High­light­ing a not-so-sweet sub­ject

Upper Hutt Leader - - WHAT’S ON - RUBY MACANDREW

A glis­ten­ing, sugar-based sculp­ture by a Welling­ton-based artist is set to bring the dark his­tory of sugar-slav­ery to the fore.

The large-scale work, which goes on dis­play at City Gallery Welling­ton this week, fea­tures a pile of skulls cast in un­re­fined sugar.

Jas­mine Togo-Brisby a fourth­gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralian South Sea Is­lan­der, was in­spired to cre­ate Bit­ter Sweet af­ter the dis­cov­ery of an un­marked mass grave on a Queens­land sugar cane plan­ta­tion in 2012.

Hav­ing known that her great­grand­par­ents had been sugar slaves, taken from Van­u­atu as chil­dren and en­slaved on Aus­tralia’s sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tions, Togo-Brisby felt com­pelled to tell that story through art.

‘‘It’s al­ways been who I am and who we are as a fam­ily. It’s not some­thing that you just one day learn about.

‘‘The pro­duc­tion of sugar is the rea­son for our be­ing, so it al­ways seemed re­ally ob­vi­ous that I should use sugar to make the skulls.’’

The sugar was mixed with resin, en­sur­ing the sculp­tures’ longevity while also adding a sheen to help it glis­ten un­der gallery lights.

While vis­ually strik­ing, it’s not just the view­ers’ eyes that will be en­gaged, with the sculp­ture giv- ing off a sickly-sweet smell.

‘‘The smell is syrupy, like mo­lasses. It makes the air thick. It’s some­thing which I could never have tried to cre­ate that has hap­pened with this work,’’ she says.

‘‘Hav­ing an iso­lated room in a gallery, you can cre­ate your own world, al­most and you draw the viewer in.’’

The work took Togo-Brisby about two years to com­plete with a move to Welling­ton mid­way through the process adding an un­fore­seen chal­lenge to get­ting it fin­ished.

‘‘I needed to make the work out of Queens­land sugar and I thought ‘I can’t make it out of New Zealand sugar’ but then I re­alised that, in fact, at the time of the Pa­cific slave trade, the sugar was com­ing in from Aus­tralia.

‘‘It added another layer to the work.’’

The work is part of City Gallery Welling­ton’s wider Colo­nial Sugar ex­hi­bi­tion which opens on Au­gust 26 with Togo-Brisby set to dis­cuss her piece along­side her mother Christina Togo and Nina Tonga, Cu­ra­tor Pa­cific Art at Te Papa.

‘‘It’s per­sonal for us, as a fam­ily, as a peo­ple and as a cul­ture.’’

Colo­nial Sugar, Au­gust 26 till Novem­ber 19, City Gallery Welling­ton.


Jas­mine Togo-Brisby’s Bit­ter Sweet is a sculp­ture made up of a pile of skulls cast in un­re­fined sugar.

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