Sunday, July 24, 2016

Raise: Jeannette Ehlers at the McKenna Museum

As a Creole native of Denmark, Jeannette Ehlers was shocked when she learned that her Nordic homeland had a slave-based colonial past. The Danish West Indies' fraught history seemed largely whitewashed out of existence after becoming the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917, and the shock of that discovery caused Ehlers to create performances, videos and art objects related to its semi-secret history. Perhaps the most whimsically lyrical video, Black Magic in the White House, above, is set in the Danish prime minister's residence and harks to its (and the colonial governor's mansion's) Afro-Caribbean back story expressed via a dancing spirit's mysterious candles and voodoo symbols. Whip It Good is a darkly visceral and unsettling look at the disciplinary role played by whips in colonial slave-based societies, as her spectral figure literally lashes out like an avenging voodoo spirit--an experience she invites viewers to share in her eponymous performances. Although widely exhibited in Europe, this Raise exhibit curated by Taylor Le Melle and Michael K. Wilson is Ehler's first full fledged U.S. museum show.  ~ Bookhardt / Raise: Mixed Media by Jeannette Ehlers, Through July 16th, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432.