‘Sugar art’ tribute to ancestor

2011-03-14 00:00

THE exhibition “Samsara: A Continuous Pursuit” at the Tatham Art Gallery commemorating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa ends on Sunday.

Last week Mauritian-born artist and architect Doung Anwar Jahangeer spent three days at the gallery as a resident artist creating a “sugar painting”, a portrait in white and brown sugar of an ancestor.

“My father did some research in the archives in Mauritius and found my great-great-great-grandfather’s identification documents,” says Jahangeer, “and also that of his father both dating from the 1860s.”

Jahangeer’s relatives were indentured labourers en route by ship for Durban but who stopped off and stayed in Mauritius to work in the canefields on the island. “It was sugar that brought them out from India and on Mauritius they cut sugar cane,” says Jahangeer. “Their careers became their oppressor.”

Jahangeer’s great-great-great-grandfather’s name was incorrectly transcribed as J. Hangur and it is that name that heads the portrait — the letters, as written by the official, outlined with brown sugar over a base of white sugar.

The choice of sugar as the medium for the work was informed by the concept, says Jahangeer, who has lived and worked in Durban since the early 1990s.

“The work is more a cultural action rather than art,” he says. It’s content is both ironic and poignant.

Jahangeer made an enlargement of the ID document, which includes a photo of his relative, who was a teenager at the time. He then slowly sifted sugar and used tools and implements he had devised himself to gradually overlay sugar on the blow-up to create a sugar version of document. The sugar is the kind produced by Tongaat-Hulett. “That was intentional as Hulett is a company originally from Mauritius,” he says.



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