Laura Henno’s solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo presents a collection of films and photographs made in the Comoros archipelago, notably in Mayotte and Anjouan. For more than ten years the artist has been travelling to this area of the Indian Ocean to explore the complexity of these island spaces and address issues such as migration and the passage from adolescence to adulthood.
Over time, she has built up a substantial body of still and moving images that have resulted in several works. In 2019, she won the Prix Sam pour l’art contemporain 2019, which allowed her to produce the last opus of this project, thus closing a body of work that questions a contrasted territory, plagued by migration policies and an omnipresent colonial heritage.
Since 2013, Laura Henno has been working to decrypt the societal tensions that run through these islands in the Indian Ocean. The tragic consequences of an immigration which, since the 1990s, is responsible for the death of thousands of illegal immigrants, led her to follow in the footsteps of Ben and Patron, smugglers on board kwassa-kwassa, the makeshift boats which link the island of Anjouan, one of the three islands of the Comoros Archipelago, to Mayotte, the 101st French department since 2011, on an almost daily basis.
In the course of the successive journeys undertaken between Anjouan and Mayotte, the links created during numerous encounters have resulted in lasting friendships. From these relationships, she has created several film works, in which she uses a metaphorical writing style that reveals a territory full of resistance and animist beliefs.
Her documenting of a reality of situations and places enabled her to make «Koropa» in 2016, a long sequence shot in which the young Patron, aged about twelve, learns his job as a smuggler. Two years later, she finalized another film that shows the unbreakable bond between Smogi and Djo, the mangrove herding dog he took in and saved. With this work she takes us to the highlands of Mayotte and makes us feel the dreamlike world where man lives in symbiosis with the animal.
For this exhibition, Laura Henno completes this long-term project by presenting an original film installation that represents the series’ final outcome. Ge ouryao! Why are you afraid! This interjection, commonly used in Mayotte, brings to mind the intrinsic fears of this post-colonial society. By following the wanderings of the «Boucheman» gang, young Comorians who have immigrated illegally to Mayotte, she questions the phenomena of acculturation that are now bringing an entire territory to the brink of collapse.
Following these clandestine lives, she gives an account of a capacity for invention, imitation and adaptation. She thus points to a notion of active resistance within a counter-culture whose organisation and values are built in opposition to those of a dominant society. From these responses brought by this marginal youth, postures and bodily relationships are born, which Laura Henno observes and restores, thus making the bodies visible. The pack of dogs trained to protect and attack, raised in the midst of an omnipresent wilderness, becomes the leitmotif of an allegorical narrative. The relationship between human and animal is here depicted in a way that upends age-old relationships of dominance and submission.
Laura Henno has chosen to focus on a filmic approach in which reality is reinvested with fictional potential. The resulting images draw heavily on pictorial and cinematographic codes, detaching themselves from a purely documentary ambition, and leaving room for a whole poetic dimension. By reconstructing the vivre-au-monde of communities on the margins, she questions the conditions of acceptance of otherness and shows the difficult integration of difference into a hegemonic society.
Nathalie Gonthier, March 2022