Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen: Black Atlas

A selection of archival photographs and documents in Black Atlas reveals the racialised infrastructure behind the accumulation of artefacts and the required labour for bringing them to the vitrines, or more often storages, of the newly established ethnographic museums in Europe.

Exhibition opening 24. 10. 2019 at 7 pm
Crating the World (book launch)
Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn in Conversation with Rado Ištok 24. 10. 2019 at 6 pm
The Július Koller Society, Nová Cvernovka
Curated by Rado Ištok

Ethnographic museums and museums of world cultures have often centred their narratives around famous European ethnographers, anthropologists, and explorers, but seldom questioned the logistics of transporting artefacts from their places of origin to the museum collections. Black Atlas, an exhibition by Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn, turns the ethnographic gaze onto the museum itself in order to acknowledge the administration of racialized labour which was necessary for transporting crates with material culture from faraway places to European museums.

Based on archival research in the photographic archives of the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, Black Atlas shifts the viewer’s attention from singular white European explorers to the deployment of anonymised native porters and caravan workers. Collecting practices are thus exposed as large logistical operations choreographed in the interests of sustaining the division between the cognitive labour of the European scientists and the manual labour of the natives who were often forced by the colonial administration to work for the expeditions for free. Like the mythological figure of Atlas — carrying the weight of the world or the sky on his back — these porters carried the burdens of the European scientists, sometimes even the scientists themselves. Black, as used in the exhibition’s title, is a reference to political blackness, rooted in the anti-racist movement of people of colour in 1970s Britain, where different ethnic groups banded together as Black to fight racial discrimination, although this later proved to flatten their differences. 

A selection of archival photographs and documents in Black Atlas reveals the racialised infrastructure behind the accumulation of artefacts and the required labour for bringing them to the vitrines, or more often storages, of the newly established ethnographic museums in Europe. While the exhibition features material of prominent Swedish explorers, their figures could be interchanged for numerous other European travellers and collectors, including those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czechoslovakia.

Black Atlas was made possible with the generous support of the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, Sweden, SWICH - Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage, a collaborative project involving eleven European museums of Ethnography and World Cultures, with the aim of creating dialogues on citizenship and belonging in contemporary Europe, and the Sharjah Art Foundation.

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The presentation of Black Atlas at the Július Koller Society was made possible with the generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts and Slovak Arts Council.

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Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn is an artist using archives and a broad range of media to investigate issues of historicity, collectivity, utopian politics and multiculturalism via feminist theories. Currently based in Stockholm, she is a PhD candidate in the ‘Art, Technology and Design’ program at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. She previously completed the Whitney Independent Study Program, New York, in 2011, having obtained her MFA and a post-graduate diploma in Critical Studies from the Malmö Art Academy in 2005, and a BFA from Concordia University, Montreal, in 2003. Nguyễn’s work has been shown internationally, including at the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (2018); Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Philadelphia (2018); MAMA, Rotterdam (2018); SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin (2017); EFA Project Space, New York (2016); Mercer Union, Toronto (2015); MTL BNL at the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal (2014); Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany (2013); Apexart, New York (2013). Recent publications include The Making of an Archive (Grunt Gallery Press, 2018), a contribution to Co-Creation Labs: Illuminating Guests, Artists and New Voices in European Museums of World Culture (Sandstein Verlag, 2018), and Matters of Belonging (Sidestone Press, 2019). In 2017, Nguyễn was the Audain Visual Artist in Residence at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and participated in the fourth cycle of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore’s Residencies Program.

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Rado Ištok is a curator, researcher and editor based in Stockholm. He is a curator of the 4Cs: From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture programme at Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Academy of Arts (2018-2020), consisting of artist residencies, exhibition and a workshop; and a project leader of Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire (2018-2020), a research project in collaboration with Marie-Louise Richards and Natália Rebelo, supported by artistic research funding of the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm. He was a researcher at Decolonizing Architecture at the Royal Institute of Art, and holds an MA in Curating Art from Stockholm University and Art History from Charles University in Prague. Recent exhibitions include Liquid Horizons (2019) at tranzit.sk in Bratislava, Other Visions (2018) within the PAF - Festival of Film Animation in Olomouc, I’m fine, on my way home now (2017) at Allkonstrummet, Stockholm, and Galleri Gerlesborg (2018), and In the Sky When On the Floor (2016) at Galleri Mejan, Stockholm. As an assistant curator he worked on the exhibition Positions #3 (2016) at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Editorial work includes Crating the World (Athénée Press, 2019), an artist book of Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn; e-publication Decolonising Archives (L’Internationale Online, 2016), and Queer Scandinavia (A2, 2015). He contributes to Flash Art Czech and Slovak Edition and Art+Antiques.