OKK – Organ of Critical Arts, Berlin, Germany 10 Jun 2016 - 10 Jul 2016
xart splitta and OKK – organ of critical arts present BLOWBACK, a solo exhibition by artist, Rajkamal Kahlon from June 10th to July 10th, 2016.
Blowback is a CIA term, a metaphor for the unintended consequences of covert operations against foreign nations and governments. The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were instances of blowback from American clandestine operations in Afghanistan. In the exhibition, BLOWBACK, Rajkamal Kahlon borrows the term to explore the relationship between early anthropological portraiture and so called modern terrorism. Through Kahlon’s works, a relation of causality appears between Western representations of formerly colonized subjects and acts of political retaliation labeled as terrorism today.
The works in BLOWBACK present “native” subjects, found in 19th and 20th century Dutch and German anthropological archives, reimagined as terrorists. The works attempt to give life, and maybe a voice, to the people whose haunting and anonymous images are still entangled within European imperial archives. The presence of black and brown bodies in western societies is frequently perceived as threatening. Exaggerating and playing on this fear, Kahlon weaponizes those who had been reduced to subjects of science, unworthy of autonomy. Doing so, Kahlon shows the uncanny connection between past and present imperial images.
BLOWBACK builds from another recent project, “Double Take”, which is comprised of a series of life-size water colour portraits and altered 19th century engravings that rewrite the original pedagogical function of colonial propaganda. The exhibition also draws on research by the artist into two separate archives in 2012. The first period of research, funded by the Lambent Foundation, at the New York Head Quarters of the American Civil Liberties Union, delved deeper into their archive of torture documents, death certificates and autopsy reports created since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and released under a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The second period of research, funded by the Goethe Institute, took place at Amsterdam’s Tropen Museum, looking at both the museum’s anthropological books and extensive colonial photography collections which included early 20th century anthropological expeditions to measure and study native bodies.
In BLOWBACK, Kahlon’s reflects on the possibility of translation from the archive to the art work. The works in BLOWBACK include a range of techniques that all aim at restoring the dignity of colonized photographic subjects. Through the different visual mechanisms of her works, Kahlon attempts to offer a living and acting presence to those people who have been dominated, studied, robbed of their image, categorised, and finally, silenced for eternity by the very archive that nevertheless preserved their muted image.