Minia Biabiany is the Inaugural Winner of the Horizn Biennial Award

We speak to the Guadeloupean artist about her Berlin Biennale installation, Toli Toli, which scooped smart luggage brand Horizn Studios' new art award.

Minia Biabiany and installation  Toli Toli (2018)

Although better known for their smart and sustainable luggage, Horizn Studios are making waves in the art world too. Earlier this month, Horizn Studios’ art-loving founders Stefan Holwe and Jan Roosen established the Horizn Art Programme to support aspiring artists from all over the world. The inspired new programme includes two major art awards, the Horizn Discovery Award, where a renowned art world figure selects up and coming artists for a prize, and the Biennial Award, a collaboration with a different art biennale each year . For the first Horizn Discovery Award, renowned installation artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, has selected three exceptional artists to be judged by a jury in September. Meanwhile, the Biennial Award is in collaboration with the 10th Berlin Biennale, We don’t need another hero, which opened on June 8.   The inaugural prize was awarded to Guadeloupean artist Minia Biabiany for her poetic installation, Toli Toli.

Out of three remarkable projects, Biabiany’s Toli Toli was selected as the winner by BB10’s curator Gabi Ngcobo and its director, Gabriele Horn. Biabiany’s work combines traditional crafts with an intelligent approach to sculpture and installation, which asks the viewer to consider their sense of space and surroundings. Toli Toli, on display at Akademie der Künste, is an excellent example of her practice, inviting the viewer to reflect on themes such as location, knowledge and tradition in a post-colonial context. In this intricate installation, Biabiany employs the indigenous craft of weaving bamboo fish traps to moving effect, drawing the viewer in with her finely-engineered meshwork. 

In the aftermath of winning the prestigious award, we sat down with Biabiany to learn a little more about her nuanced and thoughtful practice.  

Describe your practice in three words?

Observation. Space-poetics. Political-realities

Can you tell us about your piece at the Berlin Biennale?

Toli Toli is a sculptural video installation based on my relationship with the territory of Guadeloupe — my native island, which is a non-independent French Caribbean island. As a starting point, I used a song that children used to sing in the 1950s about finding a “toil toli” — the chrysalid of a small night butterfly — on the ground. They would hold one tip with their fingers, letting the other end wiggle and point in all directions. The children would ask it to show them the way to all the places they know, dream about, or imagine. For me, this image of the projection to another place talks about a double gaze on space and a particular political situation that has been not given a voice. Several layers are intertwined: written and spoken sentences, images, sounds and the space.

Hommage, the unity is submarine 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you discuss the weaving technique that you used to make this piece specifically?

The weaving technique I employ is traditionally used to make fish traps in different areas in the Caribbean and Asia, but has almost disappeared in Guadeloupe today. In many cultures, weaving is related to language and storytelling. Here, in this piece, the thread or bamboo strips become voices of the narrative of the land. When you arrive in the space of Toli Toli, bamboo panels project shadows onto the spectator’s body. You have to enter the space and its shadows to look at the video and listen to its story.

What do you hope the viewer will take away from Toli Toli?

An aperture — a possibility for an intimate gaze. Toli Toli is a poem linked with post-colonial heritage, going from landscape to individual, and vice versa. Each spectator experiences the space and shadows according to their own personal reading of reality.

What are you working on next?

I am going to Colombia to learn more about experimental pedagogy with the project Doukou, which questions the body as a learning tool. The upcoming project will be based on female Caribbean literature. 

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