The McIntosh Gallery, Western University, is exhibiting Coolie Coolie Visens. This exhibition features the work of Canadian scholar and artist Andil Gosine. It will be on display until January 12. It explores the life after indentureship and includes metal, textiles, and everyday objects. The exhibition reflects Gosine’s history, which stems from the “brown sugar diaspora,” which provides for descendants of Indian indentured laborers who were shipped to sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean from 1838 until 1917.
Gosine uses local studio photography and a portrait as an artifact to explore the histories of collective migrations that have occurred from India to the Caribbean. The video installation (Made in Love), built around the images, runs for 3:23 minutes.
The story of ( Love Made in Love ) revolves around a studio photograph (circa 1970s Trinidad) that shows Gosine’s parents looking deeply into their eyes with Love and affection. Both have a slight smile, suggesting that they are aware of the pose and perhaps even playful. Gosine digitally overlays the original photo over a video with two figures carefully positioned behind the parents. One of them is Gosine, and the other is Vivek Shraya, an artist who is transgender.
(Made in Love), inserts queerness in representations of history. Andil Gosine is the Author.
The parentheses in ( Made in Love) are not just decorative. The parentheses are often used to indicate a divergence in thought, but they are also used here to protect the title from its departure.
One of the departures can be seen as a challenge for the narrative of queer experience being cut off from their family, especially in places that are labeled exclusively homophobic by the global media (like in the Caribbean).
(Made in Love), insists that emotional histories are intertwined in Trinidad. It also explores the invisible nature of this history and memory as people migrate from South to northern Trinidad.
The video explores questions about intimate archives, aesthetics, and overlapping ideas on remembering and erasing the past. It also inserts queerness in representations of history.
Studio photography is a popular medium for artists today to explore historical or geographical reversions. Chung’s Photo Studio in San Fernando Trinidad, or Mootoos in Rosehall Guyana, provided wedding and family photos, passport and visa pictures, and played an important part in community life.
The photo studios in Berbice or “south” of the Caroni (both Indo-Caribbean locations linked to the sugar trade) are often overlooked. Still, they were a place where people could express themselves, their families, and communities in the shadows of plantation history.
Studio photos could be a way to display future aspirations, such as passport photos of a planned migration (e.g.), or cherished mementos that celebrate intimate moments. They were new ways to see and craft one’s place in the universe. These studio portraits are now aides-memoires to the past for people outside of the Caribbean. They have become, in effect, a testament to migrant imagination and memories.
Shraya is the woman on the left, behind Gosine’s mother. She sings a contemporary rendition of the haunting melody A whiter shade of pale. Gosine is positioned behind her father, demonstrating a depth of genealogical meaning to the video. The singer is more visible because of her gesticulations that accompany the beat, which are reminiscent of electronic tablas. Gosine appears to be relatively hidden.
The figures are only briefly visible after the third minute. The sad lyrics fleshes out the singer’s “turn to a whiter hue of pale,” only for them to fade away as if they were an illusion.
Studio photography captures everyday life, aspirations, and dreams. Andil Gosine is the author.
This combination of mournful notes and the association of brown Love (heterosexual/homosexual/homosocial) appearing briefly on the note whiteness triggers a visceral response in me. This archive of emotions suggests to me a latent memory of “home”, one that has not been completely erased by migration but is hidden.
According to Freud’s, “mourning can be a reaction to losing a loved one or to losing an abstraction that has replaced oneself, such as a country.” This latter idea is also presented in Samuel Selvon’s A World is an Island.
Foster, an Indo-Trinidadian protagonist in An Island Is a World, wakes up to a dream about migration. He soon learns that he can’t belong in this world (i.e., be a world citizen) “because it won’t accept you.” One must “have something they belong to,” and his hopes for acceptance fade.
The pose of men standing with the same gaze and in the same way as their parents subverts contexts such as family, belonging, and desire.
They stand in the midst of gains and losses across migrations, Love, and places. The video is scored by “A Whiter shade of Pale”, which acts as a sad song of longing (for Love left or hidden). It replaces and shifts the diasporic desire for home and shelter, made of Love.
Family photo albums have hidden layers.
The photographs reveal family journeys that are often hidden in conventional migration discussions. Representation of racialized migrants is limited. The concept of sexual identity is a major obstacle to the mainstream view of migrants from the global South.
The hidden stories in family photo albums are often revealed. Andil Gosine is the author.
The brown-sugared photo of Gosine’s parents is a far cry from the cane fields of old. It brings us into the modern age as an artifact that affirms humankind, not through plantation work but through Love. It also shifts the Love from a private and personal world to a performative public one. It is, in other words, a representation or Love as empowerment.
The video is queered and complexed by the male figures emerging. It offers a sensory context and sensual context that (hetero-)normative photo albums lack. These partly concealed lives raise the question: What are the hidden layers of the family photo album? Who is hiding from the family, community, and history of the photo album?
We are reminded by old family photos imbued in Love or desire (thematic elements which also apply to diaspora conceptually) that diasporic history is both communal and personal.
It is not nostalgia that drives the revisiting of these photographs, but rather the desire to explore what lies beneath communal histories of migration. As Gosine’s exhibition shows, there are multiple ways to, “call desire to the windowsills and tropical memories.”