Raft of the Medusa 100 Mile House 2009 photograph by Adad Hannah
What’s going on here? That’s what you might ask when you look at this photo currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in an exhibit called Ways of Seeming.
Raft of the Medusa 100 Mile House 2009 by Adad Hannah
Probably the first thing that will help you understand the photograph is to know that it is only a small section of a much bigger photo.
The photo is actually a re-staging of a famous painting called The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault which is in the Louvre in Paris. Gericault painted it in 1818 when he was just twenty-seven years old. It depicted a true event- the wreck of the frigate Medusa which ran aground in Maruitania in 1816. 147 people escaped from the boat on a quickly constructed raft. Thirteen days later when they were rescued there were only 15 survivors, the rest had died of starvation, cannibalism, suicide, drowning and dehydration.
Visitors check out The Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre
Gericault read interviews with the survivors, built a model of the raft and visited a morgue to study cadavers before he began his painting. The captain of the Medusa was charged with incompetency. When Gericault created The Raft of the Medusa it was a very controversial current work and because of that his painting gained a wide audience and helped establish his reputation as an artist. The painting shows the moment the raft is being approached by a rescue boat. It is on a huge canvas so the figures are almost life size.
This photograph of a different section of the larger work is also in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection and has been on display in the past.
In 2008 Canadian artist Adad Hannah was asked by art collector Gus Horn to come to his home town of 100 Mile House in British Columbia to stage a version of the The Raft of Medusa that would involve the people of his community. Hannah agreed and in 2009 spent three months in 100 Mile House working together with a group made up largely of teenagers, to sew costumes, build sets, paint a back drop, figure out make-up and do yoga so they could hold the poses in the painting long enough for Hannah to film and photograph them. Finally they were ready and the elaborate tableau was staged. The photographs in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection are ones Hannah took that day. You can read more about the project here.
Adad Hannah’s photos weren’t the first or last time Gericault’s famous painting has been re-enacted. This version was staged by a New York artists collective called The Bruce High Quality Foundation in 2007.
Chinese artist Hu Jeiming chose to use the Gericault painting as inspiration for his commentary on the impact of the Cultural Revolution on China and how the country is now being driven by consumerism.
Now that you know the story of The Raft of the Medusa be sure to come and check out the photo on display now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
PS. If your eyes are really sharp you will notice a discrepency between the first two photos in this blog post. See if you can find it. Adad Hannah staged a couple different versions of the tableau which explains the difference.
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