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Leah Gordon, Noir, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

LONDON.- Leah Gordon's new photographs investigate the practice of the grading from black to white of skin colour, referred to as Caste, which revealed the extent of racial mixing in 18th century colonial Haiti.

A measuring system which moves through black to white in nine degrees, it was developed by a French colonialist living in Haiti during the slave plantation period. Moreau de St Mery created a surreal taxonomy of race which classified the skin colour of the colony’s population, where white, or Blanche was inevitably socially superior to black, or Noir. Using names borrowed from mythology, natural history and bestial miscegenation, St Mery classified nine degrees of shading, from pure black to 1/8 white, and 7/8 black and so on through Sacatra, Griffe, Marabou, Mulâtre, Mamelouque, Quarteronné and Sang-Mêlé to White.

As Colin Dayan, a Haitian historian, comments, ‘Stranger than any supernatural fiction, the radical irrationality of Moreau St Mery’s methods demonstrates to what lengths the imagination can go if driven by racial prejudice.’

Leah Gordon’s discovery of Moreau’s classification system inspired her to make Caste Portraits of the nine skin varieties, with herself at one end of the scale, the ‘Blanche’, and her partner, Andre Eugene, a Haitian sculptor, at the other end of the racial spectrum.

Leah Gordon is a photographer, film-maker and curator who has produced a body of work on the representational boundaries between art, religion, anthropology, post-colonialism and folk history. Her photography book Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti was published in June 2010 and was the culmination of a sixteen year long project.

Gordon was the adjunct curator for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, is part of the curatorial team for the upcomingIn Extremis exhibition of Haitian Vodou arts (opening in Sept 2012) at the Fowler Museum, UCLA, created and co-curated the Ghetto Biennale and is co-curating, with Alex Farquharson, the major exhibition Kafou, on Haitian art at the Nottingham Contemporary in October 2012.

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Leah Gordon, Sacatra, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Griffe, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Marabou, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Mulâtre, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Marmelouque, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Quateronnée, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Sang-melée, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon

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Leah Gordon, Blanche, 2011. © Riflemaker gallery and Leah Gordon