Aapravasi Ghat, Credit Rudy Kanhye And Lauren Rose

Rudy Kanhye and Lauren Rose | Mauritius

‘Each Body Wakes Up on a Wave’ Research Residency in Mauritius

The work of artist duo Rudy Kanhye and Lauren La Rose explores issues of labour, migration and the environment in contemporary and historical societies. Their transdisciplinary practice consists of multiple processes including dialogue, cooking and art-making, activates everyday acts of resistance and resilience, creating works that interrogate global politics, climate change, alternative economies and embodied forms of storytelling.


Glasgow to Mauritius and back

‘On our research, we have had direct access to people and archival research material that only exists in Mauritius and can only be accessed in person. Working internationally with resources, historians and experts across different disciplines has been invaluable to our artistic practice as this not only gives us different frameworks through which to approach our work but also teaches us more about the contexts in which these histories took place. In the UK, there is very little access to knowledge of historical indentured immigration in British history, so consulting with experts who could engage critically with our ideas and research generated insights and directly informed our approach for our exhibition as part of Glasgow International’s 2024 festival of contemporary art.

Our trip enabled us to build a more complex and nuanced understanding from which we consider labour and migration today enriched our work substantially, creating relationships which will continue to inspire, inform and shape the quality of our work.

Our key partner for this research residency was the Aapravasi Ghat Trust, a former sugar warehouse in the district of Port Louis; this is the actual location where the modern indentured labour diaspora 'began'; in 1834, the British Government selected the island of Mauritius to be the first site for what it called ‘the great experiment’ in the use of ‘free’ labour to replace slaves. Between 1834 and 1920, almost half a million indentured labourers arrived from India at Aapravasi Ghat to work in the sugar plantations of Mauritius or to be transferred to Reunion Island, Australia, southern and eastern Africa or the Caribbean. The buildings of Aapravasi Ghat are among the earliest explicit manifestations of what was to become a global economic system and one of the greatest migrations in history.

Through our research, we found that the history of indentured labour in Mauritius gave us unique insights into the complex legacies of transcontinental slavery and how these distinct systems of labour impact us today. It was also important to note that speaking about systems of labour is different from speaking about the memories and experiences of those most impacted by these systems of labour. 

We visited indentured heritage sites and established new international relationships, which enabled us to think more critically and deepen our practice. These included the Trianon Barracks; Flat Island; Forbach Mills; Chateau Labourdonnais; Port Louis Market; Pamplemousse Botanical Garden; MGI Library; Indentured Immigration Archives; Indian immigration archives; Mahatma Gandhi Institute; Blue Penny Museum and The National Library of Mauritius.

Key learnings include

- You can’t speak about indenture without addressing slavery;

- When looking at immigration today, it’s important to look at labour; 

- The scarcity of literature on the role and significance of the Mauritian diaspora, raising questions about how people can/cannot reconcile their relationships with Mauritius;

- As human migration continues to evolve/change and affect the world population and identity, we realise that migration is as relevant today as in the past and must consider how systemised labour contributes to our economies today;

- International partnerships are crucial for contemporary artists working in Mauritius; 

It’s important that people know how the British Empire was built, and communities today are entitled to have their experiences (stories, memoirs, etc.) represented and included as part of that history.

The outcomes of this project are to establish new, long-term partnerships between Scotland and Mauritius and to find a venue to tour our exhibition from Glasgow International in Mauritius. We have progressed this by:

- Being invited to showcase artwork at The Blue Penny Museum in 2025;

- Securing agreements with Mauritius experts to present in our Glasgow International exhibition and participate in consultation as our work progresses;

- Visiting the National Gallery of London to undertake research into the UK’s colonial ties with Mauritius;

- Visiting the Riverside Museum in Glasgow to undertake research into Scotland’s colonial ties with Mauritius;

- Being granted permission to use archival materials from The Mahatma Gandhi Institute and The National Library of Mauritius in our work;

- Support from the Art and Cultural Heritage minister in Mauritius and the Kaukab Stewart minister for Culture, Scotland.’ 


Rudy Kanhye and Lauren Rose