Sasha Huber (b. 1975, Zurich, Switzerland) is a
visual artist who currently lives and works in Helsinki. She uses
various media including video, photography, drawing, intervention and
stapling. Being of European and Haitian heritage, she allies herself
with the Caribbean Diaspora. The starting point for her work is an
examination of her roots and of how this affects the process of
constructing her personal and artistic identity. The journey began as
a reaction against the historical injustice of colonialism. But, as
her work progressed, this was gradually transformed into a quest for
understanding and a more interactive dialogue.
Huber holds an MA from the University of Art and Design Helsinki. She has exhibited at spaces including: CCA - Center of Contemporary Art - Tbilisi (March, 2013); Hasselblad Foundation, Project Space, Gothenburg (2012); Retretti Art Centre, Finland (2012); Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm (2011); Kunsthalle Helsinki, Studio (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2010); and Riga Art Space, Latvia (2009). She edited Rentyhorn (2010), and was co-editor of (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today (2010) on the occasion of the 29th Bienal de São Paulo.
Almost from the beginning, the major incentive for my artistic work has been the exploration of my Haitian-Swiss roots and identity via colonial history. This approach has broadened out considerably to include a wider range of histories and postcolonial realities. I have found myself balancing the critical and political with an aesthetic rendering of the subject matter. Nevertheless, both the aesthetics of my works and the means of realizing them are constantly changing.
My grandfather, the artist Georges Remponeau, emigrated from Haiti with his family to New York City in 1965, to protect them from the dictatorship in Port-au-Prince, and to give them a better future. My Swiss father met my Haitian-born mother in New York. I was born in Zurich in 1975. The circumstances of my birth made me part of the Caribbean Diaspora.
As an artist I began my critique of colonialism by making portraits of Christopher Columbus and the Haitian dictators François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. I ‘shot’ their portraits on driftwood using a staple gun, literally nailing them. I have used this staple-gun technique on numerous occasions since then, to depict endangered and poached animals, for instance, gorillas. I only realized afterwards that in their treatment and ultimate fate there were many parallels with the transatlantic slave trade and subsequent western racism, including racist science.
My work took a new direction when I joined the Transatlantic Committee “De-mounting Louis Agassiz”, which was initiated by the Swiss historian and political activist Hans Fässler. The Swiss-born naturalist and glaciologist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) was an influential racist, a pioneering thinker of apartheid, and a supporter of segregation in the Southern states of the USA. Agassiz’s story has mostly gone untold until now. The aim was to shed light on Agassiz’s dark history by renaming the Swiss Agassizhorn mountain after Renty, a slave that Agassiz had photographed for his research. I took action and flew to the top of the Agassizhorn, and in an artistic act named it ‘Rentyhorn’, also launching an international online petition (www.rentyhorn.ch). More generally, I began working with interventions, documenting them on video and in photographs, in drawings, and in books related to my projects, produced in collaboration with writers and researchers. I am the editor of Rentyhorn and co-editor of (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today, which was published on the occasion of the 29th Bienal de São Paulo.
My family is another important identity-related starting point for my work. The I love Jany exhibition was a tribute to my aunt Jany Tomba, one of the first black fashion models in the New York of the early 70s, who never gave up encouraging black women to be proud of their roots and their looks. Mr. Sasha Huber was in turn a journey into my own identity, an exhibition in which I transformed myself into a man – I have often been taken for a man because of my first name, Sasha. Huskurer Remedies, made together with my Finnish husband Petri Saarikko, was a collective family project exploring family-based knowledge about traditional folk remedies, which are a part of family identity, even if the remedies have been brought into the family by members who joined it from another country.
If I had to define the nature of my art, I would call it an art of investigative post-colonial collaboration.
Helsinki, December 2012
Read a more detailed bio from the Encyclopedia of Afro-European Studies.
At the studio working on Trophy III, 2013.
At my studio working on I love JaNY, 2010. Photograph by Susanna Kekkonen.
Working on the Trophy I project, 2010.
At the old studio working on a portrait as part of my Rentyhorn project, 2008.