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Camille Henrot presents first solo U.S. exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art
Study for Cities of Ys courtesy the artist and gallery kamel mennour.

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- New Orleans Museum of Art debuts a solo exhibition this fall by French artist Camille Henrot (born 1978, lives in New York), awardee of the Venice Biennale Silver Lion for a promising young artist. The exhibition Camille Henrot: Cities of Ys is Henrot’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

Henrot often uses a constellation of images from both academic and popular sources to connect origin myths with contemporary culture. In her installation at The New Orleans Museum of Art she draws a parallel between the legendary, submerged city of Ys in Brittany, France (where her family is from), and the disappearing wetlands occupied by the Houma Indians, a tribe located in Louisiana that historically speaks Houma French, a combination of seventeenth-century French and ancestral Houma, a West Muskogean language.

“NOMA has been committed to being a laboratory for artistic innovation in post-Katrina New Orleans,” said Susan M. Taylor, Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Camille Henrot’s project for NOMA is in perfect alignment with our mission of inviting artists to do site-specific work in New Orleans.”

For her exhibition, Cities of Ys, Henrot created a combination of video and sculptural works that explore the fluidity of legends and cultures. Henrot was attracted to the Houma Indians both for their connection to her native language and for the tribe’s resistance to the homogenization and institutionalization of their culture. Today, the Houma tribe is seeking to become a federally recognized tribe by the United States government, along with many other Native American tribes. However, part of their struggle is to prove their Native American status, which is complicated by the fact the land where the Houma people reside is scattered by waterways (complicating the demarcation of “native lands”). Additionally, through the past centuries they were a peaceful tribe and did not go to war with the United States army or its colonists. As a result, the tribe does not have any past treaties with the U.S. government. Henrot’s project is in part a critique of the process of how culture is evaluated, particularly by members outside of a community.

Seeking to tie together two cultures, the Houma, and her own, Henrot recalls a legend told by her grandmother, a storyteller from Brittany France. Brittany was an isolated coastal region of France that has maintained their culture through oral histories and storytelling. According to this legend, titled “City of Ys,” Ys was a luxurious coastal city protected by a seawall. In some iterations of the story, Princess Dahut of Ys, convinced by a foreign knight, stole the key to the floodgate from her father, King Gradlon. As a result of her transgression, the floodwalls collapsed and Ys was submerged underwater. However, the legend adds that the city continues to exist under the waves.

While the history of the Houma tribe and the Brittany legend of the City of Ys have vastly different origins, they both reflect how the fluidity of oral cultures allows them to survive, thus challenging our understanding of culture as a static and immutable phenomenon. Nicholas Faraclas, a linguistics scholar on the Houma, wrote that like other ethno-linguistic groups, the Houma tribe are a community in which “contact between groups with different languages and cultures is the norm, rather than the exception, and in many cases integrated formally into traditional marriage, trading, and ceremonial patterns.”[1]

Through her project, Cities of Ys, Henrot critically examines how our digital and globalized era challenges traditional notions of identity. It is her hope that by approaching cultures through their partial connections rather than their differences, we may increase our sense of global empathy. Henrot’s prints, sculptures, and videos tie together flooding myths, the aqueous and shifting coastlines of Louisiana, the webs of pipelines in Terrebonne Parish, and the continuing use of French words in the English language.

Camille Henrot: Cities of Ys is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, Etant donné: The French American Fund for Contemporary Art and Consulate General of France in New Orleans. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by Charles L. Whited, Jr. and The Degas House.

Camille Henrot (born 1978, lives in New York) is the recipient of the 2013 Venice Biennale Silver Lion. Best-known for her videos and animated films, Henrot’s work blurs the traditionally hierarchical categories of art history. Her recent work, adapted into the diverse media of sculpture, drawing, photography and film, considers the fascination with the "other" and "elsewhere" in terms of both geography and sexuality.

The artist's impure, hybrid objects cast doubt upon the linear and partitioned transcription of Western history and highlight its borrowings and grey areas. This survival of the past, full of misunderstandings, shifts and projections (as shown in the slideshow Egyptomania, the film Cynopolis, drawings of the Sphinx, and even in the photographs of prehistoric flints) troubles cultural codes and conventions. In this way, Henrot's work questions mental resistances and the past’s resonance, whether it be drawn from myth or from reality.

Henrot’s work has been exhibited at SculptureCenter in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and the Palais de Tokyo. In 2010 she was nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington DC where she produced the video Grosse Fatigue which won the Silver Lion at the 55th Venice Biennale. Camille Henrot is represented by galerie kamel mennour in Paris.

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