Graham Fagen. The Slave’s Lament

Curator: Louise Déry

Artist: Graham Fagen

February 24, 2017 - April 8, 2017

Opening: February 23, 2017, 5:30 pm

The Galerie de l’UQAM and the curator Louise Déry are presenting the Scottish artist Graham Fagen’s first solo exhibition in Canada by proposing a video and music-based installation that is emblematic of his research: The Slave’s Lament. The Glasgow artist, who very successfully represented Scotland at the 2015 Venice Biennale, is interested in the slave trade, the inhuman treatment of the deported populations and the Scottish involvement in Jamaica. Several drawings and photographs have been added to this major work in order to allow for a more encompassing extrapolation of the motifs opposing national identity and cultural identity.

The exhibition is presented in the context of Montréal’s Black History Month.

The exhibition

The exhibition The Slave’s Lament presents works by the multidisciplinary artist Graham Fagen on the theme of slavery and Scottish involvement in the fate of African people deported to the Caribbean in the 18th century. The drawings, with the look of masks or portraits, the seascape photographs and the imposing video and music installation shown here explore the tensions and emotions brought about by colonialism and the African slave trade. Today considerable feeling has been mobilized with the aim of reconciliation and redemption for the economic servitude and cultural oppression of peoples – whether aboriginal, the product of immigration or subject to current insidious forms of servitude. Fagen’s questioning of nationality and identity, however, is based on a particularly pertinent critique of the cultural and social heritage.

It was in sweet Senegal
That my foes did me enthral,
For the lands of Virginia — ginia O!
Torn from that lovely shore,
I must never see it more,
And alas! I am weary, weary O! […]

– Robert Burns, The Slave’s Lament, 1792

The installation entitled The Slave’s Lament refers to a song dating from 1792 attributed to the Scottish national poet Robert Burns, and it expresses Burns’s attitude toward slavery. Sung by the famous reggae artist Ghetto Priest to an accompaniment by members of the Scottish Ensemble, the song haunts us with its poignant melody and troubling tale of a Senegalese who, forced into exile and slavery, mourns the loss of his country. Fagen filmed the singer and instrumentalists in close-up, then divided the temporal sequence into pieces that he recomposed into an epic-style ode to the identity that we inherit, that is stolen from us or that we assume. The camera scrutinizes the gazes and gestures, lingering over certain details as if to track down a potential for authenticity and identity to be safeguarded and shared.

A publication about the exhibition will be launched later in the year.

The artist

Graham Fagen is one of the most influential artists working in Scotland today. His work mixes media and crosses continents; combining video, performance, photography and sculpture with text, live music and plants. Fagen’s recurring artistic themes, which include flowers, journeys and popular song, are used as attempts to understand the powerful forces that shape our lives.

Graham Fagen studied at The Glasgow School of Art (1984-1988, BA) and the Kent Institute of Art and Design (1989-1990, MA). He is senior lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee. 1999 Fagen was invited by the Imperial War Museum, London to work as the Official War Artist for Kosovo, and since then has exhibited widely both in the UK and abroad. In 2015 Graham Fagen was selected to represent Scotland at the 56th Venice Biennale.

The several exhibitions he took part in include: The Mighty Scheme, Dilston Grove and CPG London, London (2016), GENERATION: 25 Years of Contemporary Art from Scotland, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2015), In Camera (with Graham Eatough), La Friche la Belle de Mai, Marseille (2015), Cabbages in an Orchard, Glasgow School of Art (2014), Bloodshed, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2004), Art of the Garden, Tate Britain, London (2004), Golden Age, Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1999) and Zenomap, Scotland + Venice, 50th Venice Biennale (2003).

The curator

Louise Déry (PhD Art History) is director of the Galerie de l’UQAM and associate professor in the Department of Art History at UQAM. Formerly a curator at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, she has curated numerous exhibitions, including Daniel Buren, Giuseppe Penone, Rober Racine, Sarkis, Nancy Spero, David Altmejd, Dominique Blain, Françoise Sullivan, Michael Snow, Stéphane La Rue, Raphaëlle de Groot, Artur Żmijewski, Manon de Pauw, and more recently Aude Moreau, to name just a few. She has presented some thirty foreign exhibitions of Canadian artists, including a dozen in Italy, as well as in France, Belgium, Spain, Turkey, the United States and Asia. She was curator of the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale with a David Altmejd exhibition (2007). At the Venice Biennales of 2013 and 2015, she presented performances by Raphaëlle de Groot and Jean-Pierre Aubé. She is a recipient of the Hnatyshyn Award (2007) and the Governor General’s Award (2015), and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.

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