngcobo team is made up of black people, mostly women: Yvette Mutumba, Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Moses Serubiri, and the Brazilian Thiago by Paula Souza.
Berlin is a biennial that is usually marked by boldness, as in 2012, in its 7th. edition, when the main room of the KW was ceded to the occupation movements that spread across the world after Occupy Wall Street. In its latest editions, however, scathing criticism prevailed due to somewhat hermetic and confusing displays.
The Ngcobo Biennial is a relief in this regard. It has a clear expography, with ample spaces for each work, occupies few places in the city _only five_ and brings together a very small number of artists thinking about shows of this genre, 46 in total. With 30 works commissioned by the curatorial team, the result is strong and eloquent works, which revises one of the pillars of these great exhibitions, when it is quantity that generates quality. At this Berlin Biennale, less is more.
“Again/Noch einmal” (Again), by Mario Pfeiffer, is one of those unforgettable works, which speaks of the present in a poetic and intelligent way. In 2016, in conservative Saxony, four Germans tied an Iraqi refugee with a history of epilepsy to a tree outside a supermarket because they thought he was threatening the store's checkout. The case created controversy in Germany, as the four were prosecuted, but popularly came to be hailed as heroes acting with “civil courage”. On the eve of the trial, the refugee was found dead and the case was eventually cancelled.
The Bienal, however, does not have a constant political tone, as these two works might suggest. There is a very delicate mix between less militant poetic strategies, such as the paintings by the Chilean Johanna Unzueta, dispersed in several places of the exhibition at KW and at the Academia de Arte (Akademie der Kunst), based on indigenous practices and displayed on easels inspired by the projects of Lina Bo Bardi. Or in the plants inserted in the cracks in the floor of the exhibition space of the same Academy by Sara Haq, a sign of both delicacy and the force of nature.

Minia Biabiany, toli toli, Metaphor with the Colonial Past and Present
WITH THE PAST AND PRESEAMinia Biabiany, toli toli, Metaphor with the Colonial Past and Present COLONIAL

The paintings by Cuban artist Belkis Ayón (1967 – 1999) are another highlight of the Bienal as they exhibit the artist's work that addresses the rituals of an exclusively male Afro-Cuban secret society called Abakuá.
The Bienal, by the way, is full of presenting works that dialogue with other fields of knowledge, which is the case of the ILLUSIONS series, started in 2016, by Grada Kilomba, which reviews Greek myths in order to observe the symbolism and allegories loaded with oppression on them. In Berlin, she re-enacts Sophocles' Oedipus the King on two screens: in one, Kilomba narrates the story in a didactic way, in the other, the performance of several actors unfolds in a very choreographic way.
Reviewing authoritarian practices, in fact, becomes a constant throughout the Bienal, but what makes it particularly special is proposing new narratives that function as a possible counterpoint. A detail that stands out, in this sense, is that all the artists present at the Bienal are never identified by their age, gender and origin, nor if they are alive or dead. What can give the impression of a lack of information, in the end, is the practice of equality taken to the extreme. What matters are the works.
The expography also follows this pattern by providing ample spaces so that each work can be raised to its maximum potential. If a Biennial that talks about the collapse of the present time is already relevant, pointing out paths that represent ways out of this crisis makes it vital. “We don't need another hero” could not have, both in the title and in the content of the exhibition, a clearer message.

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