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By Culturekiosque Staff

NAPLES, ITALY, 23 OCTOBER 2010  — There was a time when a visit to Naples focused mostly on archaeological artifacts, erotic frescoes and phallic sculptures (Museo Archeologico Nazionale) from the daily life and villas of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculanum before the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD proved fatal to the two townships. Now, equally worthwhile, is a visit to one or more of the Italian port city's contemporary art galleries such as the Galleria Lia Rumma, Studio Trisorio, or the Galleria Fonti where the solo exhibition of the Angolan photographer Kiluanji Kia Henda opened yesterday.

Entitled Self-Portrait as a White Man, and first seen at the 2010 Bienal de Sao Paulo, Brazil, 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.

Born in Luanda in 1979, 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.

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 (1863). A native Parisian, Manet too was very aware as an artist of the growing diversity of his city. 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, Kia Henda’s The Great Italian Nude elicits from the viewer a reflection on art as a historical document. The American artist Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977), who placed his African-American urban male subjects in poses borrowed from eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European figurative paintings to investigate the ways that portraiture has been used historically to create and enforce power and privilege, inspires similar reflections, as does Kara Walker's (b. 1969) room-size tableaux of slaves and masters from the antebellum South explicit in their sexuality and violence, but made using the genteel 18th-century European art of cut-paper silhouettes. 

Closer to home, the mocking mood of the sarcastic aesthetics of Kia Henda's The Merchant of Venice 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 Self-Portrait as a 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.

Kiluanji Kia Henda: Self-portrait as a White Man
22 October - 4 December 2010
Galleria Fonti
via chiaia n 229
80132  Naples
Tel: (39) 081 411409 

Title image above: Kiluanji Kia Henda 

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