Exhibitions: Johann Jacobs Museum, Zürich
MGK, Museum für Gestaltung & Kunst, Hamburg
The video installation with three screens documents the situation in today's Helvécia in the south of Bahia. The small village is today a state-approved "Quilombola" - a settlement of former or escaped slaves. Its un-usual name goes back to the colonial period. Originally was the Fazenda part of a large colony called "Leopoldina", which was founded by Swiss and Germans in 1818 and quickly developed into one of the world's largest coffee plantations. Without the work of about 2000 slaves this would not have been possible.The days of the coffee boom are long gone.
Today hardly anything reminds of the Swiss machinations in Bahia. History seems overgrown. All the more striking are those things that flash up in the approximate: an orange tree shows the way to a long forgot-ten cemetery, which according to legend is shared by whites and blacks. A piece of porcelain gives an indication of the wealth of the former manor houses. A disused harbour reminds of the shipping of slaves and goods.Today Helvécia lies in the middle of an exploiting cultivation area for eucalyptus, an extremely invasive plant introduced in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, which grows quickly and produces a lot of wood, but leaches out the soil.
Denise Bertschi takes us directly to the site of the even if not much of Swiss colonial history has remained visible. Their method is similar to searching for archaeological traces: In one of the two video installations we accompany descendants of the former slaves to the overgrown, almost forgotten cemetery of HEL-VÉCIA; in the other we are confronted with their oral traditions passed down from generation to generation. These Narratives cloud the image drawn by rare historical sources and reports. The latter seem to be primarily intended to portray colonizers and merchants as figures of light and messengers of civilization. The violence exerted is regarded as a necessary evil. Exploitation is being whitewashed.