Érika Nimis: MUTANTS


March 6th — April 10th, 2021

Project description

The repressed past sometimes comes back to the surface: in May 2017, the artist stumbled upon an overturned bookshelf, an archival deposit, in a remote corner of Gorée Island in Senegal, at the mercy of seagulls, the sun, sea spray and rust. She got close to it, trying to decipher the old paper documents, some of them by then illegible, and noticed some invoices and letters addressed to Gorée’s University of Mutants. This chance discovery and the few images of traces it generated constitute the starting point of this project.

Launched in 1978, the University of Mutants had as its main mission to “outline the evolution humanity ought to follow as it undergoes a mutation, in order to ensure well-being and peace for all men”, by inviting international collaborators from various backgrounds to come and invent, together, an all-new future. The island of Gorée, a block of granite off the coast of Dakar and a former slave-trading post, was for centuries the symbol of Africa’s traumatic history, linked to the transatlantic slave trade. Upon Senegal’s independence in 1960, this small island, a “beacon for history”, a place of pilgrimage for Afro-descendants from the Americas, became a space conducive to dialogue between cultures, through the meeting of artists and intellectuals from around the world. It was the perfect place to create a utopia. Forty years later, the artist comes across this wasteland utopia and tries to bring its essence back to life, by collecting photographic traces of its existence. As though for an archaeologist in search of an aborted dream, these remains of archives and artefacts are open doors to endless possibilities.


Since the mid-1990s, Érika Nimis has been developing a practice lying somewhere between documentaries and poetic essays. Through working on colour, she is interested in the traces of the past in the present, in particular places and things that have been abandoned or are forgotten, invisible at first glance. Érika Nimis is a historian and photographer by training. In 2018, she started a long-term project on several palimpsest places in Dakar, capital of Senegal. In May 2018, a first version of this project was presented at the Dak’Art Contemporary Art Biennial. In 2019, she returned to Dakar for a residency at the Village des Arts, for a project on urban trees, exhibited at the Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie in 2020.

A member of the La bête à têtes and Le Trou Noir collectives, and associate professor of art history at UQÀM, Nimis is also known for her work on the history of photography in West Africa.

This project received a CALQ creation grant in 2018.

Érika Nimis as part of her exhibition in the Galerie passage des membres from Centre des arts actuels Skol on Vimeo.