Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon forms a very important location for the archival research, filming and public display of works. Having already spent two weeks as a part of an international Triangle Trust residency in October 2015 at the Hangar art residency, I will be return there for two months to further identify and film in relevant locations.Some of the important sites include the Jardim Botanico Tropical, The Military Museum, Arquivo Historico Ultramarino, Lisbon, the Jeronimos Monastry, the port of Lisbon and many more sites of historical importance of Portuguese maritime trade.
The site of the display in Lisbon will be Belem which has celebrated monuments like the Padrao dos Descobrimentos commemorating Portugals maritime voyages and discoveries. This also forms the site of the port where the famous Portugese navigator Vasco de Gama set off to explore the world. The planned visual culmination of the project in Lisbon will allow us to come a full circle in expressing the pain of loss during transporation of slaves from Africa.

Ilha de Mozambique, Mozambique

Ilha de Mozambique forms the starting point in the project. The site of the departure of the ship, the isalnd is entrenched in a physical and visceral memory of slavery and migration. During my two week recce trip, I worked closely with scholars and experts on slavery and migration at the island. Some of the experts include Luis Filipe Pereira, Yolanda Pinto and Dr Ricardo Teixeira Duarte from Eduardo Mondlane University Maputo and also a part of the Slaves Wreck Project. Working with these experts, I identified the different sites where slaves where kept before being shipped off across the Atlantic. Many of these places known as factories are located next to the sea and still bear the traces of slavery. Along with spaces in the main island, I also located spaces in mainland Mussoril and made a trip six hours away from Ilha to a island called Sommna. Accordinging to Ricardo, this would have been one of the first few places linked to migration across the Indian Ocean. An island that can be visited only during low tide, the structure bears traces of Swahili architecture and a central space used by the locals to conduct ceremonies. Sommna, I was told means ‘built by the spirits’.

St Sebastian fort, Ilha de Mozambique 2016, Photo credit

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town forms the central point in the entire project. It is here that the San Jose paquette de Africa sank with 212 slaves on board. Besides filming at the site of the Clifton beach where the ship sank and having already filmed the remains of the ship under treatment at the Archaeology department of the Iziko National Museums, I will be presenting contemporary forms of bondage by focusing on the theme of the oceanic migrations where mobility is suspended.

Port of Cape Town 2016, Photo credit: Meghna Singh

Different stages of disappearing

As the journey of the ship progresses from its starting point in Mozambique to it’s final destination in Lisbon, a crucial parallel narrative builds along side the journey. We witness states of suspension within the world of oceanic mobility by encountering three different stages of ships being stuck. Traversing across time and space, we view these three ships as our ship sails on. All three sites connect around the theme of black bodies being suspended in precarious environments of threat or uncertainty at sea. The three sites are as follows:

  1. San Jose Paquette de Africa, a sunken Portuguese slave ship, the remains of which frame the project politically within historical colonial relations. There isn’t much that remains of this ship except a few archaeological remains in the Social History Centre of the Iziko National Museums and the site of Clifton beach.

  2. Lady San Lorenzo, a rusting deep sea diamond mining vessel slowing sinking and waiting to be cut up. This site presents the inter-related complexities of capitalism, oceanic flows of trade and labour and migration through the metaphor of abandonment. Caught up within global capitalist politics of diamond cartels making money in Africa, the ship has been left to decay at the port of Cape Town for the last 8 years. In it’s state of decay, it provides shelter to a few illegal Ghanaian immigrants who inhabit the ship. Soon the ship will be broken down and the men will have to move out. The half submerged ship focuses our attention to the creation of liminal spaces and precarious lives in Africa. In this work, I show how the world of deep sea diamond mining leaves ships to decay and how these spaces of decay are inhabited by migrants who need to make themselves invisible, to lead a secret existence. This space presents ‘Counter-images’ of global capitalism. These images speak to a space of globalization, they speak about migrant workers, the international labour economy and alongside that, they imply the international flows of capital that both drive and are supported by those flows of people. This space illustrates what Manuel Castells (1996) calls the ‘spaces of flows’ rather than a place. The ship gives us a glimpse into a space seen as discreet and relatively self-contained. It builds on a sense of estrangement. This provides a depiction of the system rather than just the fragments of an intimate personal sort of space. Applying ideas of liminality to this space suggests that there are kinds of space and place that are inhabited by people between states, undergoing rites of passage.

  3. WBI Trinity, a moving ship that is arrested at the port of Cape Town due to reasons of debt. The story of the nine Indian seafarers onboard presents the world of the international shipping industry and how maritime law allows for these zones of arrest to exist within which working class men get caught up. They wait endlessly for issues to resolve between the big shipping corporations so they can receive their salaries and sail home. The period of waiting is dissected and it shows the slow violence inflicted on the human body as the men wait indefinitely.