2023, scorched reclaimed mango wood, kondil / kulli (sheoak), hand-burnished black clay lotas fired in sugarcane and sawdust, scent distilled from mango leaves and smoke from burning sugarcane, sound, reproduction of black and white photograph (Women Celebrating, Sydenham Road, Durban 1954).
Ceramics made with Miri Badger. Tables made with David Brazier and Ben Leadbetter.
mā maram comprises a pair of small clay lotas (vessels) sitting atop two tables fabricated from mango wood. The lengths of the individual tabletops have been made to the same height of the artist and her mother respectively. The arrangement of the tables and vessels echo each other, following a line of sight with the family photograph and establishing a direct connection across the generations of women memorialised in Simpson’s exhibition.
Fabricated from reclaimed wood and treated with fire, the tables’ charcoal black finish serves as an analogy for kala pani (black waters) of the Indian Ocean that Simpson’s ancestors crossed to reach the British colony of Natal. The clay lotas, fired in sugarcane and sawdust, stand as repositories and transmitters of these histories.
From inside the bodies of the vessels a soft fragrance emanates, blending the smokiness of sugarcane ash with the green notes of mango tree. In this work, memories are recalled not through text or images but through sensations embodied in the materiality of places and objects.
Women Celebrating, Sydenham Road, Durban 1954, reproduction of black and white photograph.
This photograph is one of the few images in the artist’s possession of her maternal great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. Taken in Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), they are pictured amongst a group of women gathered under a mango tree. In the background is a tin house typical of the informal settlements constructed in Durban as Indian labourers who had completed their indenture on sugar plantations moved to the city. While some returned to India, many, including Simpson’s ancestors, chose to stay in South Africa where they suffered further displacement due to devastating river floods and the implementation of apartheid. Today these landmarks stand as important remnants of their history.
Women Celebrating, Sydenham Road, Durban offers a glimpse into the world of migrant South Asian women, depicting a social space of community, solidarity and survival. Placed at the exhibition’s entrance, it is an invitation to remember and reimagine their intimate experiences.
Text by Sarah Wall.