artist / participant


press release

Rajkamal Kahlon
Die Völker der Erde
April 12–August 25, 2019

MEWO Kunsthalle is pleased to present a major exhibition by Berlin-based, American artist Rajkamal Kahlon. Rajkamal Kahlon: Die Völker der Erde can be in viewed from April 12 until August 25, 2019. It continues the program of MEWO Kunsthalle which frequently explores the effects of colonialism and postcolonialism (2017: Buried in the Mix) or diaspora (2015: Alles Maskerade!).

The exhibition’s title, Die Völker der Erde (People of the Earth), refers to a 1902 German Anthropology book that the artist purchased in Vienna. In 2017, in her Berlin studio, Kahlon cut the book apart and began to use the surfaces of its dislocated pages as a space for “talking back” to the book, its author, to the discipline of anthropology, and to the representational violence of European colonial projects. The entire project, 300 pages will be premiered in its entirety at MEWO Kunsthalle.

In a recent essay in Texte Zur Kunst, Susanne Leeb wrote about Kahlon’s work with books, painting and portraiture: “Her series ‘Die Völker der Erde’ (‘Peoples of the Earth’) responds to the epistemic violence of these books—the title quotes one of them—with a gesture that establishes a different relation to the subjects of the photographs, a personal relationship of respect and solidarity by restituting (sometimes militant) agency. Both the idiom of book illustration and the crux of Kahlon’s specific creative approach come into view only in the rift between these two visual formulations: the reproduced print and the artist’s hand. The latter, in this connection, encompasses not only the artist’s individuality, as the critique of representation had long before, but also the use of the material as the medium of expressing solidarity with those individuals in the pictures.” (Susanne Leeb, “Idiom: The Minor ‘A’s’ of Art”, Texte Zur Kunst, no. 108, December 2017)

Accompanying the works in Die Völker der Erde is a portrait series also derived from the same book, titled "Do you know our names?" The series of painted photographs attempts a visual rehabilitation of the humanity and dignity of non-European women who were often depicted with abject brutality. People of Afghanistan, a 9 minute film, completes the exhibition. It is comprised of high resolution thermal imagery of bombing footage anonymously published on the internet in 2002 of an American AC-130 Specter Gunship attack. Overlayed onto this footage are the photographs of Afghan men compiled during a 1960s Russian anthropological survey by G.F. Debets. This anthropometric survey of Afghanistan was then used as the basis of the book, Physical Anthropology of Afghanistan 1-11, which was part of a Russian translation series published by Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1970.

The exhibition is curated by Axel Lapp.

Rajkamal Kahlon is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and California College of Art. Kahlon's work has been exhibited in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, including On the Shoulder’s of Fallen Giants, the 2nd Industrial Arts Biennial, 2012 Taipei Biennial, Meeting Points 7, MHKA, HKW, MUAC Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, NGBK, Apex Art and e-flux. Kahlon is the recipient of numerous grants and awards from both U.S. and German foundations including Joan Mitchell, Pollock Krasner, the Stiftung Kunstfonds, Goethe Institute, Lambent and Hans and Charlotte Krull. Kahlon is a current recipient of the 2019 Villa Romana Prize.