Gallery Filomena Soares has the pleasure to present the most recent works by Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda (Luanda, 1979). Entitled In the Days of a Dark Safari, the exhibition will open on March 23rd 2017, at 21hr30, and will be on view until May 6th 2017.
The exhibition consists of two photography series - The Last Journey of the Dictator Mussunda N´zombo Before the Great Extinction, in 5 acts; and In the Days of a Dark Safari, showing 5 different works; and a video entitled We Shall Return.
The series In the Days of a Dark Safari throws us into a multiple journey. We find ourselves in Africa and Europe, in the 19th and 21st centuries, inside and outside the glass display case. Falsehoods clash against each other. Between the externally constructed references of the forest and the intrinsic scientific information, between colonial evolutionism and post-colonial populism, a shock and shift of perspective is produced. The result is a critical vision of the discourses that oppose nature against culture, civilization against barbarity, so as to create an openness to explore new possible paths for new African subjectivities.
In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, nature in Africa is described as a place which is almost non-terrestrial, "something monstrous and free" that must be brought under control. It is the discourse of those who, looking from the outside, say that the monster must be mastered at all cost. On the other side of the mirror, we happen on the ideal of the natural world in Africa as a Paradise Lost, an ethereal and also non-terrestrial place forged in this case by African populism. This is the discourse of those looking from the inside, claiming that the expulsion from paradise is the fault of those who came from the outside. They use the claim to their advantage and to hide the destruction by people who colonise themselves, pinning the blame for Africa´s failures on an external phantom.
Here, however, we aim to demystify both the ideas of Darkness and the Immaculate Paradise. Since parallel lines only meet at infinity, so do colonialism and populism meet in neo-colonialism. Both forge artificial images of nature, the hiding place of the state's violence.
In addition to a work of historical research and artistic photography, the series In the Days of a Dark Safari is also cinematic when it throws one artifice against another in a process of montage, full of fragments of life and death. Photography, history and film reflect the morbid ideals onto the image of a stuffed giant sable antilope (Palanca). It is an attempt to unveil a fictitious element of official history, showing that there are two sides to everything.
Suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted. We are on a safari in the Angolan hinterland, in a Museum of Natural History in Luanda, in a nightclub, in an art gallery in Lisbon. The rifle becomes a camera and the stuffed animal the "embalmed" dictator. In these rooms, Conrad's darkness and the pre-colonial paradise of the African populists clash, equally artificial and superficial as a taxidermied jungle.
The Last Journey of the dictator Mussunda N'Zombo Before the Great Extinction portrays the end of dictatorships in Africa, based on the persona of former president Mobutu Sese Seko, who was considered the archetype of African dictators. By means of photography, the dead corpse of power undergoes taxidermy while animal-objects come to life. In the Days of a Dark Safari is a work of grieving that veils and unveils the spirits of stuffed animals. Covered animals who, protected from the photograph, nevertheless observe us. If the dead are speaking to us here, perhaps it is because we are not as alive as we imagine. The hunt becomes the dream animal and the active spectator the hunted animal.
The short film Havemos de Voltar (We Shall Return), the title of which is taken from a poem by Agostinho Neto, narrates the saga of a stuffed giant sable antelope whose soul is still lingering; or is it stuffed too? The antelope rejects its role as a historical artefact and decides to return to its glorious past. It achieves an impossible return, knowing that its memories have also been stuffed and exhibited in display cases. However, there is no real past here, nor a pure exterior. Nature becomes a trompe l'oeil seen through the anamorphic lenses polished by culture.
Various literary and artistic narratives from the colonial era reflect the work of the colonialist who collects information in the forest and lays it out in museum display cases. The effort to create a Museum of Natural History is a process similar to the creation of hostile narratives from the perspective of the foreigner who colonises by maintaining distance, consigning an entire continent to a Place of Darkness. Here, a manmade landscape becomes the starting point for a critical analysis that in addition to raising questions about the historical narrative refutes the political discourse which has had a huge impact on the creation of modern African identities.
Furthermore, the safaris through the African scenery reveal an ambiguous feeling. On the one hand the return to the origins of mankind, when everything existed in its most pure essence; on the other hand, the horror of our fragility exposed to the most hostile and cruel form of life.
The jungle and the animals don't create narrative fictions of their own history. The extreme violence of many manmade conflicts and conquests brought it excruciating misery. Many animals abandoned their natural habitat, leaving the space open for human ferocity to march in with all its war-making, brutal technology. But while the jungle can be a living hell for one, for many it is still a shelter. With the passing of the years and the ending of wars, the jungle has risen from its ashes and its rightful inhabitants have slowly returned home. The jungle resists and survives human insanity, even when having but time to heal its wounds.
(By Kiluanji Kia Henda and Lucas Parente)