The many voices of les indiennes

16 January – 22 February 2020

The many voices of les indiennes

The research-exhibition The many voices of les indiennes has been conceptualized in the Curatorial Politics seminar of the CCC Research-based Master at the Department of Visual Arts at HEAD Genève between 2017 and 2019.

Exhibition space LIYH Visual Arts Department HEAD Genève

16.01.2020, 18:30 – Opening

18.01.2020, 16:30 – Guided tour with participants of the exhibition

17.02.2020 Screening with Ebuka Anowka a.k.a. Emma at LIYH, bilingual event (Eng/Fr): No Apologies, 50min, 2019, CH, by Aladin Dampha, Ebuka Anokwa, Lionel Rupp, Lucas Grandjean, Lucas Morëel, Mamadou Bamba.

Image: Alexander Gence, ASCII Code for *the many voices of “les indiennes”* (voicing Pl. 57 “Indienne de traite” through writings by Nikita Dhawan and Gabrielle Hecht), 2019

The many voices of les indiennes​ is a research-exhibition ​​studying a colonial visual culture as infrastructure of the century-long formation of ​racial capitalism ​in relation to contemporary questions concerning technology, education, art and global trade. The ancient textiles called ​les indiennes​ of the 17th through 19th century can be understood as Social Media of its time depicting landscapes, mythological figures, animals, or geometric abstraction that categorize the fictions of race, the mythologies of gender, the fantasies of biology and the dreams of geography that animated, and continue to animate, the racial and gendered orders of European imperialism.

To strike out ​les indienne​s in the exhibition’s title marks the deep past of these textiles as value-making systems of the colonial matrix of global capitalism, both, in distance as well as proximity, with ongoing practices of decolonization.

les indiennes​ are block printed textiles from the Coromandel Coast in East India where they served as a visual practice to transmit oral knowledge. The term les indiennes was coined by the french colonial system in the early 17th century and the techniques were appropriated for mass production destined to a european market. Indienneries started appearing first in Marseille, then during the time of Colbertism in France, the textile industry was relocated to Geneva and Neuchatel in Switzerland from where the textiles continued to travel to seaports like Nantes in France in order to be shipped to the Kingdom of Dahomey in today’s Benin, Ambriz in Angola and the Kingdom of Cayor, West of today’s Senegal. Starting from the 17th century throughout the 19th century the production of textiles served as a currency in slavery and the trans-Atlantic trade.

Instead of historicizing les indiennes​, ​the many voices​ exhibition wishes to challenge the textiles as multi-layered infrastructure to reflect on the​ long-durée​ and proto-global nature yet contemporary implications regarding the entanglement of capital with visual culture, art, race, gender and violence. As a research-exhibition, it suggests to practice the creation of conditions for a multi-vocal reading of the “decolonial option” within an art-educational institution in Switzerland. To speak about the afterlife of an “unpayable debt” that continue to organize capitalism’s compounded contemporary geographies. How can we mobilize artistic means to debate the visual patterns of ​les indiennes​ today without replaying the epistemic violence of colonial fantasy? In which ways do contemporary technologies prolong colonial legacies producing dominant value-making systems? What can the framework of an art school in Switzerland initiate to unsettle the feedback loop of capital and violence with regard to race, gender and technology?

The curatorial approach of ​the many voices​ wishes to suggest​ ​the exhibition itself as an operational tool for research practices by the means of art, both, via making and observing. It consists of three layers: (a) Seminar outcomes comprising of interventions and works for ‘voicing’ a self-chosen pattern of ​les indiennes​ as well as project-specific conversations with seminar-relevant interlocutors, (b) existing artistic work for training a visual literacy through a decolonial lens, and (c) an online-archive with texts and documents for fostering the need for further research sessions, both, inside and outside of the exhibition space (via QR-code). The curatorial-spatial decisions in space suggest to mobilize the building’s architectural elements themselves – walls, corridor, passage – as constitutive for the exhibition-space inscribed into research-time. The pedagogical aim of​ the many voices,​ thus, has been to contribute to the planetary call of decolonization in contemporary arts of the 21s​t century condition.


With artists’ contributions, students’ voicings and conversations by Ramon Amaro, Maïté Chenière, Zasha Colah, Jean Dutoit Collective, Harun Farocki, Mathilde Gaugué, Alexander Gence, Léa Genoud, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Lauren Huret, JooYoung Hwang, Doreen Mende, Noémi Michel, Clara Nissim, Tabita Rezaire, Julie Robiolle, Laila Torres Mendieta, Françoise Vergès, Grant Watson, Fatima Wegmann.

Seminar framework: Doreen Mende

Spatial-curatorial layout : Alexander Gence and Julie Robiolle

Graphic Design (exhibition and leaflet): Cecilia Moya Rivera

Seminar group : Yasmeen Chaudry, Giacomo Galetti, Mathilde Gaugué, Alexander Gence, Doreen Mende, Clara Nissim, Julie Robiolle, Caspar Shaller, Chloe Sugden, Laila Torres Mendieta and Fatima Wegmann with further support from Román Alonso, Garance Bonard, Doriane Geneste-Loupiac, Emilie Moore, Lorelei Regamey, a.o.

Installation support : Aurélien Martin, Paul Paillet

Thanks to Vinit Agarwal, Helen Bieri Thomson, Kodwo Eshun, Elizabeth Fischer, Gilles Forster, Anselm Franke, Jean-Pierre Greff, Charles Heller, Katrin Kettenacker, Charlotte Laubard, Lisa Laurenti.