Highlighting a not-so-sweet subject
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.