Addressing questions of memory, race, and colonialism, Jeannette Ehlers is a Danish-Trinidadian experimental artist working across photography, video, installation, sculpture, and performance.
For Autograph’s commissioning project Amplify – Stranger in the Village: Afro European Matters, Ehlers created the final chapter of her trilogy We're Magic. We're Real, started in 2020. In this new series of photographs, Ehlers continues to explore hair as an important marker of identity in Pan-African culture, speaking to the interconnectedness of black existence. She uses this simple yet powerful motif to address the transatlantic enslavement trade, and collective resistance to coloniality.
In We're Magic. We're Real #3 (From Sunset to Sunrise), Ehlers evokes notions of ancestral lineages, considering the ecologies of care not only within the African diaspora but also wider implications to the planet. Set within a Danish forest, five black female performers (Ehlers, Julienne Doko, Trine Drechsler, Wanjiku Victoria Seest and Mai Takawira) are conjoined by a constellation of cornrows as a signifier of strength, sisterhood and spirituality. Each image is a symbolic series of performances that poetically describes the relationship between culture and nature, body and landscape, history and the present. With thanks to photographer Christian Brems.
Alongside the commission, Autograph invited curator Karen Alexander to produce a short essay responding to the work, published alongside an in-conversation with the artist and Autograph’s senior curator Renée Mussai.
is a Copenhagen-based artist of Danish and Trinidadian descent. She graduated from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2006. Ehlers’ work often makes use of self-representation and image manipulation to engender decolonial hauntings and disruptions.
These manifestations attend to the material and affective afterlives of Denmark’s colonial impact in the Caribbean and participation in the Transatlantic Slave Trade — realities that have all too often been rendered forgettable by dominant history-writing. In the words of author Lesley-Ann Brown, ‘Ehlers reminds all who participate in or gaze at her work that history is not in the past’. In her conceptual art practice, Ehlers insists on the possibility for empowerment and healing, honouring legacies of resistance in the African diaspora. She merges the historical, the collective and the rebellious with the familial, the bodily and the poetic.
She has exhibited internationally and was shortlisted to create a national monument to The Windrush Generation at London Waterloo Station 2022. Ehlers collaborated with La Vaughn Belle to co-create the public sculpture project I Am Queen Mary, 2018. Selected exhibitions include Dak'Art – The Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Senegal; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark; Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), USA; Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, London, UK; Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto, Canada; National Gallery of Denmark (SMK), Copenhagen, Denmark; Nuuk Art Museum, Greenland; Berliner Herbstsalon, Berlin, Germany; Oslo Art Society, Oslo, Norway; Ford Foundation Gallery, NYC, USA; Savvy Contemporary Berlin, Germany; The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland; Canton Gallery, Guangzhou, China; Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Los Angeles, USA; The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, UK; Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland; The Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, Copenhagen, Denmark; Pérez Art Museum, Miami, USA; and El Museo Del Barrio, New York, USA.
Jeannette Ehlers' 2015 performance and exhibition at Autograph
Speaking subtly to black existence and a collective resistance to colonialism
A conversation considering how we can work together towards diversifying our collections
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