Catalogue text / Biennale of Sydney 2004

Looking at the life of Loulou Cherinet, we are immediately overwhelmed by a confused feeling; her career seems stamped with the seal of doubt, exploration and quest. What could appear at first sight to be instability reveals itself, on closer examination, to be the sign of a longing to control her artistic language. This becomes obvious when you talk to her. The questions she asks herself are not those of a poseur, but rather the questioning of an artist who forever challenges truths that are too simple. She is one of those beings who, all life long, ask themselves questions on the validity of their art and the legitimacy of their work. They are not aware that this ontological questioning already constitutes part of the works, part of the artist's 'trade'. Naturally, there are no rules. There is however, this angst, this fundamental doubt, which urges artists to explore, to look further and not to harbour comfortable illusions. Artists cannot resort to lying. They can lie to others, to the whole world, but for their work to express itself for what it is, they cannot lie to themselves for fear of admitting their incapacity to create; that is, to take part in the Nietzschean celebration of God's death.

Cherinet has explored the various mediums offered by the plastic arts. Unlike others, she decided not to define herself but to be guided by the urgency of creation. She is neither a painter, nor a photographer, nor a video-maker. Her artistic journey is similar to a quest for initiation, a conscious experiencing of the limitations that, sooner or later, are imposed by any discipline. Whether painting, installation or photography, a range of media has been visited by this artist who always seem to be a step ahead of what she is exploring. It is as if the first thing to avoid is becoming comfortable with hackneyed ideas and too well-known subjects. Indeed, what is art if not the permanent questioning of an established order - the renewed doubt surrounding our own certainties and these truths so easily accepted?

Any learning process no doubt rests on the acquisition of the required techniques and methods, but it must be coupled with a critical mind capable of creating the distance essential for both artistic vision and honesty; in other words, it requires reflection. Maybe this inclination is atavistic with Cherinet. She did not have the opportunity to grow up in the delusions of established realities. Her Ethiopian father and Swedish mother were around to remind her of the complexity of the world and the multi-faceted nature of any human being. Could this quest using different supports be a metaphor for a search for identity? Not in the sense that the artist would be devoid of it; on the contrary, a search for synthesis and balance. A personal work rather that an external perception, a definition she crafted rather than a definition of herself. Her quest for a medium can be likened to the quest for a language suiting the specificity of what she intends to express. Not an innocuous tool, but the ideal partner. This 'Rosetta stone' seems to get closer to her capacity. Her most recent works, such as Bleeding Men (2003) or White Women (2002), seem to confirm it.

These last works seem to move subtly away from the field of video and closer to fictional film. One can understand the artist's great fascination for cinema. As a matter of fact, this medium contains the various forms of creation she has already had the opportunity to test, such as the setting or staging, which can be likened to an installation. Moreover, she brings a new dimension, which resides in working with actors and developing a scenario. Nothing is random anymore. It is just that, as in White Women, the film script is created by the actors. But, as a good film director and actor/manager, Cherinet conditions them without their being fully aware of it and they suddenly become the speaking conduit of an idea that was simmering in her; an idea probably born out of observing the game of love and chance between African migrants to Sweden and native women.

The film White Women marks a special phase in the works of Cherinet. It is first of all a full-length film, with no technological claims. The camera seems to wish to disappear in order to become the most neutral possible witness of what unfolds before its lens. The actors seem less important than what they are saying. They are undifferentiated, the only exotic touch being the sailor's t-shirt they are all wearing, with the implicit symbolism that connects sailors with women. During the meal, which is likened to an improbable ultima cena, we witness an ethnological work. We detect a fascination for the African man that cannot be purely anecdotal.

As we have already mentioned, Cherinet is both Ethiopian and Swedish. She cannot claim exclusive roots in either culture. She is both these cultures. Her life, and hence her works, are built upon this very fact. Yet one can sense that Africa remains a vast inspiration ground to her; a territory less clearly defined that Sweden, the mystery of which no longer has any effect on her, if it ever had any effect at all. So Ethiopia is used as an investigation field an initiatory journey toward the self. Through White Women, one gets the feeling that Cherinet is on both sides at once (on three sides, perhaps, if we consider the fact that she is behind the camera) because she may, despite her origins, be likened to these white women that these men are talking about. In another respect, these men could symbolically represent her father. This is how, a few decades later, the prelude leading up to her birth was enacted. Of course, the political, social and historical conditions have changed over the past thirty years or so, but all these fundamental misunderstandings that spring up as soon as two sexes are confronted with each other remain. Cherinet seems to make fun of all that, but her smile is neither cynical nor distant. She fully partakes of the game she has initiated to better understand this part of her which, however determining, still remains obscure and muddled.

Simon Njami

Translated from French by Community Relations Commission