"Above the Fruited Plain (America! America!)" is centered around the violent legacy of American intervention—corporate and military—in Central America and the Caribbean. The installation calls attention to the violences that haunt our domestic bliss.

Johannah Herr, Above the Fruited Plain (America! America!) (2021). Digitally Printed Wallpaper, Machine-Tufted Rug, Work on Paper and 125 Page Publication.

My studio practice conceptually centers around investigations of state-sanctioned violence. I explore The state as an apparatus that holds a unique capacity to create exclusion and exploitation— acts often condoned by its own citizens (provided that the aforementioned violences are enacted against “others”). Using Judith Butler’s concept of “grievability,” from her work “Frames of War,” I constantly come back to the question of how (and whose) bodies become “ungrieveable.” I am deeply interested in the roll that ideology, consumerist spectacle and privilege play in distracting and disconnecting some people from violences which are deeply felt by others.

Bold, sensuous use of color and patterning is a crucial element of my practice, both visually and conceptually. By creating work that employs colorful, maximalist design which initially subverts politically charged content, I ideally create a viewer’s experience that toggles between aesthetic desire and ethical conflict. I want the audience to want the work before they intellectualize its meaning. I also often use strategies of optical confusion— using reflective materials and disruptive patterning— to create visual instability in the work. I see this instability as a physical metaphor for the friction created by attempting to live ethically within systems of Statehood and global capitalism that necessitate exploitation.

While my work largely deals with US state-sanctioned violence, the genesis for my interest in these conceptual issues began with my anti-trafficking work in Thailand. In 2011 I co-founded an anti-human trafficking, women’s empowerment NGO that works with ethnic minorities and Burmese refugees in Chiang Mai. While this project is distinct from my artistic practice, it has deeply affected how and why I choose to make art. Working with undocumented refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar exposed me to the extreme precarity and marginalization created by abusive military and bureaucratic policies. Though seemingly worlds apart, I recognized that the structural exploitations within the US and Thailand function largely the same—in the US we have simply corporatized the corruption of government and mythologized our imperialism and genocide under the guise of exceptionalism. It therefore became my goal within my art practice to expose structures of exploitation within a US context such that the viewer is forced to reconcile with the historical and ongoing impact of such issues.