Grada Kilomba and the Portuguese representation in the Venice Biennale

15 December 2021

Grada Kilomba and the Portuguese representation in the Venice Biennale

We don’t know the direction or the course of History, that runs at a speed in which emerges all the imponderable aspects, randomnesses, passions and unexpected arrhythmias,
illogical minutenesses that are capable of defining what we call future. But there are defining and significant moments when it is possible to consciously make a difference from this (rebellious) course and shape futures, urgent and useful for the world, that open the ground for reflection, increasing values and representation of a wounded past. The result of the call for the Portugal’s representation at the 59th Venice Biennale, could have shaped that opportunity by choosing Grada Kilomba’s voice, with the project “A Ferida / The Wound”, an artist that has conquered herself a place of speech with her work, which is fundamental in the current international art scene.

Grada Kilomba is today one the Portuguese artists with greatest international projection, an anti-racist and feminist author embodied of an artistic discourse on humanity and representativeness. These subjects that she develops from the memory of the Portuguese colonial past have been poorly represented in the national artistic scene, especially by artists with such worth, vision and significance as Grada Kilomba. 

Those who saw the installation and watched “O Barco / The Boat” performances, which we commissioned and produced for the 3rd edition of the BoCA biennial in Lisbon, will hardly forget the uncanny silence triggered in the audience’s bodies, the feeling of respect, recognition and pain perceived from that place of speech, and such representative value of voices, words and bodies of the Afro-descendant performers. The three performance’s presentations at MAAT’s Coal Square were a milestone in the Portuguese artistic scene, on many levels. Everyone who was there was part of it, and everyone who was not there knows it or should know it.

BoCA regrets that, after a compromised historical silence, issues that are beginning to be vibrantly and seriously debated in the public space, starting to express their place of speech in the national artistic scene, from artistic practices to academic theory, themes that are inscribed in BoCA’s program – by fulfilling its ethical responsibility to give expression to the fundamental causes, discussed in the social, political, economic and artistic spheres, repeatedly made invisible and silenced by History -, the result of a conquered freedom, are not being taken as a distinguished priority in what represents not only a country but a past and a collective world identity (or wound).

BoCA’s program is a seismograph capturing the vibration of art and society matters of today. To program is to be aware of the voices that reverberate in today’s world, from the most subterranean spaces where dissident and counterculture movements are produced, to the spaces whose matters have risen to the category of luminous invisibility, many of them through a collective historical struggle of those same dissident voices. The role of curatorship is also to operate on asymmetries, to rectify systemic injustices, to implement policies of care, that make certain issues a priority in the public discussion. The representation of a country should reflect these steps, transformations and achievements of new collective consciousnesses and narratives, which have been my mission at BoCA. To build hope is to support artists who claim the human and open space for a humanity yet to come, as is the case of the artist Grada Kilomba, of whom we reaffirm her crucial importance in the Portuguese and international art scene, and with whom we wish to continue the dialogue.

John Romão
Artistic Director of BoCA Biennial of Contemporary Arts