French Colonial incorporates live plants, street photography from Paris, France and field recordings from the American Museum of Natural History into an installation about human’s relationship to plants and biology as decor. The piece asks the viewer to consider the colonial roots of this desire to domesticize the natural world and the role of the institution in society as a space of control through a strategy of exotification of the other.
In the French colonial era, the aristocracy often gathered in private salons to view plants, animals and humans that were being extracted and stolen from colonial Africa and the Americas. At the height of French colonization of the Maghreb, palm trees and other plants from Northern Africa became staples in the homes of the French Elite. As French society became more democratized, these salons became open to the public and evolved into types of natural history museums, symbols of colonial power and the spectacle of the exotic. And much later, plants were used to decorate art museums and perhaps act as something familiar and calming, compared to the shock of esoteric art.
Does our modern aesthetic of house plants have its origins in colonial oppression?
Do institutions that claim to champion biodiversity and the environment actually reinforce historical methods of extraction and control?