Maud Sulter, Rencontres d’Arles 2016
This exhibition presents Maud Sulter’s sixteen original photomontages, a seminal body of work created in the early 1990s that served as blueprint for her celebrated large-scale series Syrcas.
Arguably the artist’s most intricate and layered body of work, Syrcas aims to revive, through the technique of photomontage, the forgotten history of the genocide of black Europeans during the Holocaust. Sulter juxtaposes canonical imagery from classical European art history with African art objects, overlaid on vintage postcards of picturesque, unspecified Alpine landscapes. The works’ visual tropes are intimately tied up with Nazi ideology and questions of racial purity as well as African presences in Europe, while the raw montage of the visual elements serves as reference to children’s scrapbooks.
The series works as a reminder of what it means to live in racial time. Racial time operates mainly through the politics of violence, conquest, occupation and displacement, and comes to rest only at the point where disavowal and erasure are complete. The visual radicality of Sulter’s Syrcas series results in a folding of space and a bending in the history of race.
The composite works of Syrcas are supported by a reproduction of Sulter’s seminal poem Blood Money (1994). Inspired by German photographer August Sanders’ Circus Workers (1926-1932), the poem is a harrowing tale of a young African woman and her family caught up in war, facing the constant threat of discrimination, violence and persecution.
‘I felt that the piece should resemble something more like a diary. I’d been to see Anne Frank’s house and liked the diary, but I wanted something more direct, more visual, and, ultimately, more personal. Then I remembered sticking pictures into a scrap-book as a child, and I saw that this was the perfect way of juxtaposing images to present the historical problems surrounding the presence of black people in Germany.’
Exhibition curator: Mark Sealy.
Exhibition produced by Autograph ABP, London.
Exhibition venue: Chapelle de la Charité.