Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc

Forever Weak and Ungrateful

42 x 59 cm (framed 44 x 62 cm, museum glass)
59 x 42 cm (framed 62 x 44 cm, museum glass)
Edition of 5 plus 2 AP
Eu 3.500 each (excluding VAT and shipping)

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc
Born in 1977, French Guiana
Lives and works in Sète, France

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc deals with colonial history and decolonization in his works. In his re- search-based artistic practice, moments of political upheaval such as the independence movements in many parts of the African continent in the 1960s take on a special role. For the artist, they mark the beginning of a complex relationship between the quest for independence and the construction of a new identity, reflected in texts, images, and films of the period. Abonnenc takes this politically and culturally charged material as a starting point, tracing its meaning and shifts in significance, telling stories apart from dominant narratives.

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc’s videos, photographs, slide projections, and drawings revolve around the interplay of history, forgetting, and reinterpretation. In particular, the artist questions the supposed scientific objectivity in the encounter with colonial artefacts, for example by emphasizing the subjective dimension of ethnographic research.

French Guiana, a former French colony in northeastern South America, is a place where post-colonial trauma continues to be felt to this day. In his art, the installation artist Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, who was born there in 1977 and whose family history extends back to the bloody colonial era, reflects on the network of violent structures that are still associated with this time.
His installations and films are influenced by the Guyanese writer Wilson Harris (1921–2018), whose works Abonnenc cites as an inspiration. These poetic and extremely philosophical works reveal an ecological and decolonial vision in which environmental issues as well as struggles for emancipation from the colonial rupture are negotiated. Drawing on Harris’s ideas, Abonnenc confronts this rupture and the racialized class and power structures that dominate French Guiana and its landscape.

Forever Weak and Ungrateful (2015) consists of a series of helioprints of a bronze statue of Victor Schoelcher, a French statesman and writer who campaigned for the abolition of slavery in France’s overseas territories. The statue is a work by Louis-Ernest Barrias, a classic 19th-century sculptor. It is located in Cayenne and shows Schoelcher with one arm around the shoulders of a slave who is naked except for a loincloth. With the other arm he points the way to freedom in a grand, even triumphant gesture. On closer examination, despite its abolitionist agenda, the paternalism of this gesture offers a glimpse of an ambiguous power relationship. Abonnenc focuses on details of the sculpture, emphasizing its tactile elements, such as the young man’s smooth nakedness and Schoe- lcher’s rigid posture. The artist draws our attention to the contrasting dynamics of the two bodies, thus pointing to power imbalances. If one also analyzes the symbolic effect of the broken chains or the grateful gesture of the slave, which he expresses with his folded hands, the unequal distribution of decision-making power over dependence and exploitation becomes clear.