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BETH HAGGART; MORE THEN JUST A PROJECT: GHANA AND POSTMASTERS * AFRICA AND NEW YORK

beth haggart
Niger River


If you follow Postmasters exhibition schedule there is something that remains--that doesn't get changed every four weeks though it is very easy to be overlooked: A bulletin board, not on the internet but on the wall. The gallery allows Beth Haggart to maintain a bulletin board where photographs are posted which she sends periodically from Ghana; photographs from some remote place in Africa--however somehow typical prototypes from the media and/or tourism. A sheet of paper provides a hand written explanation of where the numbered photos were taken, what they represent. Some examples read like the following.

1. Local transportation, waiting for the ferry to Djenne, Ghana; 2. Djenne, Ghana an island in the greater Niger river; . . . 3-5. The Niger river; . . . 13-14. Islamic street schools. Children learn to write on clay tablets; 21. A mosque in another town; 23-28. Bassirou Ongorba's home 25.Ongorba's daughter wearing peanuts on her face 26. Ongorba's wife Hydra pounding millet; 27. Inner court yard of Basirou's house from above (see # 23). The cloths on the floor are mud cloth (Bogolon) drying; 29-34. Scenes from a small mud-cloth (Bogolan) workshop. The fabric is woven by hand from

locally grown cotton. It is dyed brown by leaves from a local tree, serving as a mordant for the mud. Mud from the riverbed is painted on with toothbrushes. The cloth is dried in the sun, and then washed in the river, turning black in contact with the tea-leaf mordant.

Beth Haggart is an American artist who entered art school and the art world relatively late and left it unsatisfied again very quickly in a remarkable way: her last one person show at Postmasters consisted of a junk arrangement of all her belongings discarded as art work. Accompanying this, she narrated the story of all her objects in front of a video camera which served as a personal history document to literally deposess herself of everything she had. A couple of weeks later she departed for work in Africa where she has been working and living for nearly three years. Her bulletin board gives us an idea of where Beth is and what she is doing.

Beth is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer and has a job as a secondary school teacher in a very remote village where she is supposed to teach art though she--significantly enough--teaches just English. The decision of Beth to do such a demanding job is impressive. I also like the ambivalence resulting from projecting her remote social work in the so-called 'underdeveloped world' onto the art world which we could paraphrase as an 'overdeveloped village'. I am also very impressed by her radicalism--a word that doesn't make sense anymore within a specific delimited art context where it once described Avant Garde practice--by departing, in leaving behind the usual social ideas of cohabitation and comfort, and by her attempt to do something for people who are living in extremely poor conditions. This is not to be confused with artists' escapism into alcohol, drugs, suicide or normal dementia. I am impressed by her bulletin board--that it is not neo-conceptual chique, but a low technology link with her--her as a person, a friend, a social worker, and an artist. Also, I like this mail-in system of her photographs which takes on an alternative mode of display since it is modest, informative, and beyond the gallery logic. Looking at the photographs and more so at the descriptions we can tell that they not just inform about her environment, but also relate to a social practice that is more than just another fine art project.

Rainer Ganahl

New York, New York

1998


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