Sancintya Mohini Simpson

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.

Original Action


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

Go Deeper


My work The Language of Indenture which is a video of a conversation with my mother as well as a poem could be a great fit. Video details and as well as two options for poems are below.

The Language of Indenture, 2019
Single-channel video, sound, 6.19 mins


Sitting with my mother during a heatwave on a summer’s afternoon, we talk about language, culture and loss.

The Language of Indenture references the sounds of experimental documentary and ethnographic imagery and captioning. Putting the songs of Indians indentured in South Africa in the central position and creating a new archive of how language has shifted, been lost and rewritten.

Gone to Ṭāpū

Memories in the body
Of water that carried my people
And your people

There are memories
The ocean churning
Memories of women’s sin

We cleanse with salt
We don’t look
Into the black sun

Memories in the body
Of singing and hymns
With dholak in hands

There are memories
Of ghost storms 
Silent screams, torrential

Thagwā catch you
And take you to ṭāpū
Gaṅgā Ma doesn’t follow

Memories in the body
Of earth toiled by my people
And your people

There are memories
The blue percussionist
Rhythmically hits

The ancestor speaks
It is the ocean

The ancestor speaks
It is the body

The ancestor speaks
It is the earth

Not a chameleon,

but a gecko. Insides visible,
just a touch opaque.
The gecko gets moved 
around in your suitcase
belonging somewhere,
elsewhere, not here.

O, gecko in exile. You
with your translucent
identity. It’s not your fault
customs refuses to give
you clearance to go home. 

Take Action

  1. Think of word or phrase that you use at home, but you don’t use elsewhere. Maybe it has a special meaning at home or is in a language you only speak with your family. Perhaps this could be nicknames, a silly name for something, inside jokes or phases or Language words—for example, my family would call vegetarian hotdogs ‘not-dogs’

  2.  From that word write a poem, tell a story, or create an image that uses that word or phrase.

    You don’t need to translate what it means, think about how you might convey the essence or feeling at its core.