Festival 2020


Nov 7 -
Dec 19 2020


The Raft of the Medusa: Saint Louis


In 2015 I was invited to produce a work at KeurLaminaire in Saint Louis, Senegal, on the western edge of the African continent. In early 2016 I arrived in Saint Louis in order to produce a new community engaged work on the 200th anniversary of the grim events related to the stranding of the frigate ship Medusa, an event that remains a strong reminder of the perils of poor leadership and a corrupt bureaucracy.


I always try and approach each project with an open mind and without preconceived ideas of what the finished work will look like. This activates the production process and results in a project that reflects the specific community within which it was produced. For this project I spent five weeks in Senegal, researching, building, rehearsing, and recording a set of tableaux vivants.


In the summer of 1816 the French frigate ran aground on its way to Saint Louis, Senegal. While each of the lifeboats that escaped from the Medusa had its own story of rough seas and treacherous travels along the sun-burnt shores, it is the story of the Raft that captured the contemporary imagination and is most strongly remembered now through Theodore Gericault’s giant painting Le Radeau de la Méduse (1818 – 1819) which hangs at the Louvre.


In Saint Louis I set up shop at a makeshift studio in an old warehouse in the heart of the colonial outpost. From there I set out searching for more than a week, meeting people in the community, artists, actors, boat builders, craftspeople, historians, musicians, administrators, etc, trying to figure out what project would make sense in this specific cultural milieu of a post-colonial Senegal. Finally, after meeting with many people in the community I settled on creating a raft made from scraps of dismantled pirogues (handmade and brightly painted wooden fishing boats), architectural scraps, and other elements found while roaming around the island of Saint Louis and the adjacent fishingvillage of GuetN’Daron the Langue De Barbarie. The background and the water were made from almost 300 meters of cotton fabric. Everything was built locally including the 4-meter tall “sun” light. While the original raft of the Medusa was full of French colonizers, and had only one black passenger, this raft was made in Senegal and populated by locals.


In my last Raft of the Medusa Project, produced in 2009, I focused on recreating the painting somewhat faithfully; in this project I was not concerned with this and focused instead on the historical record, recreating the Raft as recalled by AlexandreCorréard, one of only 15 survivors. I imagined what life might have been like during those 17 days, drifting listlessly at sea. By re-staging an historical moment I am re-contextualizing the events on the raft not through a change of location but through a temporal shift of 200 years. This both draws attention to the original tragedy of 1816 as well as exposes obvious parallels with contemporary events. By restaging and reshooting the same events Gericault explored in his painting, a melding of the historical and the contemporary takes place.


I have often made community-involved projects in cities around the world. I produced works related to August Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais in Seoul, Paris, Calais, Montreal, and Vancouver. In 2008 – 2009 I produced The Raft of the Medusa (100 Mile House) in the remote town of 100 Mile House, British Columbia. This remake of Gericault’s seminal painting was performed as a tableau vivant and recorded in video and photographs.



Adad Hannah was born in New York in 1971, spent his childhood in Israel and England, and moved to Vancouver in the early 1980’s. He lives and works between Montreal and Vancouver.


Adad Hannah is interested in the way the photographic moment is performed for a camera and his works often take the form of video-recorded tableaux vivants. Through his videos and photographs he explores the nexus of photography, video, sculpture, and performance and how the human body occupies this space. 


Adad Hannah has produced community engaged collaborative projects for museums around the world and his works have been exhibited and collected widely. He has been awarded numerous grants and prizes. His work can be found in the permanent collections of many institutions including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Samsung LEEUM Museum, Seoul, San Antonio Museum of Art, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and many others.


Adad Hannah is represented by Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain ( and Equinox Gallery (

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