Leah Gordon Artist Talk (Recording)

Here’s a link to the recording of Leah Gordon’s artist talk which I hosted at the Art House in Worcester in November. For those of you who don’t know Leah’s work, she is the co-curator of the Ghetto Biennale and an artist, photographer and writer with an impressive list of works, curated exhibitions, and books on her CV. She is currently in Kassel working with Atis-Rezistans on a Ghetto Biennale on-site project for documenta 15.

In Conversation with Leah Gordon

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On May 14th I will be in conversation with Leah Gordon about her exhibition ‘Caste/Cast‘ at the Regency Town House in Brighton which is part of the 2014 Brighton Festival. The conversation will take place at the University of Brighton Gallery at 6.30 pm. Tickets are £4 (£3 concessions) and available here.

In her ‘Caste’ series of photographs Leah represented, in contemporary mode, the practice created by French colonists, living in Saint Domingue during the plantation era, of grading skin colour from black to white in an elaborate, combinatorial and graded schema. Taking the ‘Caste’ portraits as a starting point, Leah’s new project explores junctures between shared Haitian and British histories and cosmologies, with an emphasis on links between the slave trade and the industrial revolution.

The exhibition includes a film of a journey along the Manchester Ship Canal from Manchester (a city built on industrialism), past Ellesmere Port (the town where Leah was born) and onto Liverpool (a city whose wealth was made through the slave trade), pointing to the shared economic and political histories that connect Haiti to Britain, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the industrial revolution.

Two further films are shown in the former library room, one of ruined and overgrown machinery, manufactured in Liverpool in 1818, on a former plantation in Haiti and one of the storage rooms in the National Archives at Kew, where Haiti’s 1804 Declaration of Independence was found by a student, undetected for decades. These films will show Haiti’s history hidden and embedded in Britain’s colonial archives whilst Britain’s industrial past lies rusting and overgrown in Haiti’s tropical landscape.

These historical reflections sit alongside a prophetic photographic reconstruction of William Blake’s illustration of ‘Europe Supported by Africa and the Americas’ (1796).

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A Pig’s Tail

At long last Leah Gordon & Anne Parisio’s inspirational film A Pig’s Tail (1997) is up on Vimeo. Thanks for that!

There have been several references to the story of the Haitian pig here at Zombi Diaspora. It is the “same pig” that Reginald Jean Francois spoke about in his story about the 2004 defacing of the replica of the Florentine Boar by UN troops in Haiti.  The story resonates very strongly with Colin Dayan’s talk at the 1804 and Its Afterlives conference discussed in the previous post, especially in terms of the competing justifications and rationales for animal slaughter/sacrifice. The description of the ceremonial welcoming of the all-new American pig to the island sounds like the kind of legal ritual she has been writing so insightfully about. It is also, on a more optimistic note, probably the ancestor the the ‘hybrid’ pig she encountered when she was last in Haiti. 

Although it was “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s Tonton Macoutes who carried out the extermination program, we should note too the central role played by USAID, whose director from 1977-79, two years prior to the total eradication of the creole pig from the country, was Lawrence Harrison also mentioned by Dayan, who in the interview linked to in the previous post and elsewhere, argues for a “cultural revolution” in Haiti (and Benin) to totally eradicate Vodou from the minds of its people on the grounds that it “gets in the way of democratic governance, social justice and prosperity”. The irony of this claim is made painfully clear by the Haitian’s interviewed in Leah and Anne’s film who explain how the Haitian pig helped them put their children through school, pay for medicine, buy land or build a house. As A Pig’s Tail shows so well, the pragmatic realms of utility and mysterious realms of the sacred are not so easily separated in Haiti.

Great to see once again the meeting of Edgar Jean Louis, Vodou priest and flag-maker, and Andre Pierre, the person who taught him the way of the spirits who is one of the key painters exhibited in Kafou exhibition.

André Pierre 'Ceremonie Vodou' (1970)
André Pierre ‘Ceremonie Vodou‘ (1970)