Sasha Huber

The Firsts – Tilo Frey

A new commission honouring Cameroonian-Swiss politician Tilo Frey (1923-2008), who campaigned for women’s rights and suffrage in Switzerland

about the commission

Sasha Huber’s artistic practice is concerned with the politics of memory and belonging. Using performance, video, photography, and working collaboratively, Huber explores the colonial residues left in the environment. For Autograph’s commissioning project Amplify – Stranger in the Village: Afro European Matters, Huber created a new work in her series The Firsts. Started in 2017, The Firsts consists of commemorative portraits paying homage to pioneering ancestral figures, with a focus on women from the African diaspora in Europe. The series suggests that even today someone can still be ‘the first’ Black person to achieve specific goals across many fields of practice and in different countries.

The portrait created for Autograph honours Tilo Frey (1923-2008), a Cameroonian-Swiss politician. Just over fifty years ago, in 1971, women in Switzerland gained the right to vote. Twelve women were elected to the National Council, and Frey was the first woman of colour, actively advocating for crucial women’s rights and women’s suffrage.

Working on a black-painted acoustic board is seen by the artist as a symbolic act of addressing the often-silenced histories of the people depicted in these portraits. Using an air staple gun, a method she has used in her work since 2004, she created a large portrait from one of the last remaining photographs of Frey – densely embellishing the board with thousands of staples, each piercing and punctuating the surface.

For Huber, “working with the air staple gun has become a way of symbolically stitching wounds together, creating reflective and three-dimensionally appearing ‘pain-things’.” Alongside the portrait, she created a video The Firsts: Tilo Frey (2022), in which we see Huber’s abstracted, ghost-like presence appear and disappear as Frey’s portrait emerges from the black canvas. The video expresses the idea of making visible lost narratives as an act of remembrance and resisting erasure. For the soundtrack, Huber collaborated with Swiss activist, songwriter and actor Brandy Butler. She performs the original score Before the Tide, a melancholic resonance immersed in notions of invisibility and nostalgia. 

Alongside the commission, Autograph has published an in-conversation with Huber and our senior curator Renée Mussai. The second part of Huber’s commission will be unveiled in November 2022 to coincide with her exhibition YOU NAME IT at Autograph, with a new text by writer Dr Jareh Das.

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view the commission




Afropean Remedial Gestures (Part I): Introducing Tilo Frey

The artist in conversation with Autograph's senior curator Renée Mussai

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The Politics of Memory and Belonging in Sasha Huber’s Action Portraits

Dr Jareh Das responds to Huber's commission

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about the artist

Sasha Huber

is a Helsinki-based, multidisciplinary visual artist-researcher of Swiss-Haitian heritage. Huber's work is primarily concerned with the politics of memory and belonging, particularly in relation to colonial residue left in the environment. Sensitive to the subtle threads connecting history and the present, she uses and responds to archival material within a layered creative practice that encompasses performance-based interventions, video, photography, and collaborations.

Huber frequently reclaims – aware of its symbolic significance – the compressed-air staple gun as an artistic ‘weapon’, tapping into its potential to renegotiate unequal power dynamics. She is known for her artistic research contribution to the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign which aims to dismantle the glaciologist’s lesser-known but contentious racist heritage. Huber also often works in a creative partnership with artist Petri Saarikko with whom she initiated the long-term project Remedies Universe.

Huber holds an MA in visual culture from the Aalto University and is presently undertaking a practice-based PhD at Zurich University of the Arts. Huber has had numerous solo presentations, artist residencies and participated in international exhibitions and festivals, including the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. In 2021 Huber’s solo exhibition tour You Name It began at Kunstinstituut Melly in Rotterdam and continues to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto; Autograph in London in 2022/23; and Turku Art Museum in Finland in 2023. In 2018 Huber was the recipient of the State Art Award in the category visual arts given by the Arts Promotion Center Finland.

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part of the exhibition

Sasha Huber: YOU NAME IT

Free exhibition, 11 Nov 2022 - 25 Mar 2023

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part of the project

Amplify — Stranger in the Village: Afro European Matters

Autograph's commissioning project considering contemporary Afrodiasporic experiences in Europe, supported by the Art Fund.

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with art fund support

Banner image: Sasha Huber, film still from The Firsts - Tilo Frey, 2021. Video music by Brandy Butler, ‘Before The Tide’ Commissioned by Autograph.

Commission video: Works from Sasha Huber's commissionThe Firsts - Tilo Frey, 2021 Video, 4"45' Music by Brandy Butler, ‘Before The Tide’ © the artist. Courtesy of / commissioned by Autograph, 2021. Supported by Art Fund.

Other images: 1) Sasha Huber. 2) Mónica de Miranda, Dressage, from The Island, 2021. Commissioned by Autograph. Supported by Art Fund. 3) Sasha Huber, Space Race, 2018. 4) Dexter McLean, Kamahl, [detail] 2020. © and courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Autograph for Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other. 5) Sasha Huber, Agassiz Down Under [detail], 2015. Courtesy the artist. 6) Zanele Muholi, Bayephi III, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 2017 [detail]. Commissioned by Autograph © and courtesy Zanele Muholi. 7) Rotimi Fani-Kayode works on display at the Guggenheim. Photographs by David Heald and © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.