Camille Henrot — Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan
Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan
Past: September 7 → 22, 2012Entretien — Camille Henrot Exposée cette rentrée chez Kamel Mennour et à Rosascape, Camille Henrot développe un travail autour des fleurs et de ses lectures réifiés en ikebanas.
Like herbarium sheets, the 135 plates featured in Camille Henrot’s piece Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan present various botanical specimens — plants and flowers — gathered by the artist from the private flower-beds decorating building entrances on the Upper East Side, New York City’s wealthiest neighbourhood. Roland Barthes argues that flowers symbolise all things useless and luxurious, yet the purpose of those planted in these ornamental urban sites is to construct a border and figure — in the etymological sense of the word — the image of “paradise on earth”. A “paradise for the living”, echoing the paradayadâm, an Old Persian term meaning “beyond the wall” and which, when associated with the word djivadi, refers to that which is “lively, living, belonging to the time of life ”.
The flowers collected in this Upper East Side paradise for the living, located on Manhattan Island, are brought together and displayed here on the facsimiles of a Christie’s auction catalogue. The catalogue details the entire jewelry collection belonging to Princess Salimah Aga Khan, auctioned by Christie’s at the Hotel Richemond in Geneva on November 13th 1995 — jewels received during her twenty-six-year marriage to the Aga Khan. The sale took place following her divorce, while the Aga Kahn resorted to the courts, that same year, in an unsuccessful bid to prevent the sale.
According to Michel Leiris, everything that constitutes luxury, surplus, accumulation and expenditure is connected to ecstasy and, by extension, to excess. The flowers in Jewels might be viewed as a metaphorical representation of this and, correspondingly, the precise description of each jewel as an inventory of the markers of domestic wealth. The excess or overflow present in Jewels is also tied to the symmetry and duplication between Princess Salimah Aga Khan’s gesture and that of the artist Camille Henrot: the former is relieving herself of the heritage of several generations of women from one of the most prosperous families in the world — the Aga Khan dynasty — while the latter collects flowers gathered by passing “beyond the wall”. Both are overstepping boundaries here (the boundary demarcating the paradise of the living) and transgressing the codes imposed by the dictates of a form of wealth focused on the markers of its own representation: transcendence via use and via the détournement of the codes of an archaic femininity, closed in on itself.
The notion of tonga (or taonga) discussed by Marcel Mauss in his essay on The Gift, published (in the original French) in 1923-1924, might help elucidate this comparison. Indeed, Marcel Mauss observes that in Maori, Tahitian, Tongan and Mangarevan, the notion of tonga connotes “everything that may properly be termed possessions, everything that makes one rich, powerful, and influential and everything that can be exchanged, and used as an object for compensating others: […] exclusively the precious articles, talismans, emblems, mats and sacred idols, sometimes even the traditions, cults and magic rituals”. In this way, the jewelry and archetypal symbols of femininity featured in Jewels could be considered “tonga-native” objects, as ‘uterine’ gifts — possessions more connected to the soil, the clan, the family and the individual.
Ultimately, the exhibition Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan, playing, as it does, on these partial connections, invites us to explore the symbolic notion of the “marker of wealth”, i.e., the “status symbol”: their inequitable distribution as well as their ability to constitute objects of compensation, namely between the sexes.
Opening Friday, September 7, 2012 6 PM → 9 PM
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