Sarojini Lewis: Visuals of Bhojpuri Migrants: Situating the Archive Through a Contemporary Lens/ Silences of Seas: Sea A Non-Archive?

This research attempts a comparative study of archival photographs and contemporary art from different destination colonies of indentured labourers from India, who migrated in the mid nineteenth century to Surinam, British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Mauritius. I aim to understand how identity formation was influenced by diverse circumstances of migrant communities in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. The present generation India diaspora, living
in the destination colonies has migration roots mostly from the Bhojpuri area in India, where people had the agricultural skills to work with sugarcane. This region covers the western part of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In recent years, a number of contemporary artists of this diaspora have turned to archival photographs to creatively engage with the process of their identity formation. Migration processes are not single events as between origin and destinations, multiple connections evolved. Migration is a process where places and people get connected beyond distances and political borders. Artists from the Caribbean and Indian Ocean established a visual language that points to multiple interpretations on identity and memory. Silences of the sea are connected to colonial documentation, scholars like Guiatra Bahadur and Marina Carter unravel several experiences of female indentured labourers. These experiences are kept
like hidden memories of the sea in several archives. The absence of photographs made on ships and sea passages reminds us of a silent zone; visual documented situations on board of ships rarely reveal female experiences. The archive thus has a blind spot pointing to the absence of photographic evidence and urges us to drift away from the colonial  documentation. In this research I present a series of archival photographs made of indentured labourers on board of ships and show how in this material one can speak of an absence of female representation. Dairies and female testimonies can be connected to these boat journeys as well as a contemporary lens of artists who visualised the situations that are absent from photographs.

Sarojini Lewis has a background in visual studies and fine art with a specialization in archival photography, video art and book arts. She is currently working as a researcher, artist and curator. Besides her research during her PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in her visual work and curated projects, there is a fascination with history, both the landscape, the city, the environment and its user. What would unite them, what kind of view is there, on what is it focused? Repetitive elements in Lewis’ research are photographs of objects, people, migration and moments that reveal forgotten situations and function as visual traces and fragments creating narratives leading to new perspectives. Lewis has participated in several projects of the Goethe-Institut (2018–2015) and in Artists Books in permanent art collection such as in the Tate Britain and British Library. She was part of curation project in Social Science Institut GB Pant in Allahabad (2018), Kochi Biennale (2016) for Contemporary Art Tent in Rotterdam (2018) or Stroom NL (2018), and several international exhibitions such as Museum Escravidão e Liberdade in Brazil (2018) or PIVO Sao Paulo (2019).


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