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In a thought-provoking exploration of art’s power to challenge, confront, and redefine, Guadeloupean photographer Damien Jélaine pushes the boundaries of perception and complicity. This visionary artist presents a photographic statement that resonates with urgency, complexity, and a relentless pursuit of truth.

“An Anticolonial Minute: The Disposal of the False Gods » – Photography, Guadeloupe, 2023 ©Damien Jélaine

Damien Jélaine proclaims that “after us” – the living, the thinkers, the critics – the arts will evolve beyond their historical role as bombs, no longer inciting turmoil or merely raising eyebrows among opposing forces. This shift serves as the backdrop for Jélaine’s magnum opus, “An Anticolonial Minute: The Disposal of the False Gods », a profound and daring endeavor that challenges the very essence of black art’s impact and wrestles with the legacy of colonialism.

In this photographic piece, Damien Jélaine takes on the mantle of a modern-day photojournalist, wielding his lens as a weapon against complacency. Inspired by the works of luminaries like James Nachtwey, Sebastiao Salgado, and McCullin, whose haunting images exposed the raw scars of conflict, Jélaine grapples with his own unyielding pursuit of beauty amidst darkness. His work emerges as a counterpoint to the inadvertent desensitization perpetuated by past generations of photojournalists, whose images unwittingly shaped the Western gaze toward suffering.

« Details of Adam and Lonny » ©Damien Jélaine

On the left: Rwanda, Survivor of Hutu death camp, ©James Nachtwey, 1994
On the right: Details of Adam, ©Damien Jélaine

A pivotal moment of revelation came through encountering the works of Alice Seeley Harris, whose photographs of the Congolese genocide by the Belgians exposed the brutal reign of King Leopold II. Damien Jélaine’s introspection deepened as he juxtaposed historical anatomical dissections with contemporary images of brutality, leading to a transformative realization that underpinned his artistic journey.

Nsala of Wala in Congo looks at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter
Congo, 1904 ©Alice Seeley Harris
« The Creation of Adam », Roma, 1512 ©Michelangelo
« Details of Adam and his father » ©Damien Jélaine
“An Anticolonial Minute: The Disposal of the False Gods » – Photography, Guadeloupe, 2023 ©Damien Jélaine

« Seeley Harris ultimately shot what would become her most famous photograph: that of a father named Nsala observing the severed hand and foot of his daughter Boali. A photo I’ve seen and revisited countless times until its composition started to question me. Why did this composition suddenly feel so familiar? Like the most macabre déjà vu. A father, in profile, with other figures in the background observing the scene, with the hand of his child at the center. Fucking Michelangelo.

The “Creation of Adam,” the « Trinity Project of the art world », the most effective existential bomb and civilizational weapon of all time. Everything was there, except the power. Everything was there, except creation, replaced by destruction. If God was creating his son, Nsala was losing his daughter. If God was pointing a finger, Nsala was retracting his hand. From a total colonial icon arose total colonial damage, and that was the starting point of my work. »

– Damien Jélaine

Technique and execution play a paramount role in the creation of “An Anticolonial Minute: The Disposal of the False Gods ». Damien Jélaine meticulously deploys two distinct techniques – “Photopiecing” and “Photobending” – to construct a visual narrative that juxtaposes the serene and the horrific. The former involves shooting thousands of photographs encompassing various elements from nature, human models, and fabrics, while the latter requires surgical precision in manipulating these images to achieve anatomical realism.

Shooting Joyce Richardson ©Kimberley Demagny
« Details of Joyce, The Simulacra and Eve » ©Damien Jélaine

The artist’s research into anatomical forms led them down a path of confronting humanity’s darkest corners, an odyssey through pixels that exposed the very worst of our species. The relentless exposure to the horrors of the modern world left indelible scars, forcing Damien Jélaine to seek a balance between unflinching depiction and a haunting yet beautiful transformation of the brutal reality.

« Details of Eve » ©Damien Jélaine

At the heart of this artistic endeavor lies an unyielding commitment to confront colonial legacies and create a disconcerting dialogue with history. Damien Jélaine’s work challenges the viewer to question their own gaze, their role as witnesses, and their responsibility in a world marred by historical atrocities and contemporary injustices. Through a powerful juxtaposition of beauty and brutality, Damien Jélaine’s photograph embodies a stark reminder that the pursuit of art can be both a mirror and a medium, reflecting the complex interplay between creation and annihilation.

As viewers engage with “An Anticolonial Minute: The Disposal of the False Gods », they are invited to a disconcerting immersion into the artist’s visceral confrontation of colonialism’s remnants. This artistic offering transcends mere observation, beckoning contemplation and introspection on the role each of us plays in shaping the narrative of our shared world.

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