Self-Portrait As a White Man

Fonti Gallery presents the second solo exhibition of the Angolan photographer Kiluanji Kia Henda. The show is a project developed by the artist between Venice and Luanda in the framework of the international residency programme Art Enclosures produced and created by Fondazione Venezia and organized in collaboration with Polymnia and Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation in Venice.

opening Friday 22nd October 2010 h. 7.30 pm

October 22 to December 4, 2010

Tuesday to Saturday 11-14/16-20


Kiluanji Kia Henda focuses his research on the complex postcolonial situation in today’s Angola, a country contended for its oil resources by the world’s superpowers during the Cold War from the year it gained political independence from Portugal (1975), and immediately afterwards ravaged by a brutal civil war (1975-2002). The perennial conflict between human history and the current state of affairs of the societies in the contemporary world is thus a central theme for Kia Henda. In his works, the artist is committed to challenging the false claims created by the ideology related to the birth of European nations and racial politics in relation to black people, the “Moors”, which have massively imposed the European colonial model, spreading it all over the world, thus also helping to create a hybridization of aesthetics, where tribal culture is deformed by the imagination of mass culture. These observations are the background against which the works created by Kia Henda during his stay in Venice should be viewed.

Kiluanji Kia Henda The Great Italian Nude Tryptich, inkjet print mounted on aluminum 2010Kiluanji Kia Henda The Great Italian Nude Tryptich, inkjet print mounted on aluminum 2010

In The Great Italian Nude, for example, the artist looks on traditional painting and the representation of the other, proposing the idea of the black male nude, which in the history of Western art has hardly ever been represented. Depicted in a classical pose, Kia Henda’s subject immediately calls to mind Edouard Manet’s famous Olympia. When it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1865, critics universally denounced its unashamed immorality - for the first time a painter had dared to show the nude figure of a prostitute at work. Besides being ironically provocative, Henda’s work elicits from the viewer a reflection on art as a historical document.

Kiluanji Kia Henda The Merchant of Venice Inkjet print on aluminum 2010Kiluanji Kia Henda The Merchant of Venice Inkjet print on aluminum 2010

The Merchant of Venice, is a work which pays homage to William Shakespeare’s play set in late sixteenth century Venice. The male figure photographed in the interior of the Istituto Veneto per le Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, is a Senegalese musician, who, like so many other immigrants, is forced to accept whatever job comes his way just to survive, even at the cost of the proverbial “ pound of flesh”. But the link with the Shakespearean play is even more evident in the installation of three caskets where the artist invites the viewer to be reflected in three mirrors holding the riddles.

The theme of the profound isolation and estrangement of human beings runs through the self-portraits titled Self-Portrait as White Man and the video work Fluxus, showing a black man racing along the meandering streets of Venice and those in the Angolan capital, trying to divest himself of his appearance to then disappear into the sea. This disappearance seems to be the harbinger of an inevitable truth. The video soundtrack, especially composed for this video by musician Emmanuel Wiltsch Barberio to further enhance the images, includes a mixture of samples of Christian sacred music and cyclical animist rhythms, typical of Angola.

Mara Ambrozic (Independent curator / Art Enclosures Curatorship)

by Kiluanji Kia Henda
Cara a cara | 21 October 2010