Sancintya Mohini Simpson: Bloodlines

Image credit: Savannah van der Niet

Sancintya Mohini Simpson, in her recent exhibition Bloodlines, shown at Blak Dot Gallery as a part of Next Wave Festival, uses her interdisciplinary arts practice to address the trauma of memory at the intersection of race, gender and colonisation within her family.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women from South Indian villages were forcibly taken, coerced, or tricked into leaving their homes for ‘better lives’ by the British to South Africa, to serve as indentured labourers on the sugarcane fields. Many women threw themselves overboard after being subject to rape and abuse. Those who survived were to suffer from harsh conditions as farmers or domestic workers. They were made to toil through pregnancy and sickness.

Documentation of a work from Simpson’s ‘Bloodlines’. Image credit: Louis Lim.

Simpson pays homage to her matrilineal heritage, depicting scenes of South Indian women working the cane fields—their trauma, their labour—using miniature paintings on Wasli (handmade paper in jute). She learnt the art of miniature painting in Jaipur with Ajay Sharma in 2013.

The many schools of miniature painting that flourished in India typically depicted the grandiose of the nobility. By placing the impoverished women of colour and their silenced histories at the front and centre of her miniature paintings, Simpson criticises the classicism of the form itself and its coded aesthetics.

A video still of a cane field. The image is washed in deep red, and it's quite a close-up shot. The focus is on the details and sharpness of each blade, as well as the depth of the field. There is a small sliver of sky above.
Video still from ‘Bloodlines’

A tripartite panel of projections flushed in red against the largest wall of Blak Dot Gallery is the main feature of the exhibition. Simpson appears on the right-hand panel, and her mother appears on the left, against the backdrop of a cane field historically safeguarded by indentured labourers. An evocative soundscape features a montage of Kulavai (ululation), syllables of worship in praise of Hindu gods Shiva and Govinda, and a poem spoken in English by Simpson.

These evoke shared memories of trauma in verses such as, ’They bled like I bleed—the same—just quotas for colonial gain’, and crystallise her criticism of the Empire. This verbal-visceral assault on the senses offers experiential opportunities for healing. By politicising her paintbrush, Simpson gives voice to her matrilineal history and refuses to let her silence perpetuate the transgenerational trauma passed down to her.

Image Credit: Savannah van der Niet

Simpson’s art explores what trauma looks like on an individual, collective and cultural level. As an immigrant, the show opened my eyes to my own thirst for personal myths that connect our contemporary present to our colonised past(s).

Sancintya Mohini Simpson is a first-generation Australian of Indo-Anglo descent with a Bachelor of Photography with Honours from Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.

Bloodlines was programmed as part of the Next Wave Festival from 3 May to 20 May 2018 at Blak Dot Gallery in Brunswick.  Bloodlines will show once more, this time hosted by Metro Arts on the 5th of September 2018.

Nithya Nagarajan

Author: Nithya Nagarajan

Nithya Nagarajan is an interdisciplinary performance maker, creative producer and cultural researcher. Having a background in Indian neo-classical dance and allied movement traditions, her live art works embody a decolonised feminism and are characterised by a strong physical vocabulary. Recent performance credits include: Our Songs – Sydney Kabuki Project for the 21st Biennale of Sydney 2018, a completely unified theory of you (me) for This is Not Art 2017 and Outwitted! for Happenstance Fest 2017. Nithya’s approach to performance making is increasingly informed by her field research on her award-winning PhD titled ‘Beyond Bharatanatyam: Re-visions, Ruptures and Resistance in the Feminist Choreographies of Anita Ratnam and Mallika Sarabhai’. Nithya is passionate about building community for dialogue, discourse and democracy in the arts. In her current role as Manager – Community and Participation at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Nithya co-authors and co-presents inclusive initiatives like NIDAnights, NIDA Launchpad, Seize the Space! and commissions special projects. Other curatorial highlights include: Asian Arts: Long Pasts and Possible Futures for AsiaTOPA 2017 and Light Night for Leeds City Council 2011. Having extensively trained in the Indian neo-classical dance form of Bharatanatyam, Indian folk traditions from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat and South Asian contemporary choreographic practices, Nithya currently creates experimental performance work derived from muscle memory and lived experiences. Her PhD thesis titled, ‘Beyond Bharatanatyam: Re-visions, Ruptures and Resistance in the Feminist Choreographies of Anita Ratnam and Mallika Sarabhai’ won the Vice-Chancellor’s award for Best Outgoing Thesis at Flinders University in 2017. Her recent performance credits include a completely unified theory of you (me) with Vidya Rajan at This Is Not Art 2017, Outwitted with Jason Cheetham at Happenstance Fest 2017 and BodyMine with Shamita Sivabalan at Small and Loud 2016. Her first adult job was as a Creative Producer for the Leeds City Council where she was instrumental in programming and growing White Night for the UK Government.

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