Her work draws on memory, trauma, race, gender, and the decolonisation of knowledge: ’who can speak?’ ‘what can we speak about?’ and ‘what happens when we speak?’ Are three constant questions in Kilomba’s body of work.
She 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 texts, using a variety of formats from video installation, to staged reading, to performance, text collage, and sound installations.
In her work, Kilomba intentionally creates a hybrid space between the academic and artistic languages, and uses storytelling as a central element to her decolonial practices.
She has been presenting her work internationally, including: Documenta 14, Kassel; 10. Berlin Biennale; 32. Bienal de São Paulo 2016; Rauma Biennal Balticum 2016; Art Basel; Cape Town Art Fair; 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Marrakech; The Power Plant, Toronto; MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon; Galeria Avenida da Índia, Lisbon; WdW Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam; Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto; Secession Museum, Vienna; Bozar Museum, Brussels; SAVYY Contemporary Berlin; Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin, among others.
Kilomba is represented by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Grada Kilomba, Plantation Memories, 2015.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Kilomba studied Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis at the ‘ISPA – Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada’ in Lisbon. There, she worked in the psychiatry department with war survivors from Angola and Mozambique. Strongly influenced by the work of Frantz Fanon, Kilomba started writing, and developing projects on memory, trauma and colonialism, extending her concerns to form, language, and performance.
Recognised for her academic excellence, Kilomba received a Ph.D. fellowship from the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, and moved from Lisbon to Berlin, where she attained a Doctorate in Philosophy (summa cum laude) from the Freie Universität Berlin, in 2008.
Since 2004, she has been lecturing at several international universities, and last, was a Associate Professor at the Humboldt Universität Berlin, department of Gender Studies. Her work in the academia was known for its hybridity, in which Kilomba combined theory, writing, and performance as integral part of her seminars; among others she developed for several years the works Bodies Without Shame – Decolonial Feminism; Tongues Without Shame – Decolonizing Knowledge and Performing Knowledge; as well as numerous seminars based on the oeuvres of Frantz Fanon and bell hooks, two of her main intellectual references. During this time she had the opportunity to work in collaboration with several universities from the University of Accra to the University of Arts in Vienna, among others.
Her written work has been published in numerous international anthologies and translated into several languages. She is the co-editor of Mythen, Subjekt und Masken (2008), a pioneer anthology on Critical Whiteness; and the author of Plantation Memories (2008), a compilation of episodes of everyday racism written in the form of short psychoanalytical stories, and released at the International Literature Festival, at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Berlin. Soon after its release, her book became internationally acclaimed, and Kilomba started presenting herself on stage with performative readings of her own book, at prominent theatres, literary and academic venues. In 2011, she was awarded as one of “The Most Inspirational Black Women in Europe” by the Austrian BWIE due to her writings and performative readings; and in 2013, she was named a “Woman of Excellence” by the German Sonne Magazine.
Working between Berlin and London, in 2010, Kilomba developed a project titled Performing Knowledge, as a visionary concept of her own hybrid practices, in which academic and artist languages intentionally merge. During this time, she started exploring theoretical and political texts on stage and the performance and the visualisation of post-colonial narratives. Among others, she adapted her own book Plantation Memories into a staged reading (2012), with an ensemble of theatre actors who are now part of her most important artworks, exploring the visualisation and performance of her own texts. Only recently, she adapted the live recording of this performance into a video installation, Plantation Memories (2018), a 14’14” intense narrative performed in a minimalist black stage, where the voices and expressions of the actors become prominent – this work was first shown at her solo exhibition Speaking the Unspeakable, 2018, at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
From 2010 to 2015 she developed numerous lecture-performances reflecting on knowledge production and violence, and how violence can be produced through knowledge production: “What is acknowledged as knowledge? Whose knowledge is this? Who is acknowledged to produce knowledge?” These questions remained a constant topic in her work, in particular on the lecture-performance Decolonizing Knowledge (2013), presented internationally, and in which she is concerned with the concepts of knowledge, race and gender, exposing not only the violence of classic knowledge production, but also how this violence is performed in academic, cultural and artistic spaces. To touch this colonial wound, says Kilomba, she “intentionally creates a hybrid space where the boundaries between the academic and the artistic languages confine, to transform the configurations of knowledge and power.”
In 2013/2014 she has decided to leave the academia and work exclusively in creative platforms, such as the theatre. In 2015, Kilomba create a two years series of artist talks at the Maxim Gorki Theatre to intervene artistically on the European migrant crisis discourse, the acclaimed series titled KOSMOS² (2015 – 2017) at Studio R, a performative intervention and critical dialogue and between refugee artists and herself, about the importance of subversive artistic practices. In these highly thought provoking works, Kilomba continued exploring experimental formats to approach her questions, placing her works in very different platforms. In a recent interview to the Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt Magazine (2018) she says “My work is very experimental and hybrid. It is a work that can be placed everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But, I believe because in Contemporary Art everything is possible, here my work seems not only to be in place, but at home.”
Kilomba entered the contemporary art world, in 2016 only, when she was invited to make a work for the 32. Biennal of São Paulo.
This followed Documenta 14, in Kassel 2017; two major solo exhibitions at Galeria Avenida da Índia in Lisbon (2017) curated by Gabi Ngcobo, at MAAT- Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon (2017) curated by Inês Grosso; and several international group exhibitions, including two shows at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and Cape Town (2017), at Museu Serralves in Oporto (2017), and at the Museu das Artes in Belo Horizonte (2017); by the end of the same year, the International Film Festival Rotterdam awarded her artwork Illusions Vol. I , Narcissus and Echo (2017).
2018 Secrets to Tell, The Power Plant, Toronto, Canada
2018 Speaking the Unspeakable, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
2017 Secrets to Tell, MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture. and Technology, Lisbon, Portugal
2017 The Most Beautiful Language, Gallery Avenida da Índia, EGEAC, Lisbon, Portugal
2018 We don’t need another hero, 10. Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany
2017 Incerteza Viva – Live Uncertainty, selected artist to represent the 32. Bienal de São Paulo, Centro Dragão do Mar de Arte e Cultura , Fortaleza, Brazil
2017 3. Berliner Herbstsalon, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany
2017 The Silences Between, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2017 Incerteza Viva – Live Uncertainty, selected artist to represent the 32. Bienal de São Paulo, at the Palace of Arts, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
2017 SouthSouth – Let Me Begin Again, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2016 O futuro será uma réplica – The future will be a replica, Consul of Portugal in São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Incerteza Viva – Live Uncertainty, 32. Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Vulnerability, Rauma Biennial Balticum, Rauma, Finnland
2016 Knowledge Unbounded, Department of Arts and Aesthetics Edxhibition, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
2016 Banquete Antropofágico – Anthropophagic Banquet, Department of Contemporary Arts Exhibition, University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2017 Documenta 14, Kassel, Germany
2017 SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
2017 Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2016 Teatro Vila Velha, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
2016 32. Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Theatre Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany
2016, Wits Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa
2016 Theatre Münchner Kammerspiel, Munich, Germany
2016 Goethe Institut Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
2016 TheaterTreffen, Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Berlin, Germany
2016 Secession Museum Vienna, Vienna, Austria
2016 University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria
2016 University of Accra, Accra, Ghana
2016 Berliner Festspiele, Berlin
2016 Kampnagel, Hamburg, Germany
2016 Mostra Internacional de Teatro em São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Bozar Museum for Contemporary Arts, Brussels, Belgium
2016 SOAS University of London, London, UK
2015 Theatre Münchner Kammerspiel, Munich, Germany
2015 Antwerpen Museum, Antwerpen, Belgium
2015 Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Vienna, Austria
2015 Theatre Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany
2015 International Arts Center José Guimarães, Guimarães, Portugal
2015 Theatre Ballhaus Naunynstrass, Berlin, Germany
2015 Oslo House of Literature, Oslo, Norway
SELECTED ARTIST TALKS/ LECTURES
2017 Academy of Arts Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2017 Transmediale, House of the World Cultures, Berlin, Germany
2017 Art Fair Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
2017 Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany
2016 AfroTranscendente, São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Goethe Institut Salvador da Bahia, Bahia, Brazil
2016 Berlin University of Arts – UdK, Berlin, Germany
2016 ArtBasel, Basel, Switzerland
2016 Mousonturm House of Arts, Frankfurt, Germany
2016 University of Accra, Accra, Ghana
2016 Goethe Institut São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
2016 Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany
2015 Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Vienna, Austria
2015 Theatre Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin, Germany
2015 University of Linköping, Linköping, Sweden
2015 Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2015 University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Holland
2015 University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
2015 Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany