Quinsy Gario in collaboration with Mina Ouaouirst
Artist Page — 2 Sep 2020
In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.
The installation ⵉⴼⴽⴰⵢⴰⵙ ⵉ ⵎⴰⵓⵔⵉⵙ ⵉⵇⵇⴰⵢⵏ ⴷⵜⵎⵎⵓⵔⵖⵉ ⴷⵡⴰⵎⴰⵏ (we offered Maurice dates, grasshoppers and water, 2020) speculates on the journey of Saint Maurice from Meroë to the Swiss Alps, imagining him passing through the land of the Imazighen people. Maurice was the leader of the legendary Roman Theban Legion and part of a group who martyred themselves in what is now known as Switzerland in the 3rd century to save a Christian village. Despite many references to Maurice in different – mainly European – historical sources, important details, such as those about his life and journey, remain unclear.
Circa 1399 a group of unwed male merchants took St. Mauritius as their patron saint when they established the Blackheads Brotherhood. They had several lodges and one was the House of the Blackheads in Latvia’s capital of Riga. It operated before, during and after the rule of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1562 to 1795). Although connected through the Hanseatic trade group, the Republic of United Seven Netherlands and the Duchy of Courland clashed in the mid 17th century over their attempts to colonize Tobago in the Caribbean.
The obscureness of Saint Maurice’s journey and Dutch-Latvian colonial relations through the Amsterdam shipyards reflect complex histories from which one could learn how to attempt to repair colonial damage. By highlighting such overlooked past relations, the work stimulates viewers to critically contemplate transcultural memory as a means to repair gaps in history writing.
This multilayered story is described through video, slide-projection, poetry, and a diptych of tapestries. The poetic singing in Tamazight tells an imagined story of how Saint Maurice might have visited their village and interacted with its people during his travels. The tapestries, depicting among other visual elements a map of Tobago, crossed by a speculative travel route of Saint Maurice and Tifinagh and Arabic script, were designed and woven by a group of tapestry artisans from Taznakht. Incorporating elements of repetition and time, the weaving simulates a possibility to remember otherwise.
With lyrics and vocals by: Zahra ait Lehs, translations by: Fouzya Toukart, poem by: Quinsy Gario, tapestry weaving: Fadma ait Oukhechif, Mina ait sidi Hamou, Habiba el Khatiri en Naima Ouaga, photos & videos: Mina Ouaouirst en Quinsy Gario, video & audio editing: Mina Ouaouirst, collages: Quinsy Gario, archival images sourced from the National Museum of World Cultures, Rijksmuseum, de British Library en de British National Archives.
Quinsy Gario is interested in the Dutch Caribbean history of resistance against and refusal of (Dutch) colonial rule overseas and in Europe. Mina Ouaouirst is a visual storyteller and researcher. Her work focuses on Amazigh culture and heritage and women’s emancipation through film and photography.
This collaborative work between Quinsy Gario and Mina Ouaouirst is an investigation into attempts to repair colonial damage through transhistorical storytelling. Their work highlights their interests in non-dominant and marginalized archival practices. Ouaouirst departs from cultural heritage practices in Morocco and Gario from the Dutch cultural archive of the islands in the Caribbean that have been or are occupied by the Dutch. Their interests align through the figure and story of Saint Maurice and his connection to the Latvian embrace of the colonial past of the Duchy of Courland through the work ⵉⴼⴽⴰⵢⴰⵙ ⵉ ⵎⴰⵓⵔⵉⵙ ⵉⵇⵇⴰⵢⵏ ⴷⵜⵎⵎⵓⵔⵖⵉ ⴷⵡⴰⵎⴰⵏ (we offered Maurice dates, grasshoppers and water).
Saint Maurice was connected to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and was canonized in the ninth century for martyring himself to save a Christian village in the Swiss Alps in the third century. He is also the patron saint of the Black Heads Brotherhood founded around 1399, an unwed merchant society with a chapter in Riga in present day Latvia. During World War II the museum was bombed and was only rebuilt in 1999 as a museum, eight years after the end of the Soviet occupation of the country after World War II. It is filled with slavery iconography that frankly clashes with the veneration of this African saint. The society operated during the period of the Duchy of Courland. The Duchy was a vassal state of the Polish-Lithuanian empire and comprised parts of contemporary Latvia. In the seventeenth century Duke Jakob Kettler participated in the violent European colonial expansion by attempting to colonize what are now known as Tobago and The Gambia. He failed, but not before enlisting Dutch ships to transport colonial goods and enslaved Africans in the Triangular Trade.
There are however gaps in the telling of Saint Maurice’s life in the third century, as there are gaps in the remembering of the relationship between the Netherlands and the Duchy of Courland. Gaps of information lost through time and deliberate destruction of archives that adhere to our dominant idea of what an archive can be. Thinking about tapestry as an archive of practices, aesthetics, and stories, Ouaouirst and Gario came to look at the Moroccan tapestry tradition as a means of repairing this destruction. As written in Berber costumes of Morocco: Traditional Patterns by Marie-Rose Rabate, the textures of many textiles from Moroccan looms strongly resemble archeological finds from ancient Egypt.
Ouaouirst and Gario contend that the weaving practices in southern Morocco offer ways to reparatively remember transhistorical stories. They enlisted weavers Fadma ait Oukhechif, Mina ait sidi Hamou, Habiba el Khatiri, and Naima Ouaga from the Foundation Kasba Taznakhte, and improvisational singer Zahra Ait Lehs, Ouaouirst’s aunt, as collaborators. Through the improvisational singing, inspired by poetic stories, local anecdotes, storytelling traditions, local aesthetics and imagery, they attempt to present a narrative of how Maurice might have visited their villages on his way to the Swiss Alps. In this work, rural carpet weaving is presented as a means of telling another side of Maurice’s life, devoid of the servitude that the canonical stories thrust upon him and full of connections to the afterlives of colonialism in the Caribbean and Africa.
Ouaouirst and Gario met through the Meervaart Studio workshop facilitator education program in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. This is their second collaboration; their first, along with several other people, the performance piece Geit in Blik, was commissioned by Stichting Literaire Activiteiten Amsterdam and Podium Mozaïek in 2012. The work shown in the Stedelijk Museum is part of a larger body of work looking at Courland colonialism on Tobago that Gario is working on. Other parts were commissioned by Ieva Astahovska and Margaret Tali for the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art and will be presented at the exhibition Communicating Difficult Pasts in the Latvian National Museum of Art.