Kitso Lynn Lelliott’s work in the Neues Schloss resembles an artistic ghost-story. By means of images and sounds, the artist evokes the presence of Alzire, a young woman who worked and lived at the court of Wilhelmine of Bayreuth. There are few traces of the young woman. Not even her real name is recorded. “Alzire” is the name given to her by Margravine Wilhelmine, based on the tragedy by the same name, “Alzire, ou les Américains”. It was written by French philosopher Voltaire, who the Margravine adored. All we know of Alzire, the human being, is based on a burial script by Hofprediger Schmidt. Not even 25 years of age, she died in Bayreuth on May 22nd, 1751.
She had come a long way. As her country of birth, Surinam in South America is mentioned. At the time under Dutch colonialism Surinam was a place of slavery with many of its enslaved people being of West African ancestry. It had terrible conditions for people working on the sugar plantations and was a place of rebellion with people refusing the bondage they were placed under. The installation in the castle enacts, through this recalling of the disremembered Alzire, its own rebellion against the desolation of erasure. Her ghostly presence is recalled to fill a space and the narrative of a place she was otherwise forgotten from.
Alzire‘s story leaves many questions: What brought a woman from the Americas to the court of Wilhelmine of Bayreuth? What were the conditions of her journey? Did she act as a servant in Bayreuth, performing not only the duties of a servant but also being perceived through to the popular ‘exoticism’ of the time, when it was fashionable to have people from Africa and the Americas work at the European courts? Was she solely subject to being gazed upon? How did she look back? And did the eyes of the two women, Wilhelmine and Alzire, meet: seeing as both their migrations to Bayreuth were, most likely, not willful ones?