As a part of ‘Coolie Cut Cane’, Quishile has created two new textiles that speak to the histories of New Zealand's Chelsea Sugar and Australia’s Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) company and how their colonial industries are tied to Girmit labouring histories. These two textiles were made as forms of protest and resistance through remembrance, as remembering is an act of defiance against the systems that seek to make our histories invisible.
Company Ka Raj (Company is King), is a collection of archival images from CSR’s sugar mill in Sydney and Chelsea Sugar’s famous pink sugar factory in Birkenhead, Auckland, placed and screen printed to replicate the colonial branding of the era, when “sugar was good for you.” Quishile materially breaks down the colonial branding that has made both companies so successful in the South Pacific, showing how advertising was used historically to evoke domesticity by linking sugar to households across the settler states of so called Australia and New Zealand. This advertising, such as the coolie-cut cane sugar label, were used on sugar tins and are now screen printed on the border of the textile. The layout of these archival images is done so to replicate both companies iconic colonial branding of the Girmit era, a violent history which has been generationally overlooked and silenced. Juxtaposing the archival images and the colonial advertising, with the hand cut letters that are hand stitched onto the banner, Quishile shows the dominance these companies had across the South Pacific. Company Ka Raj, or company is king, was a saying used by Girmitiyas to describe the power of these companies and is placed onto the textile to reveal how violent extraction of labour is bound to sugar consumption.
Quishile Charan, Company Ka Raj (Company is King), 2021, 164cm by 125.5cm. Technique: textile ink, cotton, embroidery thread, applique work and hand dyed textile with avocado seeds and the textile border is dyed with dandelions. Image by Matavai Taulangau.
Quishile Charan, Company Ka Raj (Company is King), 2021, 164cm by 125.5cm. Image by Matavai Taulangau.
Quishile Charan, Company Ka Raj (Company is King), 2021, 164cm by 125.5cm. Image by Raymond Sagapolutele.
Burning Ganna Khet (Sugarcane Farm) has taken over a year to make, from natural dye testing with avocados, embroidery work and hand stitching of sugar sack borders. With flames that dance across the top of sugarcane, Quishile uses layers of embroidery thread to weave together memories and stories of Ganna Khet. This piece was created to honour the farming practices of Quishile’s family, elders and ancestors. The harvest that happens every 6 months in Fiji is a process of preparing the cane to be cut. This extremely labour intensive process is often a commonly forgotten form of labour in sugar cultivation. Cane is burnt first to get rid of the leaves and the nesting hornets hiding among them. The second burning is done once the cane is cut and helps produce new life through the ash. This method of burning has been passed down generationally to the present, where Quishile’s and many other families still burn their cane just as their ancestors did. This extensive embroidery work was made as a way of honouring the labour of women who play a key role in the harvest, as labourers and carers for both family and other labourers—both in the past and in present day. The invisibility of farming labour and craft labour is brought together as a way to talk to the disconnect, how many people living both in so called Australia and New Zealand do not know where their sugar comes from and it’s violent colonial legacy. Burning Ganna Khet is a work of love, care and affirmation of the various aspects of cultural practices and labour that inform Quishile, her family and other Fijian’s lives.
Quishile Charan, Burning Ganna Khet (Burning Sugarcane Farm), 2021, 153cm by 152cm, production still. Technique: hand dyed textile, embroidery thread, cotton, hessian sacks. Textile is naturally dyed with avocado seeds. Image by Matavai Taulangau.
Quishile Charan, Burning Ganna Khet (Burning Sugarcane Farm), 2021, 153cm by 152cm. Image by Matavai Taulangau.
Quishile Charan, Burning Ganna Khet (Burning Sugarcane Farm), 2021, 153cm by 152cm. Image by Raymond Sagapolutele.
Vinaka vakalevu, Malō aupito to Anaseni Peioneti for her ongoing support for Quishile and the completion of both textiles. As COVID-19 has affected travel, this has meant that Quishile has had to make both works in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) which has been hard as she usually undertakes parts of her creative process/making back home in Nadi, Fiji with the support of her family. Ana specialises in lālanga (weaving) and stitched the applique letters on Company Ka Raj, and did the weaving on the edges of Burning Ganna Khet. The weaving pattern is used to make fishing baskets and as a form of decoration or adornment in craft.
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