Grada Kilomba is best known for her subversive writing and her unconventional use of artistic practices, in which she “gives body, voice and image to her own writings”, and brings texts into performance using a variety of formats, from video installations, to staged readings, to performances, text collage, and sound installations. In this artistic contribution Kilomba presents documentary text and images from ILLUSIONS (2016–17), a video performance with live storytelling that retells the myth of Narcissus and Echo in order to question how it is possible to break out of the colonial patterns that continue to imprint the present moment.
Illusions is a performance work in which Grada Kilomba brings the African oral tradition of story telling into a contemporary context, to recover the memories and realities of a postcolonial world. “It seems, we are still inhabiting the geographies of the past,” insists the artist. To explore this coexistence of times, in which the past seems to coincide with the present and the present seems suffocated by a colonial past, Kilomba stages the myth of Narcissus and Echo anew. In the eyes of the artist, Narcissus becomes a metaphor for a society which has not resolved its colonial history, and takes itself and its own image as the only objects of love. Thus, Narcissus is enchanted by his own reflection on the surface of the lake. While Echo is reduced to endlessly repeating what she has heard —the words of Narcissus. Kilomba asks how we can break out of this colonial and patriarchal mould. Playing with the illusion of a double-layered scenario, Kilomba has created a large scale silent film, in which the characters of Narcissus and Echo move inside a white infinity, while the artist, outside and surrounded by an installation of microphones, becomes the contemporary ‘griot’ who retells these mythical stories with a postcolonial urgency.
Written, directed by Grada Kilomba.
Performed (in film and/or on stage) by Martha Fessehatzion, Moses Leo, Grada Kilomba, Zé de Paiva.
Camera by Zé de Paiva.
Camera Assistance by Laura Alonso, Tito Casal.
Costume design by Moses Leo.
Video edited by Grada Kilomba.
Images courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.
The artist has no competing interests to declare.
Grada Kilomba (Lisbon, 1968) is an interdisciplinary artist and writer living in Berlin. She has been exhibiting and performing her work internationally at renowned venues, such as documenta 14 in Kassel (2017), 32nd Bienal de São Paulo (2016), Rauma Biennal Balticum (2016), Art Basel, Cape Town Art Fair, Transmediale, Secession Museum in Vienna, Bozar Museum, Brussels, Maritime Museum, London, SAVYY Contemporary, Berlin, Wits Theatre, Johannesburg, Theatre Müncher Kammerspiele, Munich, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin and Palace of Arts, Belo Horizonte, among others. She is the author of Plantation Memories (2008) and Performing Knowledge (forthcoming) and co-editor of Mythen, Subjekt, Masken (2005). She has lectured at several international universities and was a Full Professor at the Humboldt Universität Berlin, Department of Gender Studies (2012–2013). Kilomba studied Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis at the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada (ISPA) in Lisbon and holds a Doctorate in Philosophy (summa cum laude) from the Freie Universität Berlin.