Gayle Chong Kwan, Vagrant Depot, 2024 / Film still / Courtesy of the artist
Gayle Chong Kwan: A Pocket Full of Sand
Feb 10 – May 11, 2024
John Hansard Gallery
Southampton, UK

Exploring colonial histories, geology and ecological deep time, A Pocket Full of Sand unearths both historic and contemporary connections between Mauritius and the Isle of Wight. The artist connects her research of the islands with political and physical structures of power, labour, leisure, childhood and play. The exhibition comprises a multipart installation bringing together moving image, photography and sculpture. Moving images permeate the presentation, depicting sand sculptures emulating colonial architecture in Mauritius. A large-scale composite panorama gives micro and macro perspectives on deep time, colonial history, and contemporary treatment of immigrants, whilst new sculptural objects made from bagasse (a by-product of sugar production), further evokes colonial power and its symbols. Layers of time and geological strata and are revealed through references to the coloured earth and sand in Mauritius and Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight.

Inspired by her family heritage, Chong Kwan undertook research into Mauritius, where historically people had arrived from India, China, Africa, and Madagascar for servitude and as economic migrants. Local Mauritian ecologies were destroyed to make way for cash crop economies, such as sugar and tea plantations that used slave and indentured labour. Connections to the Isle of Wight came about through both the geological similarities, and also through historical research into the East India Company. The Island’s Carisbrooke Castle was a major military defence point, which at one point had commissioned a feasibility report into whether the Castle could become a training ground for the East India Company army.

Further connections between these two seemingly disparate places are played out through archival footage from the 1940s and 50s. The contrasting experiences of two young boys, one in the Isle of Wight and one in Mauritius, are revealed through a promotional tourism film for the Isle of Wight referenced in the exhibition’s title, alongside a British film showing colonial life in Mauritius. A Pocket Full of Sand is an exhibition of new work by Gayle Chong Kwan, commissioned and supported by John Hansard Gallery and Film and Video Umbrella. Supported by Sugarcrete, University of East London.

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