Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre
March 15 – May 25 2014
SAY IT LOUD!”
OPENING MARCH 14 2014 5 – 7 PM
“Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud”, James Brown sang in 1968. The song was a call
to the black population in the US to replace the chains of the past with pride. With
“SAY IT LOUD!” at Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre, Danish
video artist Jeannette Ehlers now addresses an equally grim but less exposed
chapter in the history of the African slaves: Denmark’s past as a colonial power in the
Danish West Indies.
It is a chapter including plantations, slaves, and Southern skies, and with a city of
Copenhagen that built its grand town houses on the foundation of a transatlantic
trade with sugar, rum, and people. At the same time, it represents a chapter in Danish
history that continues to influence our reality to this day, but which we have only in
recent decades began to process as a collective history.
“SAY IT LOUD!” at Nikolaj Kunsthal is a poetic, fascinating, and tough processing of
the Danish past in the West Indies, as well as of Jeannette Ehlers’ own experience of
her identity as the daughter of a Danish mother and a father with roots in the West
Jeannette Ehlers employs the documentary and digitally manipulated potential of
both photography and video to create a visually, spatially, and sonically appealing
exhibition, putting under debate topics such as history, colonisation, freedom,
responsibility, force, body, identity, community, and interhuman relations.
“SAY IT LOUD!” marks the largest overall presentation of Jeannette Ehlers’ works so
far, including all her major works from 2009 to this day. The exhibition furthermore
premieres her most recent video work Whip It Good. Whip It Good is a documentation
of the artist’s first live performance, carried out in Berlin in 2013 and later recreated at
Vestindisk Pakhus (“The West India Warehouse”) in Copenhagen, where, in earlier
times, rum, sugar, and coffee from the West Indian Islands were lugged in. Today, it
houses The Royal Cast Collection.
This performance will be re-enacted on the opening evening, when Jeannette Ehlers
reenacts one of the most brutal means of punishment during slavery, the whipping, in
a simple but tense rebellion, a kind of artistic reconquering of the atrocities that her
forefathers were subjected to.
AN OUTSTANDING VIDEO ARTIST
For a number of years, Jeannette Ehlers has established herself as one of the most
significant contemporary artists working within video art, both in a Danish context and
increasingly also internationally, with her participation in exhibitions such as Kianga
Ellis Projects, New York; Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennale, Senegal; Parisian Laundry,
Montreal; CARIBBEAN: Crossroads of the World, El Museo del Barrio, New York; BLACK
EUROPE BODY POLITICS, BE.BOP 2012 and 2013; ENTER 2011: Ung Dansk
Samtidskunst, Kunsthallen Brandts; Subtle Whispering_Danish Video Art Festival,
Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; a.o.
It is a recurring element of Jeannette Ehlers’ artistic practice that she experiments
with and challenges complex issues such as identity and representation in a clear and
simple manner, making for strong and powerful works, often with a point of departure
in her Danish West Indian background. Jeannette Ehlers’ modes of expression range
from real recordings, digital video processing, sound montage, animation to
It is with great pleasure that Nikolaj Kunsthal now presents Jeannette Ehlers’ recent
works, brought together here for the first time in Copenhagen.
Jeanette Ehlers, visual artist, says:
“Based on my own Danish West Indian background, I examine and process themes
related to the transatlantic slave trade that, despite the predominant collective
repression, still play an important part in our society. My work is a personal taking
history to task and a protest against the suppression of and often ignorant attitude
towards these problems that I meet in this part of the world.”
Andreas Brøgger, curator at Nikolaj Kunsthal, adds:
“With Jeannette Ehlers’ exhibition “SAY IT LOUD!” one enters a highly topical and
relevant narrative of identity and belonging. We get to feel and reflect on the impact of
globalisation and history through her use of all the facets of the video medium – from
real recordings at the West Indian Islands to digital effects, and not least a very
powerful soundtrack. The large and unique presentation at Nikolaj Kunsthal marks the
first overall presentation of Ehlers’ works”.
“SAY IT LOUD!” will be shown at the Lower Gallery of Nikolaj Kunsthal from March 15 to
May 25 2014.
Event: BE.BOP 2014 (BLACK EUROPE BODY POLITICS)
In connection with this exhibition, the seminar and art event BE.BOP 2014 will take
place at Statens Værksteder for Kunst (“The Danish Art Workshops”) in Copenhagen
from May 15 to 18 2014.
The event comes into being in collaboration with Alanna Lockward and Art
Labour Archives, Network for Migration and Culture as well as Ballhaus
Naunynstrasse, Berlin. The seminar opens with a keynote address by Walter Mignolo,
Professor at Duke University, at the University of Copenhagen, Amager.
BE.BOP 2014 brings together international and Danish artists and theorists for a joint
discussion of the aesthetics of decolonisation in a European and interdisciplinary
context. Twice before, BE.BOP has taken place in Berlin, where key personnel within
this field have engaged in debates, talks, film screenings, and performances in order
to examine how intercultural trends, among these “black diasporas” and Afro-
European culture, are represented in Europe.
Jeannette Ehlers’ webpage: http://www.jeannetteehlers.dk
Jeannette Ehlers: “SAY IT LOUD!” on Nikolaj Kunsthal’s webpage:
THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
Up to the selling of the Danish West Indies in 1917, Denmark sent seafarers and
merchants there in order to conduct trade and run plantations. A large part of the
wealth generated up to 1870 by the sugar production at Saint Croix, the trading
station at Saint Thomas, and the so-called triangular trade among Denmark, the
West Indies, and the Gold Coast was channelled into Copenhagen and North
Zealand fortunes to provide the economic basis of the magnificent residencies of
the region, among these Marienborg, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and
Frederiksstaden, a tribute to the absolute monarchy of the Danish King Frederick V.
Behind this story of prosperity lies a dark chapter of a colonialist Denmark that had
a high cost in terms of human suffering. Thousands of slaves perished during the
transportation from West Africa where they had been captured and sold in
exchange for textiles, aquavit, and weapons from Europe, to these islands, and
even more lived under miserable conditions, with their labour exploited in the
Danish plantations and households.
As the first European country, Denmark abolished slave trade in 1792, though it was
not carried into effect until 1803. This abolition was highly affected by the
economic and humanistic arguments against slavery put forth from the mid-18th
century by Quakers, Methodists and Enlightenment philosophers. Slavery came to
an end in the Danish West Indies in 1848. The Danish West Indies received a total of
75,000 African slaves, as compared to the 1.6 million of the French colonies, the 2
million of the British colonies, and Brazil’s 4 million.
Even though the transatlantic slave trade laid the foundation for a substantial part
of Danish prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries and has later been widely
recognised as a crime against humanity, this has not occupied much space in
Danish historiography and has only in recent decades become the object of debate.
Head of PR, Nikolaj Kunsthal
Eva Bjerring, m: firstname.lastname@example.org or t: +45 33181784 / mobile +45 21247393
Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre
10 Nikolaj Plads
DK-1067 Copenhagen K