For several years, Raphaël Barontini has endeavored to give a pictorial, poetic and political visibility to the faces and bodies of Black history. To this end, he delves into iconographies around the world, and more specifically those of the 18th century, marked by the Enlightenment as well as slavery. Along the way, he pays tribute to both emblematic and nameless figures left out of national narratives. Barontini cross-pollinates the iconographies explored, ranging from those of the European bourgeoisie or African royal courts to popular imagery as well as ethnographic and anthropological archives. Creolization is an integral part of his artistic process. Soukhos chronicles Barontini’s residency at the invitation of LVMH Métiers d’Art, during which he intervened with energy and zeal at Heng Long Leather, a Singapore tannery specializing in crocodile leather. After gaining an understanding of Heng Long’s know-how, he played with it and opened up hitherto unimagined possibilities with the artisans as he developed his project. Barontini combines a deep appreciation of textile as a medium with a mastery of fabric printing, enhancement and dyeing processes.
The outcome of this artist’s residency is a series of mounted artifacts, versatile pieces, elements of adornment, and manifesto objects with flawless finishing touches, brought together as a great set piece, akin as much to an installation as a wonderful parade. As this edition of the residency was held in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Barontini had to adapt his approach. He and the photographer Alexandre Guirkinger needed to draw on their creativity in producing the images for this book. To ensure that the tannery would be present despite the distance, videos were taken within the Heng Long Leather ateliers in Singapore, with stills later captured as photographic prints. Due to travel restrictions, a photo shoot of a performance incorporating pieces from the series was arranged at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, a place that has shaped Barontini’s tastes and inspirations as a native of this city, supplemented by sessions on the roof of a building. And even though everything may have seemed impossible, together they have created an exceptionally rich volume.