This series of actions, titled karambu*, developed for 52 ACTIONS is part of my ongoing research navigating my familial history as a descendant of Indian indentured labourers sent to work on sugar plantations in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). This action reframes and reimagines the colonial archive that has stood to represent my family and this history of sugar and indenture, countering it from the perspective of those indentured and their descendants. karambu takes form as a counter-archive, moving away from colonial representations of this history towards a consideration of culturally specific frameworks, oral traditions and the intangible. This work is made of sounds, words and images that offer space for these histories.
This action will also acknowledge artists and communities from the indentured labour diaspora, whose histories and descendants span a vast geography.
*transliteration of the Tamil word for sugarcane, one of the terms used by indentured labourers in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa).
This project was supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
Sound recordings: Isha Ram Das
Sancintya Mohini Simpson is an artist and researcher based in Brisbane, Australia. She is a descendent of indentured labourers sent to work, from India to South Africa, on colonial sugar plantations. Her work navigates the complexities of migration, memory and trauma through addressing gaps and silences within the colonial archive. Simpson’s work moves between painting, video, poetry and performance to develop narratives and rituals. Her practice is grounded in collaboration and community engagement, connecting wider narratives surrounding descendants of indenture and their diaspora communities.
Simpson’s recent solo exhibitions include New Old Archives, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, Kūlī nām dharāyā/ they’ve given you the name ‘coolie’, Institute of Modern Art Belltower, Brisbane, and Echoes Over Oceans (with Shivanjani Lal), Firstdraft, Sydney, 2020; Remnants of my ancestors, Boxcopy (Hobiennale), Hobart, and Natal’s Coolie Women, CARPARK, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, 2019; and Bloodlines at Metro Arts, Brisbane and Blak Dot Gallery (Next Wave Festival), Melbourne, 2018. Her work has been exhibited and performed at a number of institutions, most recently at the Museum of Brisbane, 2020; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2019; and QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2018. In 2019 she undertook a residency at 1Shanthiroad in Bangalore, India, awarded through Asialink Arts Creative Exchange. Simpson is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane, Australia.