© Shiraz Bayjoo, Politique des Races part three (detail), 2019

#12 Time

Time travel, coming of age, vintage games and youth culture all feature in this new issue of Photography+ Time. Antony Cairns' project Gordon Earl Adams – Eternal Time and Infinite Space explores one man’s pursuit of time travel. While Kíra Krász’s portfolio documents her confinement during lockdown through the lens of the classic 1980s video game Tetris. Luo Yang’s ongoing series documents youth culture in contemporary China. Writer-in-residence Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni introduces us to the work of Johannesburg-based photographer Ngidi Thandolwemfundo. The work explores Thandolwemfundo's journey into fatherhood, reflecting on how this specific change has made him the man and artist he is today. We delve deeper into the work of Tarrah Krajnak as she uses photography and text to engage with her native Perú and her given indigenous identity while investigating socio-political events in Peru in the late 1970s. We also explore the work of Shiraz Bayjoo and his project Searching for Libertalia, an exploration of the layered history of Madagascar.

By Shoair Mavlian, Photoworks.

Combining photography, painting, video and installation Shiraz Bayjoo’s work is multi layered, providing the viewer with a window into complex past histories. His research-based practice often evolves from deep investigations into the legaceys of empire and colonialism. Having made context specific works about his native Mauritius, a space of Afro-Asian hybridity, as well as in the UK, the place in which we grew up.  

© Shiraz Bayjoo, Politique des Races part three (detail), 2019

His extensive body of work Searching for Libertalia is centred around the island of Madagascar. Located in the Indian Ocean Madagascar has been inhabited for approximately 2000 years, its recent history layered with piracy, slavery, colonialism, sovereignty and independence.

Using literature as a starting point Bayjoo was first inspired by the book ‘A General History of the Pyrates’ first published in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson, believed to be a pseudonym, the work is often attributed to Daniel Defoe. Bayjoo uses the fictional story of the utopian settlement of Libertalia in the northeast of Madagascar, as a framework through which to see the landscape and focus his visual research.

© Shiraz Bayjoo, Politique des Races part three, 2019

Bayjoo uses archival images sourced from various location including public collection such as the Quai Branly Museum Paris, as well as private collections. These archival images are then re-worked by Bayjoo into brightly coloured painterly objects. Focusing on portraits, these works elevate characters who have been overlooked by mainstream western histories, highlighting their stories and significance. By piecing together multiple historical narratives Bayjoo reveals the often oppressive and violent history which took place in these locations while at the same time highlighting the stories of Madagascan Queens and slaves. There contemporary re-imagining bringing them on equal steed. Subtle nuance is used throughout the work to help solidify the new narratives being told by the artist. For example, women are larger in scale and prominence than their male counterparts, done intentionally in an attempt to readdress the historical bias towards men in the telling of history.  

Influenced by the language of religious alter pieces and ornate framing these images become objects, overpainted and encased within wooden frames. Bayjoo also borrows from the language of traditional museum presentations, exhibiting unframed images and object in heavy hard wood vitrines, shielded behind glass. A nod to the way in which objects from ‘exotic’ places such as Madagascar would have been exhibited by the west.

Image credit Reece Straw, Searching for Libertalia, installation view New Art Exchange 2019

Searching for Libertalia allows us to see through time, revealing different historical moments linking geography, history, cultural and politics. It reminds us that history is simultaneously distant and present. In contested landscapes relics of past traumas exist in plain sight, be it the locations of extraction along the coast of north Madagascar dating back to the Dutch slave trade or relics of artillery from the Vichy French left in situ.

Bayjoo’s work, a pseudo archive of history and narrative provides a basis from which more contemporary questions can be discussed. Reassessing the past, Bayjoo explores the dynamics of post-independence, asking what happened to the places that had to build themselves from what Empire left behind.

Searching for Libertalia was originally commissioned by New Art Exchange, Nottingham. 

Shiraz Bayjoo was born in Mauritius, he lives and works in London.

Image credit Reece Straw, Searching for Libertalia, installation view New Art Exchange 2019

Photography+ is supported by MPB.

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