TRANSATLANTIC PASSAGES - AGASSIZ, HAITI & AFRICA IN THE WORKS OF SASHA HUBER
By Joanna Sandell
Press text for my solo exhibition at Botkyrka Konsthall, Sweden. 5. March – 28. August 2011.
During current revolutions in the Middle East and when old colonial maps are being redrawn Botkyrka konsthall opens with the exhibition Transatlantic Passages - Agassiz, Haiti and Africa in the works of Sasha Huber.
Artist Sasha Huber questions our common history as it has been written by men of power. Christopher Columbus, Papa Doc Duvalier and Louis Agassiz – a discoverer, a dictator and a scientist – they are a few of the historical persons that in Huber’s art are put in a new light and most and for all – through new images.
Our common visual culture and the politics of memory are something that continues to touch us into present day; we are still feeling the impact of fixation of race and classification from the late 1800’s. Sasha Huber, together with historians from different places in the world, is not afraid to touch our dark past and present these issues in new ways, through contemporary art.
Don’t miss the chance to see activism and history portrayed in a both poetic and engaging exhibition!
Sasha Huber’s art makes a difference. A mountaintop in the Swiss Alps is given a new name, a ribbon in the two Haitian colors tells of compassion with a people that recently have lost almost everything. With small means, and with her own life as a practice, Huber’s artistry becomes equally activism and poetry.
Botkyrka konsthall is the first art institution in Sweden to present Swiss-Haitian artist Sasha Huber. The visitor has the possibility to see several large installations where post-colonial discussions are brought to date.
In the work Rentyhorn, Huber renames a mountain that has been known by the name of an influential Swiss-born naturalist and racist from the late 1800s’, Louis Agassiz. The mountain’s new name Rentyhorn commemorates Renty, a slave who Agassiz ordered to be photographed on a South Carolina plantation “to prove the inferiority of the black race”.
Columbus is Huber’s first portrait in the series Shooting Back, where every motif is created by ten thousands of shots from a semi-automatic staple gun, Sasha Huber’s own version of action painting. All portraits are made on found plywood from the streets of Helsinki and portray men such as the former Haitian dictators “Papa Doc” Duvalier and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and the conqueror Christopher Columbus.
In the installation Louis Who? What you should know about Louis Agassiz the viewer is once again confronted by the history of colonialism and oppression as created by Louis Agassiz. Like a messenger from times past, Sasha Huber enters the picture on a gleaming black horse, telling the passers by of Praça Agassiz, in the suburbs of Rio, about the person who gave the square its name; “Scientist, naturalist, glaciologist, influential racist, pioneering thinker of apartheid, proposed racial segregation in the us…”
The work (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today from 2010 is a book and an exhibition by Sasha Huber and Maria Helena P. T. Machado, professor at the History department of São Paulo University. Here, the viewer is faced by a selection of 40 images from a collection of racial classification photography carried out by Louis Agassiz in Brazil in 1865 and 1866. Sasha Huber has also created a self-portrait in a cave in Rio de Janeiro that carries the name of Agassiz, borrowing poses from Agassiz’s classifications.
The art of Sasha Huber can be related to several well-known Afro-American artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and Kara Walker. Simple mundane things intermingle with horrific facts, as in Huber’s sculpture Strange Fruit Bowl, where a number of fruits are bound in hemp rope. The work is inspired by the poem and song Strange Fruit by Lewis Allan, telling of the hangings of colored people in the American south, perhaps best recognized in Billie Holiday’s version from 1939.
In the ongoing series Trophy, a renowned historical artist and national legend from Finland, Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), is questioned. Trophy is the first portrait of animals killed by Gallen-Kallela and his son Jorma in British East Africa (present day Kenya) between 1909 and 1911. The staple gun is here used to symbolize the deadly rifle shots of the two hunters, and the rhino skull of Throphy I is shot forth on birch wood.
The works Haiti Cherie and Haiti Solidarity Ribbon are responses to last year’s earthquake in Haiti. A few weeks after the catastrophe Huber carries out a performance over the snowy, seemingly endless, frozen sea in Finland, waters carrying on to reach the coasts of Haiti. Snow angels drawn by Huber’s body symbolize sorrow and lives lost, but also solidarity and hope.
Curator: Joanna Sandell
Exhibition architecture: Birger Lipinski
Curator program and education: Miriam Andersson Blecher
Art educator: Kerstin Gezelius
Curatorial assistant: Caroline Malmström
Technician: Jan Ohlin
Technical assistant: Tommy Pettersson
Carpenting: Erik Rören and Patrick Dallard
Production assistant: Johanna Fogel
Interns: Dunja Kasim and Sara Elggren
Documentation video: Jakob Hallberg, Patrik Kretschek and Kira Carpelan
Exhibition photography: Isabel Löfgrenl
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