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Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan
Pressed plants and flowers,
200 plates, 27,5 x 43 cm (each).
28 x 44 x 15 cm
Production and publishing: Rosascape, Paris, France, 2011-2012
5 copies signed and numbered + 2 artist's proofs.
Euro 15.600 (including local tax:TVA)
Euro 13.000 (without local tax)
Like herbarium sheets, the 135 plates featured in Camille Henrot's piece Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan present various botanical specimens - plants and flowers - gathered by the artist from the private flower-beds decorating building entrances on the Upper East Side, New York City's wealthiest neighbourhood.
Roland Barthes argues(1) that flowers symbolise all things useless and luxurious, yet the purpose of those planted in these ornamental urban sites is to construct a border and figure - in the etymological sense of the word - the image of "paradise on earth". A "paradise for the living", echoing the paradayadâm, an Old Persian term meaning "beyond the wall" and which, when associated with the word djivadi, refers to that which is "lively, living, belonging to the time of life(2)".
The flowers collected in this Upper East Side paradise for the living, located on Manhattan Island, are brought together and displayed here on the facsimiles of a Christie's auction catalogue. The catalogue details the entire jewelry collection belonging to Princess Salimah Aga Khan, auctioned by Christie's at the Hotel Richemond in Geneva on November 13th 1995 jewels received during her twenty-six-year marriage to the Aga Khan. The sale took place following her divorce, while the Aga Kahn resorted to the courts, that same year, in an unsuccessful bid to prevent the sale.
According to Michel Leiris(3), everything that constitutes luxury, surplus, accumulation and expenditure is connected to ecstasy and, by extension, to excess. The flowers in Jewels might be viewed as a metaphorical representation of this and, correspondingly, the precise description of each jewel as an inventory of the markers of domestic wealth.
The excess or overflow present in Jewels is also tied to the symmetry and duplication between Princess Salimah Aga Khan's gesture and that of the artist Camille Henrot: the former is relieving herself of the heritage of several generations of women from one of the most prosperous families in the world - the Aga Khan dynasty - while the latter collects flowers gathered by passing "beyond the wall". Both are overstepping boundaries here (the boundary demarcating the paradise of the living) and transgressing the codes imposed by the dictates of a form of wealth focused on the markers of its own representation: transcendence via use and via the détournement of the codes of an archaic femininity, closed in on itself.
The notion of tonga (or taonga) discussed by Marcel Mauss in his essay on The Gift_, published (in the original French) in 1923-1924, might help elucidate this comparison. Indeed, Marcel Mauss observes that in Maori, Tahitian, Tongan and Mangarevan, the notion of tonga connotes "everything that may properly be termed possessions, everything that makes one rich, powerful, and influential and everything that can be exchanged, and used as an object for compensating others: [...] exclusively the precious articles, talismans, emblems, mats and sacred idols, sometimes even the traditions, cults and magic rituals". In this way, the jewelry and archetypal symbols of femininity featured in Jewels could be considered "tonga-native" objects, as 'uterine' gifts - possessions more connected to the soil, the clan, the family and the individual.
(1) See Roland Barthes, Comment vivre ensemble. Cours et séminaires au collège de France, 1976-1977, edited by Éric Marty and Claude Coste, Paris, Seuil, "Traces écrites" series, 2002. Sound recording available on Ubuweb: <http://www.ubu.com/sound/barthes.html>. (How to Live Together, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1976-1977).
(2) Clarisse Herrenschmidt
(3) Michel Leiris, Leiris Michel, L'Homme sans honneur, notes pour le sacré dans la vie quotidienne, Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 1994, p. 93.
_ Available in the original French on the website "Classiques des sciences sociales": <http://classique.uqac.ca/classiques/mauss_marcel/socio_et_anthropo/2_essai_sur_le_don/essai_sur_le_don.
html>. English translation: Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, Routledge, 1990, p.13.
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contact: archives.carre (at) wanadoo.fr