Sasha Huber YOU NAME IT
Swiss-Haitian-Finnish artist Sasha Huber’s activism-based practice contends with the powerful entanglements of “scientific” racism, natural sciences, and histories of photography. Across her photographs, films, mixed-media works and performances, Huber examines ways in which histories of imperialism and colonialism are imprinted onto the landscape through acts of remembrance that include naming and the erection of monuments.
YOU NAME IT brings together work prompted by the cultural and political activist campaign “Demounting Louis Agassiz” founded in 2007 by Swiss historian Hans Fässler. This campaign seeks to redress the legacy of the Swiss-American naturalist and glaciologist Louis Agassiz (1807–73), a professor and Founding Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, whose scientific contributions to the fields of glaciology, paleontology, and geology resulted in over 80 landmarks on Earth, the moon, and Mars—as well as seven animal species—bearing his name. However, Agassiz was also a proponent of white supremacy and apartheid, a legacy that has been purposefully omitted and overlooked in history.
After conducting a series of lectures on natural history in 1846 at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, Agassiz moved to the United States and promptly became a vocal proponent of racial segregation. He was intent on advancing his racist theories that claimed the alleged inferiority of Black people, and in 1850 in South Carolina Agassiz commissioned Joseph T. Zealy (1812–93) to forcibly photograph seven enslaved African men and women—Renty, Delia, Jack, Drana, Fassena, Jem, and Alfred. These daguerreotypes are in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnography at Harvard.
Huber’s lens-based works probe the violent history of photography as an apparatus of colonialism used by Agassiz and white supremacists to enforce the dehumanization of racialized individuals. She uses the camera as a device for agency, self-determination, and collaboration alongside sovereignty-seeking Indigenous peoples, bearing witness to site-specific interventions that expunge Agassiz’s name. When Fässler invited Huber to join the Demounting campaign in 2007, Huber began planning an artistic intervention to be carried out in conjunction with his campaign to officially rename the Swiss alpine peak Agassizhorn to “Rentyhorn.” The resulting film, Rentyhorn (2008), and the related outdoor installation of the same name—a photographic mural displayed on the south façade of The Power Plant as part of CONTACT 2021, also on view until May 1, 2022—pay tribute to Renty and those who have suffered similar fates.
Since then, Huber has staged numerous interventions in places named after Agassiz, including in Switzerland, Brazil, Scotland, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. Collectively, the works in the exhibition present a roadmap for the ways in which we can, tenderly, and with care, refute the damage already undertaken by history. In challenging the terms by which we remember, Huber asks not only who and what we memorialize, but also, and more importantly, how we do so.
Curated by Noor Alé; Assistant Curator, Jacqueline Kok
Presented by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in collaboration with Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, Netherlands; Autograph ABP, London, United Kingdom; and Turku Museum, Finland
Sasha Huber (CH/FI) is a visual artist of Swiss-Haitian heritage, born in Zurich in 1975. She lives and works in Helsinki, Finland. Huber’s work is primarily concerned with the politics of memory and belonging, particularly in relation to colonial residue left in the environment. She uses and responds to archival material in performance-based interventions, video, photography, and collaborations. Huber has had numerous solo exhibitions and participated in the Venezia (2015), Sydney (2014), and São Paulo (2010) biennales. She holds an MA from the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and is undertaking PhD studies at the Zurich University of the Arts. Huber also works in a creative partnership with artist Petri Saarikko. In 2018 Huber received the State Art Award from the Arts Promotion Center Finland.