1-54 has interviewed multidisciplinary artist Shiraz Bayjoo, the designer of the visitor’s Lounge for the sixth London edition of 1-54 at Somerset House. Drawing from the colonial histories of the Indian Ocean region, he presents multi-media works and archival materials.
At the core of your practice there’s a strong interest in the colonial history of Mauritius and histories of slavery, migrations and French expansion. Why are you using this as a point of departure for your artistic practice?
With cross overs between East Asia, India and East Africa, for me the region is one of the most important spaces in understanding and repositioning global conversations on de-colonisation away from a Eurocentric focus. The Indian Ocean region symbolises great movements of people, hybrids of culture and religious identity, both historically and in contemporary terms. Mauritius was the starting point to this research, being uninhabited until the arrival of the Dutch in the mid-1600’s, its peoples today have been brought together almost exclusively through European colonisation. It has a dense history of slavery from Madagascar and East Africa and was the site for Britain’s ‘Great Experiment’ where the indenture labour system was first trialled. Mauritius today is an important space in understanding how such legacies have continued to endure in our senses of history, origin, identity and ultimately politics.
Your work encompasses various media, from film to painting, to archival materials and furniture. Can you please tell us more about your creative process?
The different methods I bring together through my practice are often led by the nature of the material and spaces I’m describing. I seek to draw contrasts and tensions through both storytelling and material, the digital and the hand crafted, culminating in installations of multiple objects and moving image – a multiplicity that draws upon the countless re-tellings of ourselves. I find larger scale film works are an important medium in presenting the broader strokes of historical narrative, where the complexity and multiple layers of a situation can be alluded. Paintings and smaller installation works allow for a more intimate encounter where emotional and psychological spaces can be created, telling individual stories. The archive is central to nearly all of my works and is explored as part of extensive research and investigations; re-presenting often forgotten histories and nuances that can challenge the dominant cultural narratives and understandings.
As a London-based artist addressing notions of collective and individual identities, ideas of movement across borders and cultural exchange, how has moving and living in a city such as London influenced you?
Major spaces such as London (I think historically especially port cities) continue to endure and remain relevant because of the cross roads they sit upon. London remains a major hub of international discourse, despite the numerous difficulties in running a studio from here, the constant movement of ideas from around the globe, currently I feel still outweigh those draw backs. However, my practice is also based partly out of Mauritius and at other times in Asia, it’s this balance that allows me to continue to practice in London.
How did you conceive the installation for the 1-54 Lounge, ‘Indian Ocean Archive’?
The installation for the 1-54 Lounge brings together material from the Ile de France series and the new body of work Searching for Libertalia. It bridges two major explorations of the early colony and the post war independence movements of East Africa and the Mascarene Islands. The Lounge offers the opportunity to explore some of the overlapping themes in these two bodies of work, and present some of the complexities of this oceanic world.
Your installation will be visited by thousands of international visitors every day. How do you expect your works to engage with them?
I hope my lounge project will create a space to contemplate the enormity of these stories, to step in and explore the countless possible retellings. Focusing closely on the Mascarene Islands and Madagascar, the vitrine-like cabinets and panels reveal paintings, photographs, archive documents, sculptures and videos alluding to the complex layering of narratives, from European romanticism and imaginings of the region, to the complex indigenous histories framed by the violence of colonial ambition.