Artist in focus: Sasha Huber

Sasha Huber is a multidisciplinary artist who hopes that our world would be a better place for people with different ethnic and racial backgrounds. She is determined to continue her family’s Haitian heritage in the arts, and has challenged the postcolonial controversies left behind by figures like Christopher Columbus and Louis Agassiz. Her artistic career has brought her international merit across continents. Sasha Huber’s art is currently shown in the DNA of Water -exhibition at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art in Staten Island, New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You were born in Switzerland with Swiss and Haitian heritage, how did this dynamic and background influence your youth and early artistry? Where did you get your education from, and how did you eventually find yourself living in Finland? 

Sasha Huber: Being from two such opposite cultures inspired me from the start, although becoming an artist was not my first choice in my professional live. My interest was first in graphic design that I learned in Zurich, Switzerland. I then worked some years as a graphic designer at different studios and agencies and then applied and was accepted for a one year scholarship at the research and design and research centre Fabrica by Benetton in Treviso in 2000. Its a multidisciplinary and international environment that I missed in Switzerland. That is also where I met my husband and collaborator Petri Saarikko who is from Finland. So love brought me to Finland at the first place. There I also graduated in 2006 with the Masters Degree in Visual Culture from the University of Art and Design, today known as Aalto University. One situation that triggered the idea for my first art project that I made in 2004 was related to that I was not allowed to visit my mother’s home country and family in Haiti, due to the political situation there. My mother was especially worried for me, and basically forbade me to go when I was younger. Starting to make my art about Haiti served as a compensation instead, and eventually brought the place closer. As an adult I’ve visited Haiti so far twice and each time within the artist context. First time Petri and I took part in the 2nd Ghetto Biennale in 2011, and the second  time we were invited to make projects at the Le Centre D’Art in Port-au-Prince during one month in 2016. Both visits went very well and allowed us to work collaboratively with multidisciplinary artists. Working with the Centre D’Art was also special for me since my artist grandfather Georges Remponeau was one of the co-founders of the school in 1944.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about in what ways your European upbringing was intercultural. Do you have an opinion that European culture and heritage changed in recent years in relation to migration, and with the impacts of globalization? 

Sasha Huber: Coming from a rich cultural background with over ten different nationalities, including the joining families through the different unions in our family, made me aware of the differences and similarities in cultures, and broadened my horizon. I think it helped me to feel comfortable in new places very quickly. For me this is a positive experience. Now when Europe is growing, as we can see with the influx of the newcomers and others too, there are also conflicts, and that brings sorrow to the people trying to find safety.

I would hope there could be other, more human and respectful ways to handle this situation. Luckily there are creative initiatives by grass roots organisations, and individuals who help to contribute to make welcoming people more dignified. Sometimes its forgotten that Europe is also made of very many cultures after all. In a time like this, where racism against the black and brown people is in the rise, and not only in Europe, I’d came to think that it would be good for people to read more such books as James Baldwin’s book I’m not your Negro, or watch the documentary by Haitian film maker Raoul Peck (1953–) under the same name. And read the Orientalism by Edward Said (1935–2003) who founded the academic field of postcolonial studies. Both books were written long ago, but are very relevant in the current climate we live in.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One of your artistic discoveries relates to the historical context of the colonization and cultural imperialism. What did you find out about the subject from your specific study, and how did you translate it into your artistic practice? 

SH: I would say that the starting point of my career was to deal with the colonialism, and the topic has actually been a red thread throughout my entire practice ever since. In my first project, which was a portraiture series named Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots, I for instance portrayed people that were responsible of the troubles in Haiti. I started from the beginning and portrayed Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), a figure that has in recent years become more and more challenged; which I find is very important. For instance, in the United States several cities don’t celebrate the Christopher Columbus Day anymore in October as his first arrival in the “New World”. Instead they highlight the meaning as Indigenous Peoples Day. Or, in 2015 in Argentina his statue was replaced with the large statue of freedom fighter Juana Azurduy. We should not forget that some 95 % of the indigenous population in the Americas were killed after his arrival, and the European invasion that followed brought disease and slavery.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a question of taking over land and leaving marks on its surface, in the environmental sense perhaps, part of the colonization history as you understand it and discuss it in your artistry?

SH: I became conscious about this in 2007, when I joined part of the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign that was launched by historian and political activist Hans Fässler. Until recently, the life and work of Louis Agassiz (1807, Switzerland – 1873, USA) have been intentionally embellished. He has mainly been presented as a glaciologist, scientist, and director of academic institutions, both in his country of origin, Switzerland, and in his adopted country, the USA. The campaign raised awareness that Agassiz was a proponent of scientific racism and a pioneering thinker of segregation and “racial hygiene”. The aim was at removing Louis Agassiz’s name from a 3946 m peak in the Swiss Alps and renaming it Rentyhorn in honour of the Congolese-born slave Renty, and of those who met similar fates. Agassiz ordered Renty to be photographed on a South Carolina plantation in 1850, “to prove the inferiority of the black race”. This initiative began to open the eyes of the Swiss public, and exposed Louis Agassiz’s involvement in the crimes against humanity. Today, there are over sixty places all over the world, and in our Solar System (the Moon and Mars) that bear Agassiz’s name. I call this micro colonialism of a single person marking his existence around the world while ignoring the local perspective.

My way to react and act through my work as an artist manifested for the first time after I joined the transatlantic committee of Demounting Louis Agassiz, as I started to plan my first intervention to the Agassizhorn in 2008. I airlifted a metal plaque bearing a graphic representation of Renty to the top of Agassizhorn, on the borders of the Swiss cantons of Berne and Valais. In doing so, I took the first step towards renaming the mountain into Rentyhorn. I also started the petition website rentyhorn.ch which is still online. Even though for now, the mountain will not be renamed officially after many years of negotiating with the communes. In New Zealand’s Te Waipounamu – South Island in comparison, I traveled to the Agassiz Glacier with local Māori greenstone carver Jeff Mahuika who performed a karakia (Māori blessing) on the glacier to symbolically de-name the glacier and hens cleanse it from it’s associations to Agassiz’s racism. *

Prototype of Sasha Huber and Thomas Götz as Louis Agassiz, Wet plate collodion photography by Borut Peterlin, comissioned by Sasha Huber, 2013, 10” x 12”.

Prototype of Sasha Huber and Thomas Götz as Louis Agassiz, Wet plate collodion photography by Borut Peterlin, comissioned by Sasha Huber, 2013, 10” x 12”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your background is in graphic design, and you have also worked with video; how do these mediums and techniques correlate with your artistic vision and outcome?  

SH: I use a variety of mediums to realize projects. For me the defining reason to choose a specific medium is, first the idea I want to realize and then to decide based on that. I also often collaborate with experts to help me realize a work, such as videographers, editors and photographers.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you also work with text, for example, to generate ideas, which then take visual forms and so forth? 

SH: My artworks are predominately visual, but finding the title of the works is important, and for each project I write a text as well. Sometimes the artwork idea is inspired by text, poem or song as for instance the Strange Fruit poem. I made two projects about this poem that were performed by Billy Holiday and Nina Simone as well. The poem was written by a teacher Abel Metropol in 1937. It protests American racism and tells about the lynching of African Americans.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you write about your own art, keep diary, and perhaps discuss it in essays?

SH: Mostly curators, academics and journalists write about my work. I participate in conferences to speak about my work. As an example, last year I was a keynote speaker at the Archival Re-enactments Symposium arranged by the Living Archive project of the University of Malmö in Sweden. This summer, I will participate in the 6th International Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe conference (http://www.uta.fi/yky/en/6thafroeuropeans/index.html) in Tampere, Finland. I’m currently also doctoral student at the Art Department of the Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design, and Architecture in Helsinki, Finland. So far, I’ve published two books as part of my doctoral project, which I started several years before in collaboration with some historians. I edited Rentyhorn published by Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. Then, I co-edited (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today published as part of the 29th Sao Paulo Biennale in 2010.

 

Sasha Huber in collaboration with Petri Saarikko, The Prototype, 2013, installation view.Sasha Huber in collaboration with Petri Saarikko, The Prototype, 2013, installation view.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a result of your investigations through several years, do you see that your art is influenced by Haitian aesthetics, nature and environment in multiple ways? 

SH: As mentioned earlier, the starting point of my art practice was inspired by Haiti’s history. As a matter of fact, I developed a technique for myself with metal staples shot with air pressure onto abandoned wood, as for instance in the Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots (2004) portrait series. For me the staple gun is like a weapon and I use this technique only when the project relates in some ways to the historic trauma. But aesthetically it could perhaps remind of the traditional beading and stitching as for instance utilized in the creation of the colourful Voodou flags. 

You Are Missed, is a work in progress project by Sasha Huber, depicting a new portrait series that uses wood and metal stitching. Huber's artist residency at Axenèo7 in Gatineau, Canada in 2017.
You Are Missed, is a work in progress project by Sasha Huber, depicting a new portrait series that uses wood and metal staples stitching. Started in Huber’s artist residency at Axenèo7 in Gatineau, Canada in 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In the fall of 2016, there was a curated group exhibition titled “Botany under Influence” taking place at Apexart in New York City. Your collaboration with Petri Saarikko was included in the show. How did you get involved in this special exhibition?

SH: We met curator Clelia Coussonnet in Paris, where I participated in the Haïti exhibition about contemporary and historical Haitian art at the Grand Palais in 2014. When she was planning her group exhibition Botany under Influence I told her about our Australian remedies video that she then included into her exhibition at Apexart (http://apexart.org/exhibitions/coussonnet.php). The exhibition delves into the politics of plants, and explores systems of meaning that have been impressed upon nature, flora, and seeds throughout the eras of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about the video work that you showed in Apexart. The title of it is ‘Remedies Australia’  (2014). Does this work include material from several geographical locations and have different cultural components in it? Is this process still ongoing? 

SH: Remedies is a series I initiated with my artist husband Petri Saarikko during an artist residency at Botkyrka Konsthall in Sweden in 2010-11. It was inspired by our interest in aurally transmitted family knowledge and remedies that we learned from our own families. Later we expanded the project to New Zealand, Australia, Haiti, Russia, Germany and back in Sweden. The Australian edition of Remedies casted Mildura based inhabitants to contribute eucalyptus tree related unwritten narratives and oral histories for an individual and collective portraiture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently in New York City taking part in an exhibition DNA of Water, what kind of works do you have in Staten Island?  

SH: Together with my family we just came from a residency in Canada, and continued directly to our current artist residency on Staten Island. We are participating in the group exhibition DNA of Water at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art which is curated by Sasha Dees. I am showing couple projects of which two are portraits from the ongoing Shooting Stars series, which is dedicated to worldwide victims of gunshot assassinations and killing perpetrated for political, ethnic, ideological or economic reasons (http://sashahuber.com/?cat=10040). I will show the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). I also made a new portrait of Eric Garner (1970-2014) who was living on Staten Island. At the end of the exhibition in September, I will gift the portrait to his mother Gwen Carr.

 — — —

The DNA of Water exhibit is open from March 26 until September 3, 2017 on Wednesdays through Sundays from 10;00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at the Main Hall of Snug Harbour, Staten Island (http://snug-harbor.org/event/the-dna-of-water/?instance_id=3179). 

More info about the artist: www.sashahuber.com

*(see: http://www.sashahuber.com/?cat=10046&lang=fi&mstr=4)

Curator Dalaeja Foreman’s recent interventions

'Speak Out' -exhibition installation view.

Dalaeja Foreman is a curator, community organizer, first generation Caribbean-American and Brooklyn native. Her curatorial practice seeks to combat misconceptions of oppressed people and resistance through direct action, cultural esteem and the arts. She is a graduate from the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dalaeja is also alumni of No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab 2015. In January-February 2016, she co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for the BronxArtSpace. The exhibition addressed legacies of injustice and practices of institutional racism, offering alternative views and acts of empowerment for the artist in their communities, creating realities that affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for The Bronx Art Space. Could you tell about the roots for establishing that collaboration?

Dalaeja Foreman: That I have! Alongside Linda Cunningham and Eva Mayhabal Davis.

After working with her on a No Longer Empty curatorial fellowship exhibition, Linda (Director of BronxArtSpace) asked me if I would be interested in co-curating an exhibition she was conceptualizing. An exhibition about institutionalized racism, as a white woman, Linda did not feel as though this was an exhibition she should be curating without the voice of a person of color (A decision I respected and cherished deeply, giving me the assurance of her allyship ). After meeting with one another and having a long conversation about the significance of this discourse she told me she would give me curatorial license over the exhibition and asked if I would want to work with anyone. I suggested we work with another No Longer Empty fellow, Eva Mayhabal Davis.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The concept had several outcomes as art works, performances, and community events. Could you tell how it all came together and succeed?

Dalaeja: The exhibition was submission based, inspired by the Respond exhibition at Smack Mellon Gallery. Linda selected a panel of artists (including Eva and I) to review the 80+ submissions. Once we selected the works,  Eva and I thought very thoroughly about the themes and counter themes in each selected work and put them in conversations with one another accordingly. We decided it would be best to give extended labels to the works to give our audience as much contextual knowledge as possible. Since the Mott Haven area of the Bronx is heavily Spanish speaking, we also provided the labels in Spanish.

As a strong believer in activating art spaces for radical acts, I wanted to be sure the exhibition had as many programs that responded to the many intersections of racism in our society as our capacity could handle. These themes varied from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the celebration and use of black love and Black Girl Magic as a radical acts.

'Speak Out' -exhibition poster in Bronx Art Space #blacklivesmatter
Illustration by Rafael Melendez

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How was your experience in Bronx, in comparison to Brooklyn, where you are from?

Dalaeja: Aside from being a Curator and Arts administrator, I am a first generation Caribbean-American, community organizer and Brooklyn Native. As an organizer, I have done a considerable amount of work around the mass-displacement of working-class communities (most often communities of color) in Brooklyn. Sadly, Art has been used as as a catalyst for what I consider the cultural erasure of my native borough.

I see the arts as yet another tool for social change, and art has been used historically to work as ancillary support for communities of color. Whether it be thru healing or practical solutions for community issues. Although this is a truth for Brooklyn’s artistic history, I feel as though this concept has been stronger in Bronx history due to the many ways State and city institutions have historically neglected Bronx county.

Artists can use their talents for exposing truth for the benefit of their communities and this seems to be particularly weaved into the fabric of the artistic history of the Bronx. A history I have incredible respect for, that continues on.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How important was the role of social media in creating networks, and establishing new audiences?

Dalaeja: Eva is more of the social media wiz. I was more concerned about the ways in which we could ensure the community members knew about the exhibition and we’re involved in our programming. This outreach included, working with the BronxArtSpace interns to outreach to local high schools, doing physical flying for the exhibition, dropping flyers off at local bodegas and restaurants. As well as dropping information of at local libraries and speaking/building relationships with community members. Some of whom were artists in the exhibition, which made me soon happy!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your ideal audience for the art?

Dalaeja: Since I truly see art as a tool for inspiring radical action, my ideal audience is always working-class people (some of whom also happen to be artists and art enthusiast). Especially in the case of the ‘Speak Out’ exhibition because, it took place in a working class community. If these spaces aren’t intended for their own communities, why should they exist there? This is a concept Linda truly understands which is yet another reason I LOVE working with her.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in coming to curating arts?

Dalaeja: I began working in the arts as a part-time Gallery Assistant at the Milk Gallery then began working as an exhibition manager for a small gallery that specialized in 20th and 21st century counter-cultural ephemera (say that 10 times fast. bahaha). This experience helped me realize the significance the arts have had on social movements of the past and inspired me to pursue curation.  I began taking online course with Node Center to learn more. After the gallery lost funding and I lost my job I decided to use the little bit of money I had saved to invest in my interest and started applying for fellowship programs. After my incredible experience with the No Longer Empty fellowship, I decided this is surly a way I could use my interest in the arts pragmatically to help plant the psychological seeds for social change. I still have so much to learn to pursue my practice as radically and community-collaboratively as I can, and am currently a Create Change Fellow with the INCREDIBLE Laundromat Project.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you education support your current directions and help you to develop your vision?

Dalaeja: I studied Visual Presentation and Exhibition design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, this experience helped me truly understand my love of space and it’s possibilities. I minored in International politics which further introduced me to the ways in which politics (on a community level) and exhibitions/display can merge. Most of my curatorial focused knowledge has been from lived experience, work experience and continuing education programs. As a lover of knowledge, I am interested in perusing a Masters degree in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Africa and Asia.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop your curatorial concepts, is there a phase of writing or visualizing things in a specific manner, or talking?

Dalaeja: It is a bit of all of those things. I am a ranter by nature so that really helps with getting concepts across that I believe are worth exploring.

Often I am inspired by the political education meetings with the organization I am a part of (The People Power Movement) as well as my friends and family members. Or I may have a design concept in mind that I think is worth collaborating with artists one. BUT most importantly, I am inspired by the Art work and the concepts that artist is exploring.

Dalaeja Foreman at the 'Speak Out' exhibition.
Dalaeja Foreman (right), at the ‘Speak Out’ -exhibition. Photos: Alex Seel. Courtesy of Order Vision Productions for Bronx Art Space.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think is a role of a curator in society in large, in other words, how do you think the micro ideas meet the macro levels?

I believe Curators have a powerful platform, giving us the ability to work with artists and communities to push narratives into the mainstream consciousness. These narratives can help people critically think and sympathize deeply about concepts in which they weren’t even aware of. This is a responsibility of utmost importance, one with the opportunity to empower a community, a people and a generation. -Dalaeja Foreman

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your political activism has a mind of a movement, in which people power takes a different stance. Does New York City represent a special place for activism to you?

Dalaeja: New York City means a great deal to me in regards to activism, but that is because it is the only place I’ve ever known as home. Although a wide array of injustices are happening in my city, they are also happening everywhere in the country. A political revolution could be sparked anywhere at anytime, the important thing is that we support one another’s actions and grow together using people power and a thirst or justice as our binding force toward a political system that works for the majority.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have favorite art forms, or is the medium secondary to other things that matter?

Dalaeja: I do, I love sculpture and painting, textured art objects and photographs. I’m trying to challenge myself to work more with performing artists since it’s not my go-to. However, content that compliments aesthetics and artistic merit (according to my opinion of those concepts) are of most importance.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you identify and experience yourself as a black woman art professional in NYC art community, or does that resonate in a professional level to you personally? 

Dalaeja: My Black woman experience is at the forefront of all of my experiences because it is the only lens in which I can see the world and is often the most determining lens in which the world sees me.  With that being said, as a young arts professional I believe it is my duty to ensure that people who are marginalized (like myself) demand their voices heard in institution that effect our lived experiences. Whether they be our schools, museums or workplaces. And MOST IMPORTANTLY create our own institutions that work for us from conception onward.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your next dream of consciousness, where are you heading to collaborate next?

Dalaeja: As an Art Administrator in the Bronx, I am really excited to learn more about what artists are and have been doing in the borough and figuring out how I can best support them and the communities they collaborate with. As well as, continuing and improving my organizing and hopefully trying to figure out some more schooling while doing all of that (inside and outside the education institutions).

Dalaeja Foreman’s website: http://www.dalaeja.co/