- Grada Kilomba born 1968
- Video, high definition, 2 projections, colour and sound (stereo)
- Duration: 45min, 38sec
- Purchased with funds provided by the 2020 Frieze Tate Fund supported by Endeavor to benefit the Tate collection 2021
A World of Illusions is a six-projection video installation constructed from three works, comprising two projections each: Illusions Vol. I, Narcissus and Echo 2017 (Tate T15690), Illusions Vol. II, Oedipus 2018 (Tate T15691) and Illusions Vol. III, Antigone 2019 (Tate T15778). Each of these ‘volumes’ is filmed in colour with sound as a stand-alone work which can be displayed separately as a projected video installation or collectively as A World of Illusions. They last just over thirty, forty-five and fifty-four minutes respectively. Each work follows the same format with an enactment of the mythological play of their title projected on a large, landscape-oriented screen. On a smaller, portrait-oriented screen to the left is a projection of the artist narrating the story. Collectively, as A World of Illusions, the installation is projected in a triangular format with the three large, landscape-oriented screens at the centre and the smaller, portrait-oriented screen to the left of each larger screen.
The A World of Illusions trilogy centres on Kilomba’s narration of Greek mythology as she retells the stories of Narcissus and Echo, Oedipus and Antigone respectively. Kilomba narrates the stories in English, while Black actors dramatise a re-imagining of the myths. They are dressed in black, red or white. Paring down costumes, sets and props, Kilomba lays bare the bones of the archetypal myths and questions the ever-expanding white space of the screen as a metaphor for perceived neutrality, as alluded to in the installation’s title. Kilomba has described Greek mythology as ‘universal stories … that represent the human cause and represent the human conflicts’ but in discovering that she could not see herself in the interpretations of these stories she asked ‘how would I read these stories if I could place, race, gender, sexuality … as an inclusive part of this story-telling? … how do I re-read and can retell these stories in the post-colonial moment?’ (Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Verbier Art Summit, 8 March 2019, accessed 4 January 2020). Kilomba excavates these stories to expose the inconsistencies of European colonial morality set against its own archetypes.
The power of Greek mythology to convey universal human conflict and struggles is critical for Kilomba. She uses the video installation format as a story board to re-examine these myths and question the source of inherited Western knowledge, particularly as it intertwines with power and violence. According to the artist, in Vol. I of A World of Illusions, Narcissus serves as ‘a metaphor for this white patriarchal society that keeps reproducing its own image as the ideal image and invisibalises all the other bodies … Echo is the consensus. She reminds us what are we allowing to happen in our society … do we reproduce the last words of Narcissus – of the system – or do we create our own narrative?’ (Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Bildmuseet 2019, accessed 11 October 2019).
Turning to the story of Oedipus in Vol. II, Kilomba examines the importance of knowing one’s history. She frames colonial history in terms of the character of Oedipus, explaining that ‘as much as he runs, he cannot escape his own past’. Kilomba has stated that white society suffers from an unresolved Oedipus complex in that ‘the rivalry and aggression towards the father figure [the nation-state] that cannot be performed is then performed on marginalised bodies – on women, on black women, on black men, on colonised bodies, on transgender bodies, on homosexual bodies, on the bodies that are seen as deviating.’ (Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Bildmuseet 2019, accessed 11 October 2019).
In Vol. III Kilomba concludes the trilogy through the story of Antigone – daughter of Oedipus – who, through her disobedience to the head of the family, her uncle, acts as a symbol of challenging the patriarchy and colonialism. This act of disobedience against the words of a man shows Antigone as privileging the ‘law of the gods’ – the law of humanity. In Sophocles’s play of her story, one of her brothers, Eteocles, is allowed to be buried and honoured, but her other brother, Polynices, is not. Kilomba explains this as symbolic of ‘laws which divide humans and sub-humans into those who are allowed ceremony and those who are not allowed ceremony’. In defying her uncle’s orders and risking death by burying Polynices, Antigone’s actions symbolise a challenge to colonial systems of power. Kilomba equates the ritual of funeral rites with the right to memory, explaining that ‘certain identities don’t have access to the archive of memory’ within colonial structures (Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Bildmuseet 2019, accessed 11 October 2019). Kilomba thus sees Antigone as a metaphor for marginalised people who are reclaiming their rights to culture, memory and dignity.
Central to Kilomba’s artistic, literary and philosophical investigations are three questions: What stories are told? How are they told? And by whom? These questions allow her to unpack intersectional racism as she examines memory, trauma and gender in colonial and post-colonial narratives. In her re-telling of old stories, Kilomba imagines new possibilities to re-centre marginalised bodies and assert their constancy throughout history.
Vol. I, Vol. II and Vol. III of A World of Illusions each exist in editions of five with two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copies are all number four in their edition.
Grada Kilomba, Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, Münster 2008.
Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Verbier Art Summit, 8 March 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-kSgRNfqSU, accessed 4 January 2020.
Grada Kilomba, filmed interview, Bildmuseet, 11 October 2019, http://www.bildmuseet.umu.se/en/exhibition/grada-kilomba/35304, accessed 13 October 2020.
Grada Kilomba interviewed by Fi Churchman, ‘Grada Kilomba on mixing history, theory and performative practice to shine new light on old stories and reveal others that have been hidden’, Art Review, October 2020, pp.84–91.
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