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Reimagining Times and Spaces

Date and time
Thursday, January 7, 2021

Reimagining Times and Spaces

By Tanha Gomes

Movements: RELATIONS is a tool designed by the PHI Foundation’s Department of Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting.

This article is complementary to the video Movements: RELATIONS – On «Territory» narrated by Tanha Gomes.

Black experience in any modern city or town in the Americas is a haunting. One enters a room and history follows; one enters a room and history precedes. History is already seated in the chair in the empty room when one arrives.
—Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return

Western concepts of time are often presented as a linear progression from past to present and thence to future. This understanding of history is marked by cycles of violations, subjugations, displacements, and false resolutions. Anthropologist David Scott argues that the temporality that has shaped our relations of past, present, and future no longer stands and that, today, “any future depends on how the present incorporates the past.” [1] Many artists in RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting adopt such a strategy to address legacies of colonialism.

Yinka Shonibare CBE, Victorian Dancers, 2019. Hand-sewn fabric. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery

In Victorian Dancers, British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE turns to the Hereford Mappa Mundi to address issues of migration in contemporary societies. Populated by natural and fantastical creatures, the Hereford map is the largest of its kind to survive and allows us a glimpse of how Europeans viewed the world in the Middle Ages. Shonibare invited members of schools and community groups to collaborate on the textile work while discussing the politics of othering and strange-making. Through this work, the artist poses a series of questions: who has the right to belong? How are borders created and enforced? What do maps tell us about our colonial pasts and presents, and what role does civil society play in maintaining or combatting these legacies? The use of such a significant historical document in Victorian Dancers echoes Scott’s reflection that “the past is not past, but alive with unresolved transgressions that continue to have effects on the present lives of the living, both in terms of obligations to make reparations and entitlement to receive them.”

Moridja Kitenge Banza, Chiromancie #9, No.3, 2019. Ink on mylar, 133 × 177 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hugues Charbonneau; Chiromancie #9, No.6, 2019. Ink on mylar, 133 × 177 cm. Collection of Mathilde Baril-Jannard

Originally from Kinshasa and later resident in Nantes, Montreal-based artist Moridja Kitenge Banza proposes a collapse of temporality in his series Chiromancies, begun in 2008. Chiromancy, also known as palm reading, consists in interpreting the lines of the hand—its shape, size, etc.—to assess someone’s future and personality. The artist starts by drawing the three deepest lines of his hand on a sheet of Mylar paper and then intuitively allows his brush to trace the paths of an alternative cartography, mapping his past and reimagining possible and impossible futures. His hands become borderless territories marked by his personal trajectories, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to France, to Canada.

Installation view, RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting, 2020, PHI Foundation. Jinny Yu, why does its lock fit my key?, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Art Mûr; Jinny Yu, perpetual guest, 2019. Courtesy of the artist © PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art, photo: Richard-Max Tremblay.

Born in South Korea and raised in Canada, artist Jinny Yu examines the connections between migration, identity, colonization, and decolonization. By identifying as an immigrant settler, Yu complicates our understanding of diasporic communities and resists the perpetuation of a colonial project which occupies unceded Indigenous land. Laid horizontally on the floor, perpetual guest urges us to be aware of where we stand and the implications of our bodies in this space. Three large, painted glass sheets are placed carefully atop several small metal cylinders, evoking the ever-fragile relationship of the artist to the land she occupies. The phrase “a perpetual guest on the unceded Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territories” is inscribed in the middle of the gallery floor, along a diagonal line which the visitor must cross to fully appreciate the work. As a literal and metaphorical bridge, this land acknowledgment warns us that the violence and brutality of colonialism are not in the past, and that our failure to confront and repair them in the present will keep us from any attempt to propose alternative ways to inhabit the future.

[1] Scott, David, “Resignation, Disenchantment and Reenchantment,” opening plenary session of Symposium III “Planetary Utopias—Hope, Desire, Imaginaries in a Post-Colonial World,” Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 23–24 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlzDe2rgfzs.

Photo (cover): Moridja Kitenge Banza, Chiromancie #9, No.6 (detail), 2019. Ink on mylar, 133 × 177 cm. Collection of Mathilde Baril-Jannard

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