Written by Emily Butler
Ile de France (2015) is a non-narrative film focusing on Mauritius’ landscape, architecture and the details of objects tracing its colonial history and multicultural social fabric. Using a painterly approach to the moving image, Shiraz Bayjoo (b. Mauritius 1980) invites us on a lyrical journey through the island, using tracking shots of details of the rugged coastal landscape and jungle encountered by seventeenth century Dutch colonisers, of the French graffiti on early settlements, of the objects of prayer in a traditional Muslim merchant timber house, of footage of independence celebrations from Britain in 1968 playing on a domestic TV set, and of the missing key of an ancient piano in a former sugar baron’s mansion. Whilst the film is absent of protagonists, Bayjoo skilfully conveys the island’s complex social history. The film catches a soft light outlining the place of structures and objects in contemporary Mauritian life. Alongside the film, a series of postcards Untitled (2014) and prints Ile Maurice (2009) and Extraordinary Quarantine (2014) captures everyday scenes, whose simple framing reveal new details and insights at each viewing.
Ile de France offers a tapestry of histories that unfold like the roots of the banyan tree that permeates the island. A polyphony of sounds, narratives, languages and songs weave through the visual footage. The soundtrack also captures the roar of the ocean as a reminder of its indomitable presence throughout history. Bayjoo’s work often focuses on representation, on material objects as conveyors of personal stories to counter official histories. Working across different media, he brings moving image work together with objects and documents to offer a physical and intimate space of encounter. Ile de France (Isle of France) is titled after Mauritius’ name under French rule (1710-1810), a loaded term marking out its role as a microcosm of France to contribute to the trade and industry of its Empire. Islands are also the locations where utopian desires can be projected: the setting for the Enlightenment era novel Paul et Virginie (1788) by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, or the location of anarchist societies of pirate or ‘maroon’ escaped slaves. Yet the film also
reminds us of the darker side of imperial rule including passages from Saint-Pierre’s diary outlining violence and slavery.
By looking at colonial histories and their legacies in the Indian Ocean, Bayjoo examines the deeper roots of globalisation. In a time when the adage ‘no man is an island, entire of itself ’ is as prescient as ever, Bayjoo’s work highlights the complexity of the creolisation of people, languages and environments.
Emily Butler is Mahera and Mohammad Abu Ghazaleh Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery.
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