Undoing Earthwriting, 2023, installation view, Optica, Montréal, 2024.
Photo: Paul Litherland
Optica, Montréal
January 20–March 23, 2024
In Undoing Earthwriting at Optica, curator Ella den Elzen draws on themes of plants, land, and geography through an Afro-diasporic lens to expand upon the relationship between Black subjectivity and nature. With new works by three artists based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montréal—Patrick Henry, Eve Tagny, and Kosisochukwu Nnebe—and a pre-existing piece by Kapwani Kiwanga, the exhibition exposes both the splendour and the exploitation of botanic and geologic matter. A beautiful and probing provocation, sowing the seeds of change, Undoing Earthwriting denounces the acceleration of the present-day climate disaster by racial capitalism, the lasting imprint of the transatlantic slave trade on agriculture, and the ongoing colonization of land by settler mentalities.

The first section of the two-gallery exhibition begins with Tagny’s exquisite, earth-toned wall works, which are thoughtfully paired with Henry’s captivating suspended bronze sculptures. In Mythologies de la valeur (2023), a diptych of near-identical black images with two vertical rows of stitched brown thread, Tagny generates a process of wounding and repair that evokes the scarring of dermis or soil. In another piece, Partition scores (2023), she presents a series of framed photographs—a collection of performance documentation and landscapes—with dried seeds affixed to their surface or delicately resting on the frame’s edge. Here, her skilful use of performance activates the land and her subjects. The gestural vocabulary of the Black actors in her photographs harmoniously communes with nature, reclaiming traditions of Western portraiture that might otherwise depict them as subjects of violence.

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