Accepted Paper:

The metamorphose of the indentured labour photographic archive Mauritius  


Kathleen Harrington-Watt (Canterbury University New Zealand)

Paper short abstract:

The indentured labour photographic archive in Mauritius was created as a system of surveillance and control from 1862-1920. This paper will discuss the metamorphose of these photographic portraits from objects of control into powerful and desirable markers of ancestral connectivity and identity.

Paper long abstract:

The indentured labour photographic archive of Mauritius was created over a period of 60 years. Today, 125,000 photographic portraits remain intact; housed in a purpose built room as part of the National Archives of Mauritius. This paper will discuss how the archive represents, in visual form, the ending of slavery; the consequential system of indentured labour, and the circumstances of thousands of people who chose, or needed, to leave their homelands for alternative sources of work. I will argue the significance of this archive in the history of photography, as well as, colonial histories in both the Indian Ocean and other colonial sites of indentured labour. I will also discuss how this archive today, and its individual portraits, have metamorphed into highly valued objects of national, political, ancestral and familial significance. The complex social relationships surrounding the indentured labour archives exemplify the instrinsic nature of photographs and archives to slip, shift and adapt to changing social contexts.

Panel P05
Reviving the archives as pictorial histories