Blowback is a CIA term, a metaphor for the unintended consequences of covert operations against foreign nations and governments. The project borrows the term to explore the relationship between early anthropological portraiture and modern terrorism.  Through these works a relation of causality appears between Western representations of formerly colonized subjects and acts of political retaliation labeled as terrorism today.


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Did You Kiss the Dead Body?

2009-2012 Ongoing Project


Did you Kiss the Dead Body? is an ongoing project which makes reference to the last line of Harold Pinter's poem Death, read by Pinter during his 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, a speech marked by deep criticism of American foreign policy, and the nature of truth, language and power. 

Did You Kiss the Dead Body? grows out of an eight year reflection on the nature and social implication of autopsy reports and death certificates emerging from U.S. military bases and prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, first made public on the ACLU's website in 2004 under the Freedom of Information Act. The texts highlight relations of abuse and power through descriptions of anonymous Iraqi and Afghan male prisoners, young and old, that have died in U.S. custody. The reports employ a rational scientific language cataloging the internal and external details of the men's bodies while attempting to determine a cause of death, ranging from "natural" to "undetermined" to "homicide." 


Untitled Installation, Tree with Fingers

Taipei Biennial




In addition to drawings from the Did You Kiss the Dead Body?, this untitled installation was commissioned by the Taipei Biennial. Starting from experiments in medical cast waxing of the body in the Did You Kiss the Dead Body? project, the installation reinterpreted a primal scene from David Der-Wei Wang's book, The Monster That is History: History, Violence and Fictional Writing in Twentieth Century China, where a scholar during the Boxer Rebellion discovers a field of peach blossom trees filled with the hanging decapitated heads of Boxer rebels. He initially sees the heads as peach blossoms.

Turning Eickstedt's Wonder



The exhibition, Subjective Object, addressed Eigon Von Eickstedt’s photographic archive held by the Grassi Ethnographic Museum.  Von Eickstedt was a German biological anthropologist who traveled to india in the 1920s to measure and study the adavasi. He created over 12,000 photographs.


For my contribution I created a large scale graphite drawing of Eickstedt’s colonial outfitted body with the head of a man he photographed. In addition I created 2 thaumatropes, a 19th C optical toy, literally, turning wonders,  that were made available for the audience to use. The thaumatropes had Eickstedt’s head on one side and a semi-nude adavasi woman’s body on the other. When the viewer spun the thaumatrope the images collapsed into one. A performance of vision that makes Eickstedt the subject of his work. The other thaumatrope used the imagery of the graphite drawing.


Double Take / Doppelbilder

Wilhelm Hack Museum, Rudolph Scharpf Gallery



The works in the exhibition Double Vision/Doppelbilder are formally and theoretically dense. They rethink how we individually and collectively look at images, forcing a renegotiation of how we understand the art object and ourselves as privileged viewers. The exhibition presents a challenge to the limits of Cartesian Dualism. Through a reconsideration of European painting, it critiques the western philosophical privileging of disembodied vision.


Intersecting this philosophical inquiry, are the colonial subjects represented in European imperial archives. The Subaltern is allowed to speak outside of the frame, unhinged and free to create new contexts of meaning. The once passive viewer now becomes the focus of the artworks themselves. Subalterns take on their own life, are animated, and appear to dominate the pictures more than the pictures dominate them. The image is created in the moment of its viewing.


Therapy for Optophobia



Therapy for Optophobia, a fear of opening ones’s eyes, consists of a wall diagram depicting stereoscopic vision from Renee Des Cartes, La Dioptriques, 1637,  together with vintage eye glasses with the painted images of drone victims from Pakistan. The eyeglasses are presented for the viewer to try on and sit on a shelf next to a text that quotes a study on unreported  Drone War casualties. The text can be read through the glasses.

There are three versions of the project includig the version described above. The other focuses on the genocide in Namibia, formerly German Southwest Africa, and the last on National Socialism and the Holocaust.




United States Pictures





© 2017 by Rajkamal Kahlon