Grada Kilomba: Speaking the Unspeakable

Featured Video Play Icon

Speaking the Unspeakable is Grada Kilomba’s first solo exhibition on the African continent. As a female artist from the African Diaspora who has recently held two solo museum shows and featured at the 1-54 Art Fair in Marrakech, this is a significant moment for South African audiences to experience her subversive and singular work on decoloniality.

With a poetic visual language, Kilomba interrupts the ‘white cube’ to create a space that announces the emergence of silenced voices, as well as explores the relationship between speaking, silencing and listening.

Curated by Lara Koseff and with the creative production by Moses Leo Speaking the Unspeakable features new work that combines myriad art forms and genres – storytelling, theatre, performance and choreography – to explore several means to speak the unspeakable. In this context, Kilomba uses the term unspeakable as a metaphor for trauma, and the colonial wound, explaining how, ‘colonialism is a wound that has never been properly treated, an infected wound that always hurts, and sometimes bleeds.’

Kilomba (b. 1968, Lisbon, Portugal) is an interdisciplinary artist and writer living in Berlin – with roots in São Tomé e Príncipe, Angola, and Portugal. Her work draws on the repressed history of colonialism and its legacy on memory, trauma, gender, and the conceptualisation of knowledge and narrative. ’Who can speak?’ ‘What can we speak about?’ and ‘What happens when we speak?’ are constant and fragile questions in her body of work.

Kilomba studied Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis at the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada (ISPA) in Lisbon. There, she worked in the psychiatry department with war survivors from Angola and Mozambique. Recognised for her academic excellence, she received a Ph.D. fellowship from the German Heinrich Böll Foundation where she attained a Doctorate in Philosophy (summa cum laude) from the Freie Universität Berlin 2008. Her work 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.

Kilomba has participated in significant exhibitions including 1:54 Marrakech (2018), Documenta 14 in Kassel (2017), 32. Bienal de São Paulo (2016), Art Basel (2016) and SAVYY Contemporary in Berlin (2017). In 2017-2018, she presented two major solo exhibitions in her home country, Portugal, for the first time: The Most Beautiful Language (curated by Gabi Ngcobo) at the Avenida da Índia Gallery at the Municipal Galleries of Lisbon and Secrets to Tell at the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT). In June 2018, Secrets to Tell will travel to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Canada’s leading public art gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. This year her piece Illusions was awarded by the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018.

In addition, Kilomba is the author of Plantation Memories (2008), a compilation of episodes of everyday racism written in the form of short psychoanalytical stories; and the co-editor of Mythen, Subjekt, Masken (2005), an anthology on critical whiteness studies. Since 2004, she has been lecturing at several international universities, and was a Full Professor at the Humboldt Universität Berlin, Department of Gender Studies (2012 – 2013), where her series on ‘Performing Knowledge’ became particularly known, as well as her works ‘Bodies without Shame’ and ‘Tongues without Shame’.


Speaking the Unspeakable runs at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg until April 14, 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *