Sasha Huber’s multidisciplinary practice investigates colonial residue in the environment, highlighting the ways in which history is imprinted in the landscape through acts of remembrance. Rentyhorn (2008) documents a reparative intervention led by the Helsinki-based artist to rename the Agassizhorn, an Alpine peak named after Swiss-American glaciologist and “scientific” racist Louis Agassiz (1807–73). The mural captures Huber looking out over the Agassizhorn while holding a plaque arguing for the mountain’s renaming—a reminder that the gallery site is also embedded with colonial histories.
The contributions Agassiz made to the fields of glaciology, paleontology, and geology resulted in over 80 landmarks (and several animal species) bearing his name on the Earth, Moon, and Mars. Less well known, however, is his legacy of racism. Agassiz was a pioneering thinker of apartheid and used his position as professor of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University to actively promote the subjugation, exploitation, and segregation of Black people and other people of colour. In 1850, to help “prove” his racist theories, Agassiz commissioned Joseph T. Zealy (1812–93) to use the then-new technology of photography to document, against their will, seven enslaved people—five men and two women—on a South Carolina plantation.
In 2007, Huber was invited to work alongside the transatlantic activist committee “Demounting Louis Agassiz,” which had been petitioning for the Agassizhorn to be renamed Rentyhorn in honour of Congolese-born Renty—one of the seven enslaved people forcibly photographed for Agassiz. The Swiss-Haitian artist’s resulting intervention on the mountaintop not only drew much-needed international attention to the campaign but also presented a roadmap for the ways in which one can tenderly, and with care, refute the damage already undertaken by history. Rentyhorn thus captures a moment of introspection as the artist looks down upon the summit of this contested mountain and prepares to install, albeit temporarily, a metal plaque engraved with Renty’s portrait and a short text arguing for renaming the Swiss peak. Shortly after the intervention, Huber created an online petition addressed to the public, and in 2008, Huber and the Demounting committee’s founder, Has Fässler, sent a series of letters to the local council, the United Nations, and to UNESCO’s Executive Board and Advisory Committee. Having now garnered some 3,000 signatures worldwide, Huber’s petition remains active.*
Huber employs photography here to challenge the terms by which we remember, asking not only who and what we memorialize, but also, and more importantly, how we do so. Her large-scale image—facing Lake Ontario—points to the resonance of these issues close to home, as The Power Plant and Toronto sit on the traditional gathering place for the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples.
Rentyhorn is a prelude to Sasha Huber’s first solo exhibition in Canada, YOU NAME IT, on view at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery from January 29 to May 23, 2022.
*To add your signature, you may access the petition at www.rentyhorn.ch.
Curated by Justine Kohleal
Presented in partnership with The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery