2023, clay lotas fired in sugarcane and sawdust, sugarcane ash, sound.
Ceramics made with Miri Badger, with assistance from Ben Leadbetter and katnancy, and support from Effie Skoufa-Klesnik.
Sound: Isha Ram Das.
Sancintya Mohini Simpson, whose Ancestors were taken from Chennai (Madras) india, and made indentured labourers on the sugarcane plantations in Natal colony (now KwaZulu-Natal state, South Africa), focuses on rendering intergenerational accounts through works that redress archival absence, and racial, gendered, and caste asymmetries. The complex nexus of migration, memory, trauma, silence and hauntings within a matrilineal prism, finds form in An ocean, 2023, an achingly beautiful assembly of black clay lotas fired in sugarcane and sawdust, laid on a bed of sugarcane ash. The vessels are accompanied by a recording of the artist exhaling deeply, ‘an attempt to imitate undulating ocean waves, and a release, meditation, acknowledgement’ (Simpson, 2023). Tragically, the indentured labour system replaced formal transatlantic slavery of Africans in the Americas and Europe—following its ‘abolition’ in 1833 in the British Empire—meaning 1.3 million South Asians from pre-independence/partition India were then transported across vast distances from 1834 to 1917, especially to sugarcane plantations in South Africa, Mauritius, the Caribbean colonies, and Fiji. This was echoed in the abduction into indenture of 62,500 Indigenous peoples from across southwest and central Great Ocean archipelagos, onto Queensland and New South Wales plantations and into Peruvian mines. Dedicated to truth-telling as a reparative measure for the horrific experiences survived by her Ancestors and ‘other indentured labourers like them’ (Simpson 2023), Sancintya’s work incorporates the intergenerational continuation of memories through blood memory and storied places. Her profound engagement with Édouard Glissant’s writing on oceanic spaces, who specifically conceptualised these oceans as having the capacity to remember the ships that carried people into slavery through them, is evident in both language and form. For the artist, the black clay lotas:
…become symbols for memory, body, water, and boat. The black tones gesture to the kālā pani ancestral ‘black waters’ known as ocean voyages, both consumed and embodied, but also to the dark history and residue of the sugar industry (Simpson, 2023).
The smooth lines that emerge from the way each vessel was thrown and fired, bely their symbolism of the continuing trauma held across generations in relation to sugar. While fragmented in time and geography, these histories reach almost every warm coast on this planet, and demand deep remembrance and healing.
— Excerpt: Léuli Eshrāghi, lo tātou pitonu’i, 2023. Exhibition catalogue: TarraWarra Biennale 2023: ua usiusi faʻavaʻasavili’, Tarrawarra Museum of Art .