How to Hide an Empire
November 12 - January 7
Gaa Projects Cologne
Gaa Projects is pleased to announce the opening of Johannah Herr’s solo exhibition, How to Hide an Empire. The show takes its name from Daniel Immerwahr’s book of the same name, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. Herr mined the text for her research and presents a body of work concerned entirely with forgotten or unseen US imperialist aggression.
The exhibit is comprised of machine-tufted rugs that utilize the visual strategies of Afghan war rugs. As such, it is a continuation of Herr’s earlier exploration of this genre as a way of subverting an artform that, in Afghanistan, was used to document the Soviet and subsequent American invasions. Such rugs were then sold to invading soldiers, and even available through the major US department store, Sears. By subverting this visual rhetoric, Herr highlights the US’ role as an aggressor and invader, rather than the “liberator” that it likes to perceive itself as.
Each rug in How to Hide an Empire features a historical moment when the US stepped outside of its sovereign borders to meddle in a foreign land—whether via proxy wars during the Cold War and/or to support the overthrow of legitimate governments unfriendly to US business interests. Herr draws attention to the inherent hypocrisy of a country that pretends to be a bastion of democracy yet tramples the rights of foreign citizens and undermines democratically elected governments everywhere.
These particular rugs speak to lesser-known events. Importantly, all of the historical events showcased in the rugs were acts that were either deliberately committed in secret by the CIA or purposefully obfuscated from the American public in order to maintain the mythology of the US as a “good actor” in the world. Also, several of the rugs have a direct through-line to contemporary events. For example, one depicts Operation Paper, which was the first time the US worked with rebel groups that funded themselves via drug trafficking, a model replicated later in Mexico, Colombia, and Afghanistan in which the US created a drug trade to criminalize certain behaviors and control various populations. Another rug handles the Phoenix Program, which was the first time the US codified torture and torture of civilians into our official policy.
The show also features thematically pertinent wallpaper and four titles from ¡AGITPOP! PRESS, Herr’s ongoing collaborative artist book project with writer Cara Marsh Sheffler.
How to Hide an Empire will be on view through January 7, 2023. The artist and gallery will donate 5% of the sale of each rug to the USCRI's Afghanistan Assistance Fund.
Text by Cara Marsh Sheffler
Johannah Herr (b.1987 in Reading, PA) Johannah Herr holds an MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2016) and a BFA in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design (2009). She has had solo shows at The Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Spring Break Art Fair, Geary Contemporary, Elijah Wheat Showroom, Untitled San Francisco, BRIC and Envoy Enterprises (all New York, NY), Red Ger Gallery (Ulaabaatar, Mongolia) and Galeri Metropol (Tallinn, Estonia) and been featured in group shows at Pioneer Works (Brooklyn, NY), Visual Arts Center of New Jersey (Summit, NJ), Center for Contemporary Art (Warsaw, Poland) and DADAPost (Berlin). She is a Fulbright Scholar (Mongolia) and has attended residencies at the Museum of Arts and Design (New York, NY), SIM (Reykjavik, Iceland), Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), IEA’s Experimental Projects Residency (Alfred, NY), Oxbow Artists Residency (Saugatuk, MI), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), BRIC (Brooklyn, NY) and the Arctic Circle Residency (Svalbard, International Territory). She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and New York University. Additionally, she is the Co-Founder of Daughters Rising, an anti-human trafficking, indigenous women’s empowerment NGO based in Mae Wang, Thailand. She lives and works between Brooklyn and Mae Wang.