The Last of the Lemurians, in collaboration with New Red Order, 2021
For a short period in 1999, the Archæoraptor was believed to be the missing link between birds and non-avian dinosaurs. During a National Geographic press conference, and without prior peer review, the newly discovered fossil was announced to have originated in the Early Cretaceous in today’s China. Soon, however, the Archæoraptor was revealed to be a forgery, a chimera created by combining bones of prehistoric birds and terrestrial dinosaurs.
New Red Order’s exhibition at Centre CLARK interrogates the politics of power absorbed into forged histories. The artist collective directs our attention to how speculation can cement into truth and history becomes naturalized, sometimes with devastating consequences. NRO unpacks the now-debunked theosophist theory that there was once a continent stretching from the east coast of Africa through the Indian Ocean and all the way to the Pacific. Proponents of the supposed supercontinent, referred to as Lemuria, claimed that it predated the currently known configurations of tectonic plates. Occult thinkers—including philosopher Helena Blavatsky—propagated false information suggesting that the people inhabiting this original land, Lemurians, were the purest—the most indigenous—humans. Such claims were intended to promulgate racist theories with the aim of establishing “Aryans” as the authentic first people.
NRO critically and humorously punctures these false beliefs, exposing them as attempts to create a lineage through which white settlers could assert themselves as native, without having to confront the genocide of Indigenous peoples. The resulting exhibition is critical of the chimeras of history and simultaneously speculative in its own right.
In the video installation The Last of the Lemurians, NRO approaches the myth of Lemuria, which has it that a continent situated in the Indian Ocean, now submerged, was the cradle of humanity and the Lemurians were the first people on Earth. Several theories related to white supremacy derive from this myth, including that of “root races” devised by Russian theosophist Helena Blavatsky (1831–91), who invented a hierarchy of races and promoted the Aryan doctrine. Inspired by New Age Lemurian beliefs built on Blavatsky’s concept, NRO proposes a counter-reading of these racist fictions. The Last of the Lemurians is articulated around two geological formations each of which is the subject of legend: Mount Shasta, a volcano in California, which supposedly harbours a secret city populated by superior blond beings from the lost continent, and the Hawaiian island of Kauai, purportedly once a capital of Lemuria. The work makes symbolic use of two materials connected to these geographies: lava, a destructive material in its liquid state and bearer of life in its solid state, and crystal, an object synonymous with purity that, in its liquid state, can flow like water but also refract like ice. NRO metamorphizes the moving, sometimes toxic, dimension of historical narratives and their crystallization in the collective imagination. A hybridization of the native and the alien, The Last of the Lemurians makes light out of colonial desires, proposing an alternative to the romanticization of Indigeneity. Here, the fluidity of materials echoes the redeeming metamorphosis of exoticizing phenomena into a multitude of reciprocal relations.
“Momenta Biennale 2021: Sensing Nature”, curated by Stephanie Hessler
Centre Clarke, Montréal, QC.
September 8 – October 16, 2021.
Didier Morelli. “MOMENTA 2021 Centres Indigenous and Nonhumanist Notions of Nature.” Frieze Magazine. 30 September 2021. Link.
Wilkinson, Jane. “Natural Causes.” Artforum. 20 October 2021. Link