Youlendree (Len) Appasamy, a South African Indian writer, collage artist and zine-maker is part of the Kutti Collective, a grouping of LGBTQ+ multi-disciplinary artists of South Asian descent, who are working towards increasing the representation of ‘desi’ South Africans in the country’s art world.
Len and I discuss the role of art in deepening relationships between people across these geographies, how Indian-origin artists bring an amalgamation of history, politics, nostalgia and a sense of displacement to their work and how art can even be used to rupture the boundaries of citizenship and nationality.
In this particular case, the collective uses various forms of art as a medium to document the history of indenture from the perspective of Indian passengers. These young artists, many of whom are descendants of those who undertook the journey, talk of how their Indian South African families, have tried to trace their roots in India. They wonder how in contemporary India, indentured and passenger Indian communities in South Africa are spoken of, and thought about.
Their art, informed by and grounded in their ‘Indian-ness’, tells a story of a chapter in Indian history from a unique vantage point. It also seeks to repair some of the injuries of colonialism and sets them off on a journey to explore parts of their identity, curious about family that have been lost during the journey across the ocean.
The collective does important work to shift conversations about what a diasporic Indian identity means in a deeper historical sense, in a more embedded way.
This article was published in The Hindu on 22 October 2021, titled ‘Desi in Durban: Indian-origin artists are claiming a space in South Africa’s art scene’. Click here to read.