Kiluanji Kia Henda “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” at MAN, Nuoro
The MAN Museo d’Arte Provincia di Nuoro is pleased to present the first major solo exhibition in a European museum dedicated to Kiluanji Kia Henda (Luanda, Angola, 1979), one of the most important artists and activists of African origin on the contemporary art scene. The exhibition will run from Friday 31 January to Sunday 1 March 2020.
“Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” is an exhibition curated by Luigi Fassi, director of the MAN. It has been organized specifically for the museum in Nuoro, which, in collaboration with Fondazione Sardegna Film Commission and Luma Arles, invited the artist to stay on the island and show us Sardinia through his eyes. This project has adopted the same invitation/residency formula used last year with the French-Ivorian artist François-Xavier Gbré and continues the MAN’s exploration of the contemporary African art scene. The exhibition will be subsequently presented by the MAN in the exhibition spaces of the Galerias Municipais in Lisbon in October 2020.
“Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” features a series of sculptures and installations created especially by Kiluanji Kia Henda during his time on the island, alongside earlier photographic works. In the artist’s new pieces, Sardinia’s beautiful landscape is merged with the architectural traces of the Cold War and the military bases still present on the island. These are elements that characterize the entire Mediterranean basin today, which is a place of migration and social injustice within a setting of idyllic natural beauty.
“The Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” project is formulated as a two-way observation on the Mediterranean world of Sardinia: a seemingly paradisiacal idyll that reveals the presence of its opposite like the veil of maya. Indeed, the island’s contradictory dialectics appear here as a summing up of a natural splendour endowed with idealized features and an obscure underside (hidden from the media) of historic and present threats. The first dialectic element is, of course, beauty. Represented by Mediterranean nature and the idealization of the sea and coasts, this beauty has become mass merchandise during the era of contemporary tourism. The second element is the architectural brutalism, which can be labelled as “aesthetic repression”, consisting of traces from the Cold War that have soiled the locus amoenus with military bases and industrial ruins under the as yet indelible banner of supposed progress after the Second World War. To this “aesthetic repression” we can add the disturbing image of the Mediterranean today, no longer perceived as a bridge between different worlds, languages and cultures, but as a mirage of hope for a new life that leads to death for thousands of people who attempt to cross the sea in order to achieve it. The land of Sardinia is interpreted in its discordant contrast between the beauties of its coastal landscape and the contemporary drama of the Mediterranean, seen as a place of conflict and blockades, the border of a Europe that is shutting itself behind a curtain of increasingly rigid legal and physical barriers. The subject of migration and moving is evoked through zoomorphic images such as flamingos, that have a nomadic lifestyle, with strict seasonal rules, symbolizing migration as a free, unpredictable and universal phenomenon, of which we unfortunately still struggle to grasp the inclination that is also present, albeit not primarily, among humans.
Within this existential scenario, the MAN becomes a safe harbour, an anchor of salvation and an oasis of humanity within the artist’s works. According to a happy word pairing by Luigi Fassi, it is an “open museum”, able to bring meaning back to the local area: “The MAN aims to promote the role of Sardinia as a place for research and production favoured by international artists focusing on the world of the Mediterranean. Sardinia is an immense archive for research on the Mediterranean world and for artists who conceive their activity as a form of complex thought. The objective is to continue thinking about Sardinia as a crossroads of ideas within the Mediterranean, overturning the geographical perspective, the north-south axis from which we look at Sardinia: seeing it not as a marginal land, but an outpost under development”. The MAN has carried this vision forward over recent years in partnership with the Fondazione Sardegna Film Commission. As highlighted by its director, Nevina Satta: “We have developed a location scouting strategy to assist with the work of visual artists – exemplified by the case of François-Xavier Gbré and the partnerships with Film London Flamin and La Quadriennale di Roma – as part of our mission to boost the island’s creative industries. The Sardegna Film Commission aims to invest in experimentation with new imagery that illustrates SARDINIA, with a view to furthering the international circulation of a narrative of Sardinia’s contemporary identity”. Resembling a powerful flashback, the exhibition concludes with a series of images produced by the artist in Luanda, Angola, in 2006. This was the starting point of Kiluanji Kia Henda’s artistic career, documenting the devastation of Angola during the Cold War. The Mediterranean and the subSaharan territories are therefore linked together like unstable and constantly changing geographies, bearing witness to recent and future transformations affecting the respective continents of Europe and Africa.
At MAN, Nuoro
until 1 March 2020