Through poetic interventions in public space, speculative narratives, computer-generated imagery and appropriation of stock photography, Priyageetha Dia translates historical flashpoints into sensorial environments. In her latest body of works, Dia...
Through poetic interventions in public space, speculative narratives, computer-generated imagery and appropriation of stock photography, Priyageetha Dia translates historical flashpoints into sensorial environments. In her latest body of works, Dia conjures up experiences of Indian migration and labour in Malaya’s rubber plantations under British colonial rule. Plantation corporatism turned Malaya into one of Britain’s most profitable colonies and the world’s largest exporter of rubber. This prosperous commercial enterprise was made possible by the migration of hundreds of thousands of workers from South India to different parts of Malaya during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to work as indentured labourers – a system of disguised slavery.
In the video The Sea is a Blue Memory, Dia attends to the journey of indentured labourers, a voyage many associated with fears of the loss of caste, sea-sickness and the miserable living conditions during the several weeks of journey. The ocean is recreated in CGI from different angles, in different moments of day and night, its glimmering surface or its hidden depths becoming a mesmerising object of contemplation. As viewers, we are compelled to look at this vast body of water more and more, again and again, as if we are collectively testing the possibility that the sea is a memory.
The series of companion prints liquid.vision_nil.land (after MalayaRubberPlantation, Getty) proposes another mode of attentive looking. Appropriating a single stock image of Malayan rubber plantations, Dia disrupts colonial conventions of representation. The distant and omniscient gaze of the plantation worker is fractured into intimate cropped portraits of individual labourers. While acts of appropriation might not restore the colonial subjects’ rights to self-image, they intervene in a system of representation that has remained comfortably untouched and unquestioned in its commodified form. Dia’s gesture highlights that the relationship with colonial photography for colonised subjects and their heirs is not straightforward. As violent as they are, these images are often rare material traces accounting for the existence of people and communities otherwise deprived of representation.