As the French Revolution gathered steam in continental Europe, another insurrection was taking place on an island across the Atlantic. Haitian general Toussaint Louverture—often referred to as “Black Spartacus”—seized the opportunity of growing rage against the brutal treatment and limited rights of enslaved and free people of color in the Caribbean outpost of Imperial France to execute one of the most successful insurgencies in history. Taking its title from the famous scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 blockbuster, 3hd’s “I’m Spartacus!” film program revels in the spirit of resistance against all odds, as exemplified by such legendary figures as the so-called “Father of Haiti,” as well as the titular Thracian gladiator of Ancient Rome to whom he was so routinely compared.
Launching IRL and online at Berlinische Galerie and 3hdTV on October 27, and running to December 4, the presentation aims to revise and reconsider canon and convention in favor of examining the marginalized voices and hidden histories that elucidate intersectional narratives in which everyone—like the recaptured rebels of Spartacus the movie—is the hero of their own story. Selected moving image works from five international artists reflect on power and visibility, examining cultural identity and embodied knowledge crossing race, gender, and class. Vika Kirchenbauer’s “THE CAPACITY FOR ADEQUATE ANGER” problematizes notions around upward mobility that the field of contemporary art both produces and presupposes, while Christelle Oyiri’s “GROTESQUE: They make beautiful things about ugly people” confronts the materialization of white colonial power in the architecture of the Louvre. The Institute Of Queer Ecology’s “Hysteria” explores climate disaster and the enduring effects of structural oppression in an ecofeminist retelling of the poorly understood 17th century “dancing plagues.” Akinola Davies Jr.'s “Black to Life” film for the BBC addresses reductive and violating representations of the African diaspora by highlighting forgotten histories in Black British noble society, and Ndayé Kouagou's "A coin is a coin" explores concepts of freedom, legitimacy, choice, and privilege through remixing various linguistic and aesthetic codes via a multifarious “parafictional” persona.
The fight for freedom from colonial tyranny in Haiti would take over a decade to secure, but its ultimate victory in abolishing slavery in the country and establishing independence from foreign rule would prove comparisons to Spartacus as being fundamentally flawed. The little-known Thracian gladiator, after all, failed to secure his freedom and that of his comrades. Yet, his legend as the leader of the Third Servile War lives on in the “I’m Spartacus!” movie scene, not only as a demonstration of human solidarity and heroism, but the assertion that the symbol of the rebel who made Rome tremble represents a mission still shared by many.