Grada Kilomba: Opera to a Black Venus

Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, Germany
21 Jun 2024 - 20 Oct 2024

Grada Kilomba, Opera to a Black Venus, Courtesy of the Artist 2

Grada Kilomba, Opera to a Black Venus, Courtesy of the Artist 2

The first comprehensive institutional solo exhibition in Germany of the internationally renowned artist, author and thinker Grada Kilomba, shows her unique practice of storytelling, which interrogates concepts of violence and repetition – using performance, choreography, video, large scale sculptural and sonic installations.

Her work has been described as a new postcolonial minimalism, in which form, image and movement blurs the boundaries between disciplines. The staging of her works unfolds the title of the exhibition, Opera to a Black Venus; makes reference to the Black history of resilience and resistance, and is dedicated to the entanglement between ecological collapse and colonial injustice.

At the heart of the exhibition is the new commission Opera to a Black Venus (2024), a large scale video installation and Labyrinth (2024), a site specific spatial installation, both presented for the first time to the public, at Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden.

In Opera to a Black Venus (2024), Kilomba stages a contemporary opera dedicated to a Black Venus, who inhabits the bottom of the sea and becomes the oracle of stories about memory and resilience. In a futuristic scenario, a desolate landscape reveals the archaeology of human existence. The artist has created a unique ensemble, with sopranos, contraltos and tenors as well as percussionists and ballet dancers to elaborate this work. The natural scenography celebrates the few remnants of living nature and encourages reflection on strategies of survival and resistance: Fragile plants, stones, rocks and sand become storytellers whispering through the wind, their stories of survival echoing off the boulders. The artist uses the boat as a metaphor to the politics of violence and draws on her subversive and poetic visual language to ask: What would the bottom of the ocean tell us tomorrow, if emptied of water today?

In Labyrinth (2024), a large scale installation of textile, forming rectangles, Kilomba creates paths and ways through the gallery room. The installation displays the possibility and impossibility of different routes, evoking both the transatlantic slave trade and the constant struggle for global freedom, space and movement. The use of cotton fabric, reaffirms the artist’s practice on natural and efemeral materials such as soil, stone and wood, reinscribing the materiality of history and the sea as an archive of violent politics. Kilomba uses these metaphorical elements as a stage to raise new questions about our shared present and future, subverting time and space and disrupting the linearity of historical repetition.

Selected earlier works, such as Table of Goods (2017), Illusions Vol. II, Oedipus (2018), Illusions Vol. II, Antigone (2019), 18 Verses (2022) and Sounds of Water (2023), will be presented in dialogue with new works, creating a continuity in narrative politics.

A publication project, in the form of a catalogue, will witness and document the collective process between the artist, the artist studio and the institution while making this exhibition, in dialogue with invited writers such as Denise Ferreira da Silva (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), Tamsin Hong (Sepertine Gallery, London), and Ashish Ghadiali (Radical Ecology & Black Atlantic, London).

Opera to a Black Venus (2024) is the last part of a trilogy, initiated with the large-scale sculptural installation and performance O Barco | The Boat (2021), commissioned by the BoCa Biennial of Contemporary Art, Lisbon, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. The second part of the trilogy, 18 Verses (2022), was commissioned by the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin. In Summer 2022, Kilomba presented the installation and performance O Barco | The Boat at the Lichtentaler Park, where the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden is located, as part of the exhibition Nature and State.

Opera to a Black Venus (2024) is commissioned by the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain. The new work and the entire exhibition will be presented for the first time as a major solo show in both museums: at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden from June 21 to October 20, 2024, followed by an exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, from November 19, 2024 to March 3, 2025.




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