WAHALA: On Representation, Authenticity, Expectations and Other Inflated Concepts

SAVVY Contemporary , Berlin, Germany
08 Dec 2013 - 07 Jan 2014

Good’ representation is often a reaction against the white stereotypical representation. Rather, the debate should be about transforming the image, questioning the images that subvert, posing alternatives and recognising that it is not an issue of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Hooks, Bell. Black looks: race and representation. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992. p.4

Wahala is a Pidgin English word signifying trouble, confusion, problematic or complicated situations presumably borrowed from Yoruba or Hausa, and etymologically linked to the Arabic word wahla, which translates as fright, terror or error.

The exhibition project Wahala is a bid to fish in the troubled waters of representation and authenticity: to investigate presentation and representation in artistic production using art as a tool, and get a grip on the parasitic power mechanisms that feed on these concepts. In sync with bell hooks’ suggestion of shifting the discourse from the sphere of ‘othering’ and victimisation, Wahala provides space for experimentation on how the troubles related with representation and various ideological and material images, which might be associated to or used authentically or unauthentically to frame representations, could be questioned, challenged, transformed, cleansed or even ridiculed… with or without proposing an alternative.

Wahala goes beyond the ubiquitousness of representation and authenticity in everyday practices (from marketing exotic holidays and fitting women or blacks into certain positions to the portrayal of crime, piousness, poverty or richness according to particular racial geographical or gender dictums), in academia and in the cultural sector—where artists, scholars or curators still have to deal with representations or find themselves explicitly or implicitly accused of inauthenticity on the basis of their background, race, gender or sexual orientation. Along these lines, the exhibition project aims to explore the ways in which artists and their works can transgress boundaries of authenticity, identify themselves in order to challenge the notions of representation and power relations inscribed in a social context that brings them about, and… force a twist in the tail.

Similar to Aristotle’s ambivalent idea of catastrophe, the change of fortune that happens at the end of a drama and allows for a catharsis of mind and emotion, Wahala can also stand for the metamorphosis of a problematic into a positive situation. Artistic vision often works in a catastrophic way, like a wahala, acting as a virus, insinuating in the social body and changing the “horizon of meaning” of a certain social context.

It is against the backdrop of these reflections that the exhibition project will examine the strategies of renegotiating stereotypes of representation, and inter alia impart a carnivalesque and satirical overtone to these notions. It will be a trial to make sense and find a vocabulary to articulate and elucidate in a hermeneutic way these troubled waters—the Wahala, which essentially accompanies or is an aftermath of representation and authenticity.


With the artists: Katrin Ströbel, Emeka Udemba, Jean Ulrick Désert, Köken Ergun, Alex Martinis Roe, William Cordova 

Curator: To Whom It May Concern 





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