Grada Kilomba - Speaking the Unspeakable

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The Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg is currently presenting Grada Kilomba’s first solo exhibition in Africa—Speaking the Unspeakable. The exhibition is open to public until 14th April 2018. 

Grada Kilomba is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in Berlin. Kilomba has presented work at 1-54 art fair in Marrakech, Documenta 14 in Kassel as well as the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon, among others. She is the author of Plantation Memories (2008) — a compilation of stories depicting episodes of everyday racism. 

Through storytelling, performance and imagery, Kilomba invites the audience to step in, experience the work and in that process creates a space for the viewer to formulate new questions. Three critical questions — ‘who can speak?’ ‘what can we speak about?’ and ‘what happens when we speak? remain at the core, turning ideas of universal knowledge on its head while challenging notions of forbidden and unacknowledged knowledge that is often made invisible. 

Taking into account strides made through academic and artistic thought regarding notions of knowledge, Kilomba deconstructs and redefines ideas of how we relate to that knowledge. She experiments with new artistic languages through a collection of video and sound installations, text collages and text presentations. These experiments and questions slice through space and time....offering new emancipatory narratives. 

Speaking the Unspeakable brings to the forefront new agendas that go beyond what the dominant culture labels objective — bringing forth very complex interactions of race and gender in a post colonial context —confronting the trauma and injury brought on by colonialism. The intention is to enter spaces of dominance, interrupting and disrupting them. 

The work pushes beyond mental visualisation of knowledge and extends towards the realm of performance, creating transformative spaces through imagery and sound. Thinking of knowledge beyond the cognitive aspect and thus removing the separation between the intellect, body and soul. This creates emotional access to previously disembodied knowledge. 

Speaking the Unspeakable reflects on historical experiences —the mask, for instance — is a constant reminder of the imposed silence on slaves, as well as a taking away of agency, turning the subject into an object by preventing suicide (enslaved people would often be forced to put on restrictive masks around their mouths. These masks would prevent them from eating any produce in the fields and prevent them from eating dirt as a way to commit suicide) because enslaved people were not to be lost......only bought and sold. These memories have a sense of timelessness where the past and the present seem to merge. Even as time passes and the world changes and adapts, the traumas of the violent past continue to haunt. These memories are also heart breaking and difficult to process.....which makes the work all the more worthwhile.