BE.BOP 2012 preview at +Decolonial Aesthetics
Walter Mignolo, Curator
Marina Grzinic, Alanna Lockward and Guo-Juin Hong, Co-curators
At the Duke exhibition, the video-art pieces of Teresa María Díaz Nerio and Jeannette Ehlers were installed next to each other on a corner. On the right side, Sara Bartman articulated in her motionless silence the representation of Black individuals as Non-citizens, or to be more accurate: Non-humans; and on the left side, Jeannette Ehlers revived Black ancestry in Denmark through Voudoun music and dance.
The performance and video work Hommage à Sara Bartman (Teresa María Díaz Nerio, 2007) elucidates the life, death and afterlife of a South African Khoisan woman who was exhibited in England and Paris at the beginning of the 19th century as part of a popular entertainment industry of freak shows, menageries, theatres and pleasure gardens. The fascination biologists found in Khoisan women’s genitalia, tablier or elongated labia, that accompanies the large buttocks or steatopygia was indeed one of the reasons why Sara Bartman, under the iconic name ‘Hottentot Venus’, was kept as an object at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Her skeleton, cast of her body, brain and genitalia were exposed until the 1970’s when feminists’ protests against her display succeeded; in 1995, Nelson Mandela requested the repatriation of her remains, which only found peace in 2003. She is the only human being that appears in the Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères, being surrounded by different kinds of monkeys and apes. The work touches on the fact that Blackness has a history of being performed in a denigratory way, the artist remains motionless suggesting a helpless state of objectification of the Black
female body, raped, exhibited and voyeuristically illustrated throughout the centuries as another trophy for ‘Man’. The focus of the piece remains in the fact that the audience is expected to ‘see themselves seeing’ and not in playing to recognize or not the humanity of Sara Bartman. She is acknowledging herself in that historical context, only that this time she doesn’t bow, doesn’t look, doesn’t dance, doesn’t play a stringed instrument, she just doesn’t.
The invisibility of Black ancestry in Denmark connected to its crucial role in the Triangular Trade and in colonial domination in the Caribbean is challenged by Jeannette Ehlers (2009). Through digitally manipulated footage this poetic re-enactment exposes Danish accumulation of capital with filigree technical dexterity. In the video ‘Black Magic at the White House’, Ehlers is performing a Vodoun dance as an evanescent spirit inside one of the beautiful rooms of Marienborg, a magnificent white building which has a strong connection to the Triangular Trade. It was built, in 1744, as a summer residence for Commander Olfert Fischer who sold it afterwards to Peter Windt, a merchant who earned most of his wealth from the slave and sugar trade, and who even brought slaves to this landmark residency. Several other traders of that period later owned and put their stamp on Marienborg which today still plays an important role in Denmark as the official residence of the country’s prime minister.
Citizenship has been proclaimed as a “universal” right for all white, Christian and Western individuals. This moving image selection brings into focus the permanence of the historical legacy of racism in our current understanding of who has the right to be where and for how long with poetic defiance and relentless accuracy.
-Gutiérrez Rodríguez , Encarnación 2010. Decolonizing Postcolonial Rhetoric. In: Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Encarnación/Boatca, Manuela/Costa, Sergio (Eds): Decolonizing European Sociology. Oxon: Asghate.
-Lockward, Alanna (2010). Decolonizing Germany: Wild at Hair.
-Lockward, Alanna (2006). Schwarz-Black-Afro: Widerspiegelung eines Wortfeldes im Tagesspiegel.
-Mignolo, Walter 2006. Citizenship, Knowledge and the Limits of Humanity. Published by Oxford University Press. Courtesy of Project Muse.
-Mignolo, Walter 2008. Delinking. The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-Coloniality. North Carolina: Duke University Press. http://townsendcenter.berkeley.edu/pubs/De-linking_Mignolo.pdf