Berni Searle is a South African artist who is renowned for her impressive body of work that employs video, photography, and various other media, including found objects and her body to evocatively communicate trauma, loss, identity, history, agency, and hope.
Lament is a series of six photographs that Searle created as a companion to Interlaced (2011), the three-screen video installation, which was presented in a Gothic Chamber in the Town Hall of Bruges, Belgium. The city was once an important international center for trade and commerce that experienced significant decline by the 1800s. The Town Hall was renovated during Leopold II’s tenure as king. His rule also oversaw the ruthless plunder and brutal colonialism of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although lace has been associated with the cultural heritage of Belgium since the 15th century, in Interlaced and the Lament series, Searle intentionally dons black lace that she purchased in South Africa. The gilded hands in the works recall the severed hands and “occasional foot” that the European soldiers were required to provide as evidence and accountability for the use of their bullets.
Lament and Interlaced—Searle’s interventions in the Town Hall—are rituals that reckon with the city’s imperialist history. In her discussion about Interlaced, Julie L. McGee explained that the artist “alternately becomes and then transgresses personifications of the Virgin Mary, a Bruggeling (citizen of Bruges), a veiled Muslim woman, a mystic. Searle interrupts the ceremonial performance of the Gothic Chamber with her own rites, and a space of orchestrated histories and municipal governance becomes witness to Searle’s civic protest.”