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Stranger in the Village | Aargauer Kunsthaus

In his famous text Stranger in the Village, the US-American writer James Baldwin addressed the racism that informed his stay in Switzerland in the 1950s. Baldwin’s words continue to inspire many artists to this day. They hold up a mirror to us as a society and have lost none of their relevance. The group exhibition explores belonging and exclusion through current works by local and international artists, raising questions that concern us all.

With works by Igshaan Adams, Judith Albert, Joshua Amissah, Luc Andrié, Kader Attia, Maria Auxiliadora da Silva, Omar Ba, James Bantone, Sabian Baumann, Denise Bertschi, Notta Caflisch, Vincent O. Carter, Ishita Chakraborty, Marlene Dumas, Tatjana Erpen, Hanny Fries, Klaus Hennch, Jonathan Horowitz, Sasha Huber, Hans Josephsohn, Laura Kingsley, Vincent Kohler, Pierre Koralnik, Namsa Leuba, Glenn Ligon, André M’Bon, Gianni Motti, Sirah Nying, Senam Okudzeto, Uriel Orlow, Frida Orupabo, Ceylan Öztrük, Markus Raetz, Petri Saarikko, Niki de Saint Phalle, Lorna Simpson, Martine Syms, Olga Titus, Carrie Mae Weems.

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Veilleurs d’Images

Veilleurs d’Images is a film that explores the creation and documentation of a collection of stereoscopic images dating from 1904 to 1939. The photographs that make up collection 2001.16 were taken by a certain Monsieur Kostioukovsky, a Cossack in the Tsarist Army who left Russia for Paris in 1915 before the Revolution. Upon his arrival in Paris he set up a successful business and travelled through France, Europe, and the rest of the world, documenting his trips with his stereoscopic camera. During the Second World War, Kostioukovsky was deported and lived on his return to Russia in a maid’s room (the family home had been allocated to other tenants) where the family stereoscopic collection was found.

The Kostioukovsky collection was acquired by Mucem (The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) in 2000, and in 2013 the decision was made to digitize the archive, with the work being carried out by prisoners at Maison Centrale prison in Poissy.  The artist became interested in the role of legends sketched in the center of the plates, the individual consultation regime, the production of relief, the classification of the images, and the orphan nature of the collection – that is to say to all the archival protocols that crimp and frame it.

Visiting the Maison Centrale de Poissy, the artist met the prisoner in charge of the digitizations. From this point, his investigation follows the symptomatic history of the stereoscopic views, making a bifurcation between the biography of Kostioukowsky and that of the digitizer, drawing links between imprisonment and travel, tourism and a sedentary lifestyle. The images are no longer only those of Mr. Kostiukovsky but also those of the prisoner who became their digital guardian; their Charon leading them on the Styx which separates the world from the material image from that of immaterial representations. While Mr. Kostiukovsky’s story and the technique he used to take the photographs are related to the visible images, the process of digitization and the story of the prisoner who handles them are now part of their latent meaning, adding in turn new keywords and new classifications to the collection.


Imbizo Ka Mafavuke (Mafavuke’s Tribunal)

Imbizo Ka Mafavuke (Mafavuke’s Tribunal) is an experimental documentary set at the edge of a nature reserve in Johannesburg. A kind of Brechtian ‘Lehrstück’, the film shows the preparations for a people’s tribunal where traditional healers, activists and lawyers come together to discuss indigenous knowledge and bio-prospecting. The pharmaceutical industry has come to consider traditional medicine as a source for identification of new bioactive agents that can be used in the preparation of synthetic medicine. This raises new questions about intellectual copyright protection of indigenous knowledge. Imbizo Ka Mafavuke asks who benefits when plants become pharmaceuticals, given multiple claims to ownership, priority, locality and appropriation. The protagonists in the film slip into different roles and make use of real-world cases involving multinational pharmaceuticals scouting in indigenous communities for the next wonder drug. Ghosts of colonial explorers, botanists and judges observe the proceedings.



Muthi is the term for traditional medicine in Southern Africa. Before the establishment of cosmopolitan medicine, traditional medicine was the dominant medical system for millions
of people in Southern Africa. Europeans’ arrival was a turning for this ancient tradition. Muthi and African healers were perceived as unscientific and ineffective but their cultural dominance was considered a threat to British colonial rule and Christian missionary endeavours. Efforts were made to reduce their sphere of influence or eliminate them altogether. Yet colonialism and capitalism also helped medicinal plants to thrive. Urbanisation and the rise of consumer culture radically changed traditional healers’ practices and created a growing market for traditional herbal medicine which threatens sustainability and biodiversity. The pharmaceutical and food supplements industry has also joined in the trend and markets traditional plants to new consumers ignoring the cultural and spiritual contexts of the plants.

Today around 200,000 indigenous traditional healers practice in South Africa compared to 25,000 Western-trained doctors and over 60% of South Africans consult these traditional healers. The film follows the enduring herbal practices at rural and urban sites in Johannesburg, the Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal. Muthi have curative, spiritual but also economic powers and are part of a larger system of knowledge, history and politics.



This series of photographs looks at the use of plants as part of fences, walls and security systems in suburban South Africa.


The Crown Against Mafavuke

The Crown Against Mafavuke is based on a South African trial from 1940. Mafavuke Ngcobo was a traditional herbalist who was accused by the local white medical establishment of ‘untraditional behaviour’. The film explores the ideological and commercial confrontation between two different yet intertwining medicinal traditions and their uses of plants, with slippages across gender and race further questioning notions of purity and origination. The re-imagined court case is filmed at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, where the Rivonia trial was held that sent Mandela and his fellow accused to Robben Island prison.


The Fairest Heritage

In 1963, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Kirstenbosch, the national botanical garden of South Africa in Cape Town commissioned a series of films to document the history of the garden, the Cape Floral Kingdom, and the jubilee celebrations with their ‘national’ dances, pantomimes of colonial conquests, and visits of international botanists. The films’ protagonists of scientists, visitors etc. are all white – the only Africans featured are labourers. Considered neutral and passive, flowers were excluded from the boycott until the late 1980s and so botanical nationalism and flower diplomacy flourished unchecked at home and internationally.

The films have not been seen since 1963 and were found by the artist in the cellar of the library of the botanical garden. Orlow collaborated with actor Lindiwe Matshikiza who puts herself and her body in these loaded pictures, inhabiting and confronting the found footage and thus contesting history and the archive itself.


The Memory of Trees

This series of large-scale black and white photographs shows trees as witnesses of history. They hold an embodied memory of events and, like ghosts, remind us of how the past lives on in the present.

Wild Almond Tree, Cape Town
The inside of the wild almond tree in Cape Town planted in 1660 by the first Dutch settlers to keep out the indigenous Khoikhoi and their grazing cattle from the vegetable garden set up to replenish the passing ships from the Dutch East India Company.

Lombardy Poplar, Johannesburg
This Lombardy poplar served as a landmark for fugitives from the apartheid security forces to find the safe house of Ruth Fischer, daughter of Braam Fischer (a prominent founder member of the SA Communist Party).

Saffron Pear, Cape Town
This saffron pear in the Company’s Garden was brought from Holland during the time of Jan van Riebeck, the founder of Cape Town over 350 years ago. Established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, when indigenous hunter-gatherers and migratory pastoralists still roamed the land,
the Company’s Garden is a foundation stone of Western colonisation of Africa. The Dutch needed a victualing station to provide fresh supplies to sailing ships plying the spice trade between the East and Europe, and later, to support ships engaged in foreign wars.

Milkwood Tree, Cape Town
This ancient milkwood tree is over 500 years old and stands in Cape Town’s post-industrial suburb of Woodstock. It was in this spot, on Cape Town’s original beachfront, in 1510, that the famous Portuguese explorer, Dom Francisco de Almeida and his men were attacked and killed by the Khoikhoi, who revenged cattle raids, abductions and extortion. In later centuries, the tree became known as the Old Slave Tree of Woodstock. Under its shade, slave masters bartered away humans and from its branches ‘disobedient’ slaves were hung. In the early 19th Century the tree was renamed ‘The Treaty Tree’ to commemorate the start of the second British occupation of the Cape. It was here, following their defeat in 1806, that Dutch forces signed capitulation conditions, effectively transferring control of the Cape to Britain.

Palm Tree, Cape Town
This palm tree has lent its name to the second- oldest place of Muslim worship and one of
the oldest substantially unaltered buildings in Cape Town: the Palm Tree Mosque. Under Dutch rule of the Cape, Islam could not be practiced in public. They banished one of the founders of Islam in the Cape, Tuan Guru (‘Mister Teacher’), to Robben Island where he famously wrote his own edition of the Quran from memory. Restrictions were only relaxed when the British took control in 1795 and the free Tuan Guru soon established the Auwal Mosque (the city’s oldest mosque). In 1807, the community split and a second mosque was established and this palm tree planted in front of the building. In Islamic culture, palm trees are deeply symbolic: they appear around oases to signal water as a gift of Allah; they are said to grow in the Islamic paradise of Jannah; Muhammad built his home and the first ever mosque out of palm trees; the first muezzin would climb up palm trees to proclaim the call to prayer; and in the Quran Jesus was born under a palm tree.


Geraniums Are Never Red

The bright red geraniums that trail from the balconies of Swiss chalets and clamber up palm trees in California aren’t, botanically speaking, geraniums at all, nor are they Swiss or Californian; in fact they are pelargoniums. They were first brought to Europe – and misidentified – after 1652, when the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) established a permanent settlement and a Company Garden at the Cape and started to explore the surrounding ora to bring back new botanical treasures, which apart from pelargoniums included proteas, ericas and many other mainstays of European gardens. By the time the confusion between the two species was resolved, ‘African geraniums’ had been around for 150 years and British commercial growers and gardeners were reluctant to give up the familiar name.


Beautiful But Dangerous

Colonial plant migration did not just include new garden plants for Europe. Over the past three and a half centuries almost 9,000 different exotic plants have been introduced in South Africa for the purposes of providing timber and fuel, food and to beautiful gardens with plants from ‘back home’. Some 200 of these new arrivals naturalised over time and became invasive, having devastating effects on endemic flora and threatening biodiversity. Awareness of the problem of so-called ‘invasive aliens’ has grown over the last decades, with publications, posters and eradication campaigns trying to save indigenous biodiversity but also producing a new form of botanical nationalism whose language of invasion can be seen to mirror the political climate of the time.


What Plants Were Called Before They Had A Name

European colonialism was both preceded and accompanied by expeditions that aimed at charting the territory and classifying its natural resources, in turn paving the way for occupation and exploitation. The supposed discovery and subsequent naming and cataloguing of plants disregarded and obliterated existing indigenous plant names and botanical knowledge and imposed the Linnaean system of classification and its particular European rationality. In What Plants Were Called Before They Had a Name (Guatemala) Orlow connects historical ethnobotanical resources with contemporary encounters with different indigenous spiritual guides of the Guatemalan Altiplano and elsewhere, as a way of recovering memory and linguistic presence. Coming across a 1970’s publication by the Instituto Indigenista de Guatemala on medicinal plants in which all the plants are labeled in Spanish, the artist embarked on a journey to recover the loss of indigenous languages and consequently of cultural diversity and to counter the continuing epistemic violence within botany and science. The project revisits the publication and attempts to imagine a different history but confronting it to the many languages which populate Guatemala: Mayan spiritual guides write the plant names in their languages onto the pages of book. 


Grey, Green, Gold

Nelson Mandela and his co-accused Rivonia trial ANC comrades were imprisoned for 18 years from 1964 to 1982 in a special section for political prisoners at Robben Island prison, off the Atlantic coast in Cape Town. In the prison they founded a garden that was to play an important role during their time there. For example, it helped hide the manuscript of Mandela’s biography, which was eventually published under the title Long Walk to Freedom.

In the late 1960s, rare yellow flowering Crane Flowers (Strelitzia Reginae / Bird of Paradise Flower) were found at Kirstenbosch, the South African National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. These native flowers of South Africa are usually orange. A process of selective breeding was started, pollinating yellow flowers by hand with each other. It took almost 20 years to build up stock of seeds of the highly prized yellow Strelitzia Reginae – roughly coinciding with the time Mandela was in Prison in Robben Island.

In 1994, after Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, the flower was renamed Mandela’s Gold. At Kirstenbosch the grey squirrel that the colonialist Cecil Rhodes brought with him from England and which has naturalised there, will consume the entire capsule of seeds if unchecked. In order to protect the seeds from this European ‘predator’ each fertilised flower is enclosed in fine-mesh chicken wire.

With thanks to: Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, Laloo Isu Chiba, Sahm Venter and The Nelson Mandela Foundation, Johannesburg, Melanie Boehie, Phakamani Xoba, Alice Notten and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town.


Unmade Film: The Storyboard

The Storyboard is a series of drawings from a workshop with students from Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi in East Jerusalem, which was the orphanage set up by Hind El Husseini for the surviving children from the Deir Yassin.

Students: Inas Hosseini, Shahd Abu Teir, Rula Ashayer, Rahaf Zaghal, Leen Zaghal, Nada Kologhasi, Shireen Abu Ghannam, Hadeer Zalatimo, Razan Yassin, Rawan Yassin, Maysam Zawahreh, Lara Abtah, Nisrin Abu Ghannam, Noor Nusseiba, Razan Abu Teir, Lamar Baidoun, Ruqaia Abu Arafeh, Raneem Qawasmi, Leen Salman, Sineen Ameera, Sadeen Asmar, Zeina Barbar.

Layout: Georg Rutishauser and Sonja Zagermann.


Unmade Film: The Script

The text for this element of the project is taken from psychiatric cases studies from counselling centres in Jerusalem and Ramallah.


Unmade Film: The Score

Based on a concert Score for an Unmade Film about Deir Yassin that took place on 9 April 2013 at Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, collaboration with Tareq Abboushi, Maya Khaldi, Dirar Kalash, Stormtrap, Tala Khoury, Donia Jarrar.


Unmade Film: The Staging

Unmade Film: The Staging evolved out of a collaborative workshop held in Ramallah and Jerusalem and was conceived with Frances Rifkin. The workshop explored forms of theatre developed by Augusto Boal in Brazil in the 1960s under the heading of the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. Specifically, the focus was on Image Theatre, a form of theatre that uses images to convey abstract ideas as well as concrete narratives without recourse to language. The resulting tableaux vivants are complex translations of inner and outer realities into embodied images that allow multiple meanings, narratives and interpretations to emerge.

Workshop conceived in collaboration with Frances Rifkin
Workshop collaborators/actors: Ibrahim Alhindi, Fida Ghneim, Hussam Ghosheh, Dirar Kalash, Etienne Lopes, Aisha Majid, Airida Poskute, Diana Prim
Additional cast: Erick Beltran, Martín Soto Climent, Tarek Knorn, Julia Rometti, Tamara Tamini, Tom Nicholson
Additional camera: Issa Freij


Unmade Film: The Voiceover

In April 1948 Deir Yassin was attacked by two Jewish paramilitary groups and over 100 villagers were brutally killed. The massacre of Deir Yassin is considered to be one of the pivotal events that led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from many other towns and villages. In 1951 a mental hospital was established on the grounds of Deir Yassin, incorporating the buildings that remained intact after the massacre. Initially treating Holocaust survivors, the psychiatric clinic is today also known for its treatment of and research into the so-called Jerusalem syndrome.

Unmade Film: The Voiceover explores the many implications of this superimposition in the form of an audio-walk through Deir Yassin guided by Mohammad Bakri (Arabic) and Nayef Rashed (English).