When Adelaide-based artist Sue Kneebone visited Mauritius it was not for the blue sky and beaches, it was for family. During a recent pARTage residency to the mountainous island located east of Madagascar, Kneebone spent time researching her French and British family history, tracing it back to the early 1800s. “I had a good grasp of the general history of Mauritius, but I also knew about places connected to my family,” Kneebone explains. “This knowledge really shaped what I saw and how I saw it. While tourists seemed to look away from the shadows of the country’s colonising past, I wanted to dig deeper.”
Piecing together elements of her ancestry in Mauritius with the broader, long-term effects of colonisation on the landscape, for Pamplemousses Garden Kneebone has created her own seed bank, based on the plants collected and distributed at the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. “The idea of a seed bank stems from notions of place and history involving the area of Pamplemousses where many of my ancestors lived,” she says. “I imagine it as something between a museum cabinet, a mausoleum crypt, and contemporary seedbanks housed in concrete bunkers.”
While on Mauritius, Kneebone also collaborated with Indian artist Sarojini Lewis and Madagascan illustrator Vanii Suki to produce the video work Inhabiting Memories. Recorded by Lewis at Le Morne, a historic oceanside summit where runaway slaves tragically jumped en masse to their death, the video features Kneebone and Suki sharing ancestral stories and personal reflections on their lineage. A work that visually stitches the past to the present, Kneebone reveals, “Sarojini described our encounter as a crossroads of Madagascan, British and Indian origins. For me, these ancestral intersections through time and place really bring the veracity of colonising history into sharp focus.”
This article was originally published in the January/February 2020 print edition of Art Guide Australia.