Érika Nimis: MUTANTS


Date to be determined

January 14 – February 27, 2021

Project description

The repressed past sometimes comes back to the surface: in May 2017, the artist stumbled upon an overturned bookshelf, an archival field, in a remote part of Gorée’s Island in Senegal, at the mercy of the seagulls, the sun, the sea spray and rust. She approaches it, trying to decipher the old paper documents, some of them unreadable, and notices some invoices and letters addressed to the Gorée’s Unversity of Mutants. This fortuitous discovery and the few images it generated constitute the starting point of this project.

Initiated in 1978, the University of Mutants had for main mission to “outline the evolution the mutating humanity should follow to ensure well-being and peace for all men”, by inviting international collaborators from various backgrounds to come to invent, together, a new future. Gorée’s island, a block of granite on Dakar’s shore, 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 “landmark of history”, a place of pilgrimage for Afro-American descendants, 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 an utopia. Forty years later, the artist discovers this wasteland utopia and tries to bring its essence back to life, by collecting photographic traces of its existence. Like an archaeologist in search of an aborted dream, these remains of archives and artefacts are open doors to endless possibilities.


Érika Nimis has been developing, since the mid-1990s, a practice halfway between documentary and poetic essay. Through working on color, 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.

Member of the La bête à têtes and Le Trou Noir collectives, 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.