Brook Andrew’s What's Left Behind- Sydney Biennale 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Shiraz Bayjoo- ‘Air’ sculpture
Shiraz Bayjoo’s installation placed within the Air sculpture presents multiple layers of collages, miniature paintings, and archive photographs sourced from Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Island, UK, France, India, Netherlands, and Australia. Crisscrossing the Indian Ocean region the works present fragments of the intricate histories of migration through the course of European colonialism. Brief glimpses and clues each telling their own story of life on the colony are juxtaposed against each other providing re-readings and new interpretations of how this vast and complex region has informed the modern identities and lives of the people brought together across it.
An insight into the slave trade in 18th century Mauritius (Ile de France under French authority) are presented through copies of the original Code Noir, a legislative document issued by Louis XIV in 1685 which regulated relations between slaves and colonists. This is over laid with rare 19th century photographs from the Free black (Noir Libre) community, slave trading with slaves from Madagascar, and late 19th century images of Malagasy royalty under French rule. This is interspersed with more recognisible images of life on the colony through the aristocratic families of the sugar plantations.
Maps from the early Dutch and British east India companies present the administrative and technological expansion of Empire, the political imagining of the region through cartographical and maritime advancement. These are complemented with coins and objects from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), highlighting different eras of each company’s domination, presenting their far-reaching powers in shaping the region. A section of the transatlantic telegraph cable laid along the same mapped routes alludes to the deep legacy that today sees global data cables lying along the same paths.
Leperello style collages of early 20th century state ceremonies, botanical gardens and the European shaping of life in Mauritius are intersected with rare everyday scenes of the sugar plantations under the indenture labour system. In other collages historical landscapes and sites of colonial genocide are simply leaned upon by colonial emblems and symbols of empire taken from the MAAS archive.
Within the installation are several small brass ornate classical frames containing paintings encompassing further photographic references from the MAAS collection. An early 19th century photograph of a statue of Captain Cook, a section of map for Wednesday Island in the Torres Straits, and a photograph of a 19th century oyster diver. The small-scale sculptures allude to the enduring romanticism of the period, the nostalgia that veils a system of rule that was ultimately under pinned by violence.
In the light box adorning the top of the Air sculpture is a transparency collage made up of photographs from the Maas collection, images of industry, the goods of Empire, alongside fashion, textiles from India, and ceramics from the Far East allude to the desire for trade with the east, a desire that ultimately drives a domination of the region and an imagining that today endures deep into our senses of self.