Open letter denouncing racism at the jury for the Portuguese team at the Venice Biennale

Grada Kilomba in cooperation with Kalaf Epalanga, O BARCO / THE BOAT, Perfomance at Boca 2021, Lisbon. Courtesy the artist.
To show their support for Portuguese artist Grada Kilomba, rejected from representing Portugal at the 2022 Venice Biennale, art world luminaries have signed a letter accusing the judging of being misogynistic and racist in its selection process.

At the core of her artistic proposal, Kilomba's "A Ferida/The Wound" chose to depict the racist and painful legacy of Portugal's colonialist past. She also chose to cast a light on other problems such as climate change, human rights and the growing militarisation of human relations.


Judge Nuno Crespo, an art critic and director of the School of Arts at the Catholic University of Portugal, and part of the board that ultimately decided not to select Grada Kilomba gave her the damning grades of 10/20, 10/20 and 15/20 in the three categories in which she was competing. These mediocre grades are in suspicious contrast with the grades given by the Portuguese ministry of culture and other judges that gave her a near perfect 19/20 and 20/20. 


Justifying his decision Crespo said in a written statement "the idea of racism as an open wound has already been the subject of countless other approaches; the proposal presented does not let you understand how in an exhibition you can review, criticize or prolong this idea, already discussed and even exhibited in multiple ways". For many, this reasoning fails to grasp the complex and multifaceted nature of her work, reducing it to racism alone.


In the letter, Kilomba's curator Bruno Leitao had this to say about the decision: "There’s not a lot of discussion about this at all. Very few artists have made work about this subject. It’s rarely discussed in a national forum. So to say the subject of colonialism or racism cannot be extended in Portugal, it’s shocking."


By rejecting Grada Kilomba, Portugal would not send a team of two black artists, which would have been a first for the country. However, for now the Venice Biennale does not list a Portuguese team for next year's edition meaning the selection is still ongoing following Bruno Leitao's appeal of the jury's decision.