The work of Jean-Ulrick Désert, a Haitian-born artist currently based in Berlin, Germany, has often used the image of the body, most notably in his earlier performative works such as Negerhosen2000, where members of the public were allowed to submit portraits of the artist wearing skin-colored lederhosen. This would later inspire the use of nearly lost images of nineteenth-century black Germans rendered as cyanotypes in Prussian blue. Désert’s work progressively distanced itself from the use of his own body; for example, he hired a (white) actor to impersonate him as an art teacher. The artist would later use the bodies of his audiences to perform new works such as The Passion, where the viewer is invited to wear and model various soccer-fan costumes of their choosing, denuded of team or national references, for a permanent photographic record. Desert researched the symbolic use of the body by asserting that certain bodies are emblematic of magic and mystery in the belief imposed on certain historical figures, such as Josephine Baker. The artist therefore uses Baker’s image as a leitmotif for a series entitled The Goddess Projects, where she is rendered as a translucent stained-glass Madonna and later as the portrait motifs of seven hundred fifty stars arranged as the celestial constellation above the Caribbean capital of Haiti at the instant of January 2010’s devastating earthquake. Even today, his art practice continues to articulate the body, be it present or absent, such as his works presented in Dakar’s eleventh biennale (2014) and Martinique’s first biennale (2013).

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