Gala Porras-Kim

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Gala Porras-Kim (1984, Bogota, Colombia) investigates the political, social, economic and spiritual contexts that determined the value of objects during the history of colonialism. Her interest is centered on human remains and on material and immaterial goods from indigenous cultures that have been converted into cultural assets preserved within the political and intellectual supremacy of the West. The artist’s analysis ranges from the violent processes of extracting and circulating such objects, to the methodologies of storage and classification used by the collectors and/or cultural institutions that receive them, especially museums of history and anthropology.

Porras-Kim seeks to reverse both the language and operations of power that impose a unilateral form of understanding and writing history. She explores, for example, how the methods employed by museums to define the physical and spiritual value of certain artifacts can be in conflict with their true meanings and purposes, and the identities of the cultures that produce them. Her research process goes beyond the symbolic representation of artifacts and involves the very institutions that the collections and/or objects of study come from. Her idea is to exhibit and, on occasion, unmask the manipulations that the policies of acquisition and patronage of cultural goods have instated, seeking to establish new legislative paradigms that promote equity between cultures and forms of knowledge.

In WaLT (Whistling and Language Transfiguration) (2012), Porras-Kim investigates the possibility of translating a minority language, Zapotec, and the political and linguistic implications of its representation. The language, which is of oral tradition and originates from the Oaxaca region in Mexico, has a tonal nature, that is, its meanings are partially contained in the intonation of speech, in its musicality. It can therefore be reproduced through whistles – a strategy used by the Zapotec indigenous people to keep the Spanish from decoding their messages. WaLT is an installation consisting of a vinyl record of the spoken language directly translated into whistles, a score transcribing the whistles into musical notes and a kind of linguistic manual to help determine verbal variations in the recorded translation. Today, Zapotec lacks the attention of successive Mexican governments to preserve and strengthen the country’s original cultures. WaLT starts from tonal Zapotec as a coded message that remains hidden and equally present, resisting the domination of language imposed by the colony centuries ago.


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