"Illusions Vol II, Oedipus" (2018), Grada Kilomba. Foto: Cortesia da artista e da Pinacoteca de São Paulo.

Poetic disobediences and the urgency of decolonization of thought

Carollina Lauriano
24 Jul 2019, 3:55 pm

In recent years, institutional spaces have turned efforts to the revision of their collections – and thus, the history of art itself – in an understanding that it is necessary to include other narratives not contemplated by the Eurocentric hegemonic thought. In this regard, in order to incite new discussions about its art collection based on the 19th and 20th centuries, the Pinacoteca de São Paulo presents to the public the exhibition “Poetic disobediences”, by the interdisciplinary artist Grada Kilomba.

Playing as a (good) challenge for the viewer, the exhibition features a sculpture, “Table of Goods”, and three video installations – “Illusions Vol. I, Narcissus and Echo” (2017), “Illusions Vol. II, Oedipus ”(2018) and “The Dictionary” (2019), which together total almost an hour and a half of exhibition. Although this number of hours can be frightening (we live in rushed times!), what is this short space for new stories to be created, compared to centuries of the same narratives being passed on? This is where the great intelligence of Kilomba’s work resides: using this oral tradition of perpetuating stories over time to create the messages she wants to tell from now on.

Above: "Illusions Vol II, Oedipus" (2018), Grada Kilomba. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo

"Illusions Vol II, Oedipus" (2018), Grada Kilomba (Foto: Cortesia da artista e da Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

"Illusions Vol II, Oedipus" (2018), Grada Kilomba (Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

In her series “Illusions”, Kilomba reveals the repressed history of colonialism and its traumatic legacy. In each volume, developed in two-channel video installations, the artist recounts Greek myths that are gradually deconstructed, transforming them into a profound analysis of the oppressive social relations that fall on the bodies of the majoritarian minorities. Drawing from the oral African storytelling tradition and using elements that combine choreography, performance, theater, cinema and musical composition, the artist brings up questions of how stories are told, why they are told and who can tell them.

Presented for the first time at the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, “llusions Vol. I, Narcissus and Echo” is dedicated to talking about invisibility policies. In recreating Narcissus’s story, Kilomba presents a society that has not resolved its colonial issue and looks at itself as the only object of love. If for Narcissus there is only the exclusive enchantment for his own image reflected on the lake, and for Echo there is the fate of repeating Narcissus’ words forever, with this the artist makes us question what is necessary so that we can break with this reproduction of colonial and patriarchal formats.

Commissioned by the 10th Berlin Biennial, “llusions Vol. II, Oedipus” is dedicated to the politics of racism and institutionalized violence against black bodies. When referring to the myth of Oedipus, who grows up predestined to kill his father and marry his mother, Kilomba explores the role that fate plays in bodies that are inserted in a system of cyclic oppression, still ruled by the whiteness that cannot conceive its colonial fears of losing the throne. As Kilomba puts it in his video: “It was the father who saw the child as a rival and who, in the first place, planned to kill him”.

Vista da obra "Table of Goods" (2019) (Foto: Levi Fanan / Cortesia da Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

View of the work "Table of Goods" (2019) (Photo: Levi Fanan / Courtesy of Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

“The Dictonary” is a multichannel video installation, created especially for the Pinacoteca, which analyzes the meaning of five words: denial, guilt, shame, recognition and reparation. In explaining each word, the artist intends to create a path of awareness of the words we say, proposing a path of healing and self-esteem for a people who did not choose for their own inferiority. Finally, “Table of Goods” invokes the period of slavery and the traumas caused by colonialism. The sculpture recalls the deaths of enslaved blacks who were forced to work to death on coffee, sugar cane and cocoa farms, also indicating how this trauma has not yet been treated by our society.

Focusing on themes such as memory, trauma, race and gender in post-colonial conditions, Grada Kilomba’s work has the powerful beauty of touching the colonial wound. It is easy to observe that, as Kilomba’s work develops, it becomes indigestible to certain bodies that occupy the video exhibition rooms. The exhibition is challenging, returning the “uncomfortable feeling” of reflecting that racism is a white issue.

In times when we observe a retrogression of thought, where Narcissus attached to his own reflection refuses to pay attention to anything other than his own image, it is extremely necessary to have exhibitions such as that of Grada Kilomba, and other artists who have taken upon themselves historical revision as a way to recreate new possibilities of existence. While some are still attached to fears of differences, Kilomba shows us that looking ahead is the only possibility for new futures.

"Storyteller #1" (2017), Grada Kilomba (Foto: Moses Leo / Cortesia da artista e da Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

"Storyteller # 1" (2017), Grada Kilomba (Photo: Moses Leo / Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

Vista da exposição "Desobediências poéticas", na Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Foto: Levi Fanan, cortesia Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

View of the exhibition "Poetic disobediences" at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Levi Fanan, courtesy Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

This text is part of a series of reviews published on SP-Arte website. The opinions eaxpressed in the articles of invited authors do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the institution.


Carollina Lauriano holds a degree in Social Communication with an emphasis on Journalism. Graduated in Coolhunting (research in art, design and fashion) by Central Saint Martins. Among her main projects are the exhibitions Corpo além do corpo, the Céus cruzados solo show by the artist Sol Casal, and A noite não adormecerá jamais nos olhos nossos. Adjunct Curator of the 13th edition of the Mercosul Biennial, show that will take place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2022.

SP–Arte Profile

Join the SP–Arte community! We are the largest art and design fair in South America and we want you to be part of it. Create or update your profile to receive our newsletters and to have a personalized experience on our website and at our fairs.