Amant Foundation opens new Brooklyn “art campus” with Grada Kilomba exhibit

The Amant Foundation opened the doors to its 21,000 square foot multi-building “art campus” in East Williamsburg on June 5. The complex will serve as Amant’s new headquarters, as well as the home for its exhibitions, public events, archival projects, performances and residency program. Conceived as a research and process-oriented platform, Amant provides a public forum that presents and supports the practices of both established and under-recognized artists working across diverse creative fields.

Amant will open with a survey of work by Grada Kilomba (b.1968), the Portuguese artist, writer and academic of West African descent whose work deals with the difficult legacies of slavery and the colonial past. It will mark Kilomba’s first show in the United States.

The foundation is the vision of philanthropist and art collector Lonti Ebers, with the Brooklyn programs to be spearheaded by Artistic Director Ruth Estévez, former Gallery Director at REDCAT in Los Angeles and Senior Curator at Large at the Rose Art Museum. She is also the co-curator of the 34th São Paulo Bienal, which opens this fall.

The New York residency will welcome its first group of four artists in September and will host similarly sized groups three times a year. While its summer residency in Siena is geared towards mid-career artists as a “working retreat,” the Brooklyn program is research-focused, facilitating cross-discipline collaborations between Amant’s residents.

Amant’s program will focus on research-based projects that do not always neatly fit into pre-existing systems of artistic and cultural production. Forthcoming collaborations include a commission by Gala Porras-Kim exploring current practices in the restitution and repatriation of cultural objects, and a new work by New York-based filmmaker Manthia Diawara depicting a series of hypothetical conversations between Martinican poet Édouard Glissant and thinkers of the African diaspora, drawn from Diawara’s own archive.

Amant exterior, under construction, April 2021. Courtesy the Amant Foundation.

Grada Kilomba: Heroines, Birds and Monsters

Amant’s gallery spaces will host three exhibitions in 2021. The first, on view through October 3, is the first solo exhibition of Berlin-based artist Grada Kilomba in the United States, presenting her unique form of storytelling. Working with theory, performance, film and literature, Kilomba reveals the narratives of the colonial past, giving space to the silenced voices whose traumas are ever present. In her own words: “What if history has not been told properly? What if our history is haunted by cyclical violence precisely because it has not been buried properly?”

Kilomba’s work is showcased across three of Amant’s buildings, transforming them into a theatre stage where characters, gestures, words, sounds and props unfold into a hybrid body, exchanging roles and staging a new dramaturgy that traverses geographies and temporalities.

In the exhibition’s centerpiece, A World of Illusions (2017-2019), Kilomba radically reinterprets three well-known Greek myths to expose the unresolved tragedies of the postcolonial condition. Drawing on her academic background in psychoanalysis, the artist dedicates Narcissus and Echo to the politics of invisibility and Oedipus the King to the politics of violence, while the tragedy of Antigone exposes the politics of erasure and the importance of ceremonial memory. Combining music, mime, and dance, she re-stages the fables through African traditions of oral storytelling —the Griot— and building on analogies to the modern patriarchal system through the inclusion of a postcolonial lens.

The trilogy reincarnates as a sequence of photographs with the shared title of Heroines, Birds and Monsters (2020), portraying the female protagonists in a sculptural pose. In The Desire Project (2016) the representational image disappears entirely, with text displayed as the only visual element, accompanied by musical rhythms substituting for the narrator’s voice. The concluding work, Table of Goods (2017), a sculpture born out of ritual-performance, presents as both an object and landscape of the whole exhibition. The trans-atlantic trade between Europe, America, and Africa—sugar, coffee, cacao–are interred in a pile of soil. Kilomba displays these extracted materials as a burial, a symbolic ritual of remembrance of the slave trade as historical trauma, of which the consequences on the psyche are yet to be thoroughly explored.

Heroines, Birds and Monsters applies a new poetic, theoretical, and political framework to the colonial past, and the ways by which these narratives continue to embed themselves.

“Retelling history anew and properly is a necessary ceremony, a political act. Otherwise, history becomes haunted. It repeats itself. It returns intrusively, as fragmented knowledge, interrupting and assaulting our present lives.” – Grada Kilomba

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