Adelita Husni-Bey: Chiron
January 22 – May 5 2019
In 2019, the New Museum presented a new site-specific installation by Adelita Husni-Bey (b. 1985, Milan, Italy). The installation incorporated some of the artist’s most significant films to date, including the premiere of a major new work, titled Chiron. In her practice, Husni-Bey makes use of noncompetitive pedagogical models to organize workshops and produce publications, radio broadcasts, and archives that form the basis of her exhibitions and films. “Chiron,” her first institutional solo exhibition in New York, took its title from the Greek mythological figure Chiron, evoking the notion of the wounded healer, and touches on urgent themes such as migration and displacement.
Chiron featured members of UnLocal, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal representation to undocumented immigrants in New York City. Throughout the preceding fall, Husni- Bey conducted a workshop with members of the UnLocal team to address oppression, emotional depletion, and the psychological consequences of immigration enforcement in order to examine what it means to “carry each others’ weight.” The film depicts Husni-Bey and the lawyers working through experimental exercises inspired by the Theatre of the Oppressed, a radical theater form developed by Brazilian practitioner Augusto Boal in the 1970s. These include the “siren’s song,” for which the lawyers vocalize the experience of trauma before discussing it, and “dependencies,” for which they are instructed to touch each other’s bodies in destabilizing ways as they struggle to remain standing. The participants use theater and creative writing as means to de-individualize pain and to understand its political ramifications.
Through footage of these workshops, Chiron suggests that the pain and trauma of the immigration process affect not only undocumented people but cause suffering throughout the country and beyond its borders. Excess pain spills over the confines of the self. In this sense, the work aims to uncover the potential for collective healing from within the brutal enforcement of national frontiers and to address how the law weighs differently on different bodies. Considering emotional depletion in the US as a consequence of the country’s foreign policy actions, “Chiron” continued Husni-Bey’s ongoing explorations of the complexity of collectivity and the human and social consequences of imperialist ventures.