In her exhibition Staying with Trouble, American artist Rajkamal Kahlon presents a series of works inspired by her two-month residency at the Weltmuseum Wien
. During her stay she conducted research on historic materials in the Museums photographic collection.
Rajkamal Kahlon reflects on how the staging of late 19th and early 20th century ethnographic portrait photography was often based on constructions of the "savage" or "primitive," and thereby helped to form certain codes of representation that can still be found today. Through her visual analysis and transformation of archival images, the artist examines these continuities and invites visitors to question their own gaze.
The exhibition Staying with Trouble references Donna Haraways ideas about how to live in an age of extermination and extinction. Rajkamal Kahlon borrowed this frame to think through the ethics of working with an ethnographic museum.
The ethnographic museum can be seen as the instrument of imperial violence par excellence. The seeds of everything from catastrophic environmental collapse to the mass extinction of species, the exponential growth of conflict refugees, and the specter of terrorism that we are experiencing today can all be found within the walls of the Weltmuseum Wien. They are present in the history of its founding, the context of how its collections came into being, and in the objects, documents, and photographs it houses.
Contained within ethnographic museums and archives lies a visual blueprint, the DNA of our fears, desires, pathologies, and possibilities. There, you can find echoes of our present and of many potential futures. The archives of our past act as a mirror through which we can better understand ourselves. Centuries have passed but the logic of power and domination remains unchanged. My hope is that my work offers the possibility for renewal, redemptive and liberatory laughter, and new possibilities of thought. (Rajkamal Kahlon)
Rajkamal Kahlon is an American artist and educator based in Berlin, Germany. Kahlon's drawings, paintings and performative installations use overlapping strategies of critical aesthetics and absurdist humor to interrupt the pedagogical function of texts and images found within historical and contemporary colonial archives.
Kahlon received her MFA from the California College of Art, participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.