|Since 2001, Anderson Barbata has expanded her practice further into the social realm, initiating collaborations with stilt dancers, artists, and artisans from Mexico, New York, and the Caribbean. They have been staged at various museums, schools, and in other public spaces both as exhibitions and performance “Interventions,” the latter of which endeavor to draw attention to social injustices in the United States and abroad. Exhibited here are 18 costumed characters from Intervention: Indigo, which was originally performed as a large-scale street intervention in 2015 in Brooklyn. The collaboration between Anderson Barbata, the Brooklyn Jumbies (a troupe led by Najja Codrington and Ali Sylvester whose practice is based in stilt-dancing traditions from Senegal and Trinidad), Chris Walker, and Jarana Beat united performance, dance, music, textile arts, protest, and procession, intending to ofer a response to the murders of BIPOC persons in the United States—and beyond—at the hands of the police. Seeking to reclaim a color that might be associated with police uniforms—and thus violence—Anderson Barbata and her many collaborators use the Indigo dye to remind participants and viewers of color’s actual associations with protection, wisdom, and royalty.
The exhibition culminates with a selection of works on paper and zines that respond to and refect upon the artist’s ongoing project, The Repatriation of Julia Pastrana. Begun in 2005 in collaboration with The University of Oslo, anthropologists, sociologists, Sami scholars, intellectuals, historians, artists, and ethicists, the project traces the 2013 removal and repatriation of the body of Julia Pastrana (1834-1860), a Mexican woman exhibited in life and after death as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” from a storage facility in Oslo’s Schreiner Collection to her homeland of Sinaloa, Mexico. Unlikeher other collaborations, the artist herself does not consider The Repatriation of Julia Pastrana a work of art. Rather, as the scholar and longtime friend of the artist, Edward J. Sullivan elaborates: “Laura performed a long-term social intervention that required a virtually herculean series of petitions, interviews, diplomatic inquiries, and interactions with governmental, university, and ecclesiastical authorities. Within the context of a multifaceted career, Laura’s project represents a many years long involvement and meditation on innumerable philosophical themes.” Instead, the works on view are what Sullivan continues to call: “additive projects—or parts of the creative impulse that drove [the artist] to embark on her decade-long quest. They document and commemorate the events, yet they are subordinate to the essential altruistic and deeply political implications of the action itself.”
Laura Anderson Barbata: Singing Leaf will remain on view through October 28, 2023 at 545 West 25th Street. A fully illustrated catalogue with texts by Edward J. Sullivan and Madeline Murphy Turner will be available for purchase at the time of the exhibition. The gallery is deeply appreciative of both writers’ contributions to this ambitious project, as well as their unwavering support and scholarship.