Power dynamics, the detrimental residue of colonialism in our environment, memory, belonging… and a staple gun. All of these unique elements came together to bridge the complex worlds of art, history, and politics in the work of this week’s Scripps Presents’ guest speaker Sasha Huber.
Huber, a filmmaker and visual artist of Swiss-Haitian descent, was invited to speak at Scripps College on Jan. 29 by professor Myriam J. A. Chancy, chair of the Scripps Humanities Department, who had followed Huber’s work and been acquainted with her for several years. Chancy, during her introduction, mentioned that Huber’s work corresponded well with the class she was teaching on the lingering effects of colonialism in countries across the world.
Huber began her talk with a description of her grandfather and his important role as an artist in her personal life and the climate of international art, as he was one of the first people to bring Haitian art across the world. The passion and admiration with which she described her grandfather and his work was obvious; she wanted more people to know about his influence in bridging gaps and creating art that is inclusive.
She went on to talk about her work, both in visual art and filmmaking. Some of her prominent films included: “Haiti Cherie” (2011), “I love JaNY” (2010), and a film about the Haitian Parsley Massacre of 1937. Though the audience could only see snippets of these films, many were astounded by the vibrancy and artistry through which she presented her message of anti-colonialist sentiments.
Huber introduced her next body of work, a series of acclaimed portraits that were done entirely with staples on a wood canvas, providing a brief explanation on why she chose to use a staple gun as her unlikely main tool.
“It was like a weapon to me,” Huber said. “I thought I could use it to express my frustration with the power dynamics that exist in my home state of Haiti and the (colonialists) who brought on this situation.”
Some of her pieces depicted portraits of colonizers, such as Columbus or Haitian dictators, but her main event was a spectacular three-meter long piece titled “Sea of the Lost.” The image depicted a boat and a body of water composed of thousands of staples on a slab of wood.
Huber said the piece was dedicated to those who suffered or could not make it through the journeys in the Middle Passage, a sea voyage that many slave boats undertook from Africa to the New World during the Atlantic Slave Trade. She also felt it could be relevant to the current situation in the Mediterranean Passage, a sea route that is taken by many Syrian refugees to get to Europe.
Finally, Huber discussed one of the most influential sources in her life: a book written by Hans Fassler, “Reise in Schwarz Weiss,” which outlined Swiss involvement in slavery, including events that took place in Haiti. As a Swiss-Haitian woman, the text was incredibly important to her work and eventually led her to focus projects on the origins and passing on of racism throughout history.
She concluded with a discussion on her project “Demounting Louis Agassiz,” stating that the main goal for her work was “a reclaiming of the body and of the landscape,” a reference to the objectification of slaves and the theft of land by white colonialists throughout history. Although her work is deeply rooted in her personal life and heritage, her messages of minority suffering and colonial presence in the modern world spoke to everyone in the lecture hall.