Kiluanji Kia Henda was in the south of Angola when, crossing a city almost engulfed by the sands of the Namib desert, he noticed a rusty metal signboard on which the word ‘Miragem’ (Mirage) was written. The word, eaten away by time, suddenly became a symbol – something extremely concrete and abstract. The photograph of that signboard would come to be the starting point for a series of pieces of work that formed a city called Mirage.

If there is one city which synthesises the illusory aspect of a mirage, it is Dubai. At once a pastiche and a microcosm, a model and a parody, a diagram and a mirage, Dubai is omnipresent. It is no coincidence that in various media one speaks of ‘Dubaization’, a reference to a series of urban phenomena based on a spectacular and virtual style of architecture with no attachment to the particular territorial context in which it is planted. This is an architecture which fills in seas, flattens hills and demolishes historic buildings to create urban projects commissioned over the internet, just like in Luanda, the artist’s home town.

In A city called mirage, Kia Henda deals with the absence of dividing lines between the real city and its 3D model. The sculptures in the shape of metal lines look like drawings standing out from the landscape, silhouettes or skeletons of an imaginary city. Kiluanji based these linear sculptures on sona, sand drawings common to the Lunda Tchokwe culture (from eastern Angola). Storytellers draw the sona (plural of ‘lusona’) in the sand as they tell fables. These drawings are authentic narrative constructs which condense the outline of the story told. Kia Henda transforms these ephemeral drawings into three-dimensional objects, imaginary structures in the desert. But unlike the Tchokwe, Kiluanji’s diagrams trace virtual future stories unconnected to the past.

In the megalopolis, capital creates the world in its own image and likeness. Like all merchandise, cities are customised and disposable. This mass customisation is added to the production of sensory spaces. Architecture suddenly becomes a drug which bestows a “hallucination of normality”.

For a year, Kiluanji took part in an international project in which he produced and collaborated with architects, artists, actors, musicians and technicians from cities like Amman, Dhaka, Karachi, Lisbon, Luanda, Manila, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Sharjah and Windhoek. A City Called Mirage is a complex exhibition which explores original approaches to a recurring theme in recent times: that of cities between the states of virtuality and desertification. Kiluanji uses (science and mythological) fiction and irony as ways of transcending the pessimism of hyper-criticism and the aesthetics of the ruin. Through humour we are made aware of just how ephemeral the largest human constructions are: all cities will be reduced to raw materials again, just like the metals removed from the ground will once again merge back into it.


Extract from A City Called Mirage by Lucas Parente

Extrato de Uma Cidade Chamada Miragem de Lucas Parente