Adelita Husni-Bey “Congregation” at Galleria Civica, Modena

Adelita Husni-Bey, from the series “The Council”, Giardino Comune, 2018
Courtesy the artist and Laveronica arte contemporanea, Modica


Congregation, a solo exhibition of works by Adelita Husni-Bey curated by Diana Baldon and Serena Goldoni, opens on Friday, 8 June 2018 at Galleria Civica di Modena, for FONDAZIONE MODENA ARTI VISIVE. As Husni-Bey’s first solo exhibition in Italy, it provides a broad overview of her artistic production over the past ten years, encompassing video installations, drawings, paintings, photographs, performances and language-based works. Born in Milan in 1985 and based in New York, the artist is internationally  acclaimed, not least as one of the participating artists in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and in the exhibition Being: New Photography 2018 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Husni-Bey has long taken a deep interest in complex political and social issues. This led her to pursue studies in sociology as well as research on anarcho-collective educational theories and experimental teaching practices. Her artworks are often the result of pedagogical workshops and social simulations that employ role-playing to involve a variety of communities including students, athletes, legal experts or political activists. For Husni-Bey, the artist’s role is ‘to create new situations and dynamics that go beyond performance to unequivocally reveal to all those involved the deep-rooted economic and social forces governing the balance of power in our contemporary era’. The resulting artworks are only a small part of a larger process. When a work is sold, for example, the profits are scrupulously divided among the participants, who are free to decide whether to allow dissemination of their contribution or not.

The numerous works brought together in this exhibition are also imbued with a pictorial sensitivity. This is immediately evident in her oil-on-canvas painting The Sleepers (2011), which depicts what looks like a group of businessmen who appear to have dozed off, and also in the painting included in the video installation Postcards from the Desert Island (2011) that greets visitors at the entrance to the Palazzina dei Giardini. This work is the fruit of a three-week seminar organized by the artist with pupils from École Vitruve in Paris, an experimental primary school known for its unconventional teaching models based on cooperation and non-competition. Taking a cue from William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954), the children have imagined how to build and manage their own new world and community, negotiating their everyday, rights and duties, the difference between public and private, and ideas of justice.

Works developed through collaborations with adolescents include Agency (2014), made up of a video and a series of colour photographs, the video installation 2265 (2015) and the photo series The Council (2018). For Agency, the artist worked with students from the Manara High School in Rome, asking them to simulate specific types of people (politicians, activists, bankers, journalists, etc.) within scenarios extrapolated from the news (e.g., 40 percent youth unemployment, factory workers’ families living in precarious conditions, the Italian government’s faltering attempts in tackle social problems, the prospect of new elections, etc.). The video installation 2265 shows excerpts from a workshop and performance with a group of young spoken-word poets at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It revolves around future scenarios involving imperialist colonialism, for example the idea of populating Mars in 2265. Lastly, the photos Glass Dome and Public Garden from the series The Council (2018) originate from a workshop with a group of teenagers at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. They were asked to rethink the iconic museum and imagine it, for example, as a place for healing through technology, in an attempt to redefine the role of the institution in the aftermath of an indefinite future event.

A theme that comes up again and again in Husni-Bey’s work is the social perception of pain and disability. The video installation After the Finish Line (2015) thematises competitive sports and the desire for success, focusing on the experiences of young athletes who suffered injuries. It is an investigation of the effects of pain and how it is linked to the idea of competition – a key element of contemporary society – and the emotional traps it creates. Developed in partnership with the New York–based artist Park McArthur, the sculptural installation Shower (2013) takes a different approach, starting out from the condition of disability. The visitor is invited to sit on shower stools designed for the physically challenged and to read a short brochure containing a dialogue between the artists in which they discuss the differing abilities of our bodies and how this influences our experience of reality.

On a different tack, White Paper: The Law (2015) is a series of large-format prints that traces the inception and development of the ‘Convention on the Use of Space’, a draft legal document challenging a 2010 law that outlaws squatting. The document was produced collectively with groups of jurists, refugees, occupants, academics, activists and normal citizens in a series of public meetings that imagined a more equal use of the urban public sphere. The exhibition also contains further works on paper that echo the themes investigated in the larger installations.

Galleria Civica di Modena—together with Fondazione Fotografia Modena and Museo della Figurina—is part of FONDAZIONE MODENA ARTI VISIVE. Directed by Diana Baldon, the foundation aims to present and promote contemporary art and visual culture.


Adelita Husni-Bey (Milan, 1985) is an artist and pedagogical expert whose interests range from anarcho-collectivism and theatre to the law and urban development. She also organizes workshops and is involved in publications and radio broadcasts. In her practice, she works with activists, architects, legal experts, school children, poets, actors, urbanists, physiotherapists, athletes, teachers and students to deconstruct the complexity inherent in the idea of a collective society. Husni-Bey was included in the group of artists that represented Italy at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Her most recent solo exhibitions include: Frangente, Museo del Novecento, Milan, 2018; White Paper: On Land, Law and the Imaginary, Centro de Arte dos de Mayo, Mostoles, Spain, 2016; A Wave in the Well, Sursock Museum, Beirut, 2016; Movement Break, Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco, 2015; Playing Truant, Gasworks, London, 2012. Her works have been presented in group shows internationally such as Being: New Photography, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018; Power to the People, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 2018; Dreamlands, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016; The Eighth Climate, 11th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, 2015; Really Useful Knowledge, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2014; Utopia for Sale?, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome, 2014. Husni-Bey also teaches and has spoken at numerous international venues including the Serpentine Galleries, London (2018), Milan’s Pirelli Hangar Bicocca (2017), ESAD, Grenoble (2016), The New School, New York and Amsterdam’s Sandberg Institute (2015), and Birkbeck University, London (2011). In 2012, she took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Her 2016 book White Paper, exploring issues involving the land, property law and the imaginary, was supported by the Graham Foundation.


Adelita Husni-Bey, for the series “Agency”, Politici, 2014
Collection Lorenzo Lomonaco
Courtesy the artist and Laveronica arte contemporanea, Modica


Adelita Husni-Bey, Postcards from the Desert island (still), 2010-2011
Courtesy the artist and Kadist Art Foundation


Adelita Husni-Bey 
Curated by Diana Baldon, Serena Goldoni
Opening 8 June 2018, 6pm
9 June–26 August 2018

Galleria Civica di Modena| Palazzina dei Giardini, Corso Cavour 2, Modena
Opening hours: Thursday–Sunday, 5–11 pm
+39 059 2032911/2032940