We Are History: Race, Colonialism and Climate Change

The group exhibition “We Are History: Race, Colonialism and Climate Change,” curated by Ekow Eshun, is on view at Somerset House, Strand, London, until February 6, 2022. “We Are History” offers “a different perspective on humanity’s impact on the planet by tracing the complex interrelations between today’s climate crisis and legacies of colonialism.”

The exhibition, which opens to coincide with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, spotlights the works of 11 artists with personal connections to countries in the Caribbean, South America and Africa, bringing to the fore the perspectives of their communities, not as an afterthought in climate debates, but as the source of resonant ideas and imagery related to social and environmental justice.

Curated by writer Ekow Eshun, and showcasing photography, prints, textile, installation and video, We Are History presents works which are moving, lyrical and thought-provoking, capturing nature as a place of both beauty and fragility. Featuring artists Alberta Whittle, Allora & Calzadilla, Carolina Caycedo, Louis Henderson, Malala Andrialavidrazana, Mazenett Quiroga, Otobong Nkanga, Zineb Sedira and a newly commissioned work by multidisciplinary artist Shiraz Bayjoo, the exhibition interrogates the environmental issues facing the southern hemisphere by looking to the past and drawing important insight from the cultural practices and knowledge systems of indigenous peoples.

Collectively, the exhibition’s contributors are looking to expand the common narrative around climate change, a subject which is often linked to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the West. We Are History invites visitors to look further back in time, exploring significant periods of change such as the 18th century colonial era, which saw plantation agriculture and the forced mass migration of people through slavery reshaping lives and landscapes on a global scale. [. . .]

The exhibition opens with work from Puerto-Rico based artist duo Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla who catalogued sites in Puerto Rico where palm trees were used as natural markers by the U.S. military during their sixty-year occupation of the island, to identify locations where hazardous waste had been disposed. These sites, which are now paradoxically managed as Conservation Zones, are photographed by Allora & Calzadilla and disrupted using screen-printing. [. . .]

Two video works complete the exhibition. Alberta Whittle’s from the forest to the concrete (to the forest) (2019) was developed during the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, one of the most powerful cyclones to strike the Caribbean in modern times. Whittle interweaves performance with footage of the cyclone’s destruction, calling upon viewers to reflect upon their relative comfort living in the UK and elsewhere, in contrast to the destructive impact of the weather and societal inequalities affecting other parts of the world. Filmmaker Louis Henderson uses film to critique European colonial history in The Sea is History, presenting an adaption of Derek Walcott’s poem of the same name, overlayed with imagery filmed on Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic, a hyper-salinated lake that continually floods the border with Haiti due to the drastic rise in sea temperatures affecting the global ocean.

For full description, videos, and more information, visit https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/we-are-history

[Image above: Detail from Zineb Sedira’s “The Lovers,” 2009 © DACS Zineb Sedira, Paris / London.]

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