In 1498 Vasco da Gama arrived in India, establishing a “trade” route that paved the way for hundreds of years of imperialism, colonisation and slavery affecting millions of people. Through this assignment I am studying the movement of people and food along Portuguese, Dutch and British trade routes from India to South Africa and beyond, as well as from the Americas eastward.
Many ingredients, musical instruments and artistic styles appearing as innate elements of Indian and South African culture where actually introduced by European settlers and traders. Being aware of this can add a layer of complexity to the way we appreciate food, art, music and writing.
Inspired by Kara Walkers “A Subtlety” I have attempted to balance a research based approach, with practice lead experimentation. The sculpture comprises 3 chandeliers of 140 chillies, each with holes left by black peppercorns, each tied with bowline knots to a large timber beam. My source object, the unassuming green chilli, has been transformed and translated through a rigorous process of research and experimentation. The dark history of chillies and black pepper were unknown to me at the start of the assignment. Experiments with clays and glazes also influenced the final presentation, which I believe demonstrates weight, labour, violence, and trade.
In 1860 the first of over 200,000 Indian indentured labourers arrived in South Africa to work on sugarcane fields. Most would live out the rest of their lives in servitude, while profits from the plantations enriched the colonies. At the same time the Delft Blauw style of ceramics had gained popularity amongst the Dutch in South Africa and were seen as a link to European sophisticated culture. While Delftware in South Africa mostly depicted idyllic European scenes, Jahaji Bhai aims to repurpose these items to act as records of the plight of those Indian labourers.
The sculpture is a result of research in to Chinese and Dutch ceramics and trade, as well as cross referencing the histories of Indian, Dutch, British and Zulu South Africans. Materials choices have been influenced by this research, using earthenware and cobalt, as well as plates and sugarcane as subject matter.
The installation, a dinner table setting, has a theatrical feel. While suggestive of a meal, neither the sugarcane nor the half-glazed plates are usable. This instead becomes a recording device that is being seeded back into a history which has underrepresented individuals like these labourers.