Indian women became the faces of Victorian-era postcards, well over a century later Prof Andil Gosine reimagined the postcards in his photo series "Cane Portraiture."
Well over a century later, visual artist Andil Gosine reimagined the postcards in his photo series "Cane Portraiture." Gosine lived in Trinidad until he was 14 and is a descendent of Indo-Trinidadian indentured workers. For the series, Gosine invited Caribbeans who had migrated to New York to pose against a backdrop of sugarcane fields. There was a performative aspect to the work, which was eventually printed as a set of postcards.
"('Cane Portraiture') was primarily about the interaction with myself and the subjects as a way of imagining what was going on between Felix Morin and the Indian indentures," Gosine said in a phone interview.
In contrast to Bahadur and Pillai, who believe the woman had little power over their images in the postcards, Gosine thinks the reality may have been a bit more complex. "Sometimes I think the stories are too simple, like: 'Oh, here's the colonizer with all the power...controlling the form of representation.' I believe there's a negotiation (in photography)," he said. "I don't think we should strip the subjects of all their agency. When I look at his images, I see possibilities that perhaps they were choosing how they were wanting to be represented as well."
The work helped him understand more about his longing for the Caribbean, even if his idea of "home" conjured up painful images of cane fields. "When I did the project...I realized it was kind of a plea for connection and home." Having grown up in a village that was once a sugar cane field, Gosine explains that his desire for home was "a complicated longing because it still represents the plantation."
Bahadur also has a complicated personal relationship to the postcards. Her pregnant great-grandmother arrived in Guyana in 1903 -- and despite the postcards' skewed narratives, Bahadur initially felt an attachment to them when she encountered them.