The Firsts – Edmonia Lewis video was made during an artist’s residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome as a durational performance. Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907) was a queer African-American-Haitian Ojibwa sculptress working with marble in the Neoclassical style. She preferred portraying people from the African diaspora and indigenous peoples. She was one of the first black women in Rome. She became an internationally noted artist, despite being fetishised and tokenised by the locals. Edmonia was born free in New York, but it wouldn’t have been possible for her to gain international recognition in the US because she would have been dependent on abolitionist patronage. She spent most of her adult life in Rome.
Huber got to know about Edmonia through her artist friend, the Canadian-French-Haitian and Paris-based musician and singer-songwriter Mélissa Laveaux who composed a song about Edmonia while in a residency in Rome. Her song is the soundtrack of the video.
The portrait is part of Sasha Huber’s ongoing portraiture series The Firsts which is dedicated to amplifying histories of the first persons from the African Diaspora to have migrated to various European countries in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Firsts researches historical and systemic racism and its debilitating effects on members of the contemporary African Diaspora, with a focus on women being underrepresented throughout history. The oppression directed at this community has hindered equitable societal and economic development, which is directly is linked to White supremacist thought and action. The Firsts suggest that this hindrance is the reason why today it can still be possible to be the ‘first black person’ to achieve specific goals across many fields of practice and countries.
Director: Sasha Huber
Photography: Petri Saarikko
Post production: Eetu Vihervaara
Music: Mélissa Laveaux
Sasha Huber (1975, CH/FI) 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 is also claiming the compressed-air staple gun, aware of its symbolic significance as a weapon while offering the potential to renegotiate unequal power dynamics.
She holds an MA in visual culture from the Aalto University in Helsinki and is presently undertaking a practice-based PhD at the Zurich University of the Arts in artistic research. Huber has had solo exhibitions, joined short film festivals and residencies around the world, and participated in international exhibitions, including the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. In 2021 Huber will start her first solo exhibition tour under the title You Name It. The tour begins at Kunstinstituut Melly in Rotterdam and continues to further institutions such as The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, Autograph in London, and Turku Art Museum in Finland. In 2018 Huber was the recipient of the State Art Award in the category visual arts given by the Arts Promotion Center Finland.