Can You See Us Now? Jasmine Togo-brisby

201 Eastbourne St East, Hastings

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a fourth-generation Australian South Sea Islander of Ni-Vanuatu ancestry. Her art practice is deeply engaged with the global legacies of the South Pacific slave trade and its passages through Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean.

Can you see us now? is a new sculptural installation by Togo-Brisby, which sheds light on the history of South Sea Islanders, the descendants of Pacific Islanders who were taken to Australia to work on plantations between 1847 and 1903. It builds on two recurring images the artist reclaims across her practice: the ship; and decorative Wunderlich pressed-tin ceilings, which are seen in many Deco heritage buildings in Heretaunga Hastings.

Plaster-cast replica tamtam drums – a type of wooden slit drum used for communication and ceremonies in the islands of Vanuatu – are arranged on the gallery’s floor to form a skeletal ship, resembling an excavation of sorts. The artist has taken her moulds from miniature tamtam drums created for the tourist industry, but here these silent instruments strike a deep, reverberating chord. For Togo-Brisby, the ship is an image of empathy and resistance across time, space, and genealogies – a vessel for South Sea identity and the connected journeys of many.

Lit by chandeliers hovering just above the ground, the installation also recalls an ornate ceiling. Behind the artist’s reference to the decorative façades of the early 20th Century is a personal connection to the Sydney-based Wunderlich family. The Wunderlichs, at one time the largest provider of pressed-tin ceilings to Aotearoa New Zealand, acquired Togo-Brisby’s great-great-grandparents after they were abducted in Vanuatu and enslaved as domestic servants.

In a recent interview with Professor Clare Corbould, Togo-Brisby discusses the practice of “playing in the dark archive”, making global connections between histories of slavery and oppression in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, to encourage empowerment and liberation. The title of this installation is taken from her response to an art magazine’s request to sum up her art practice in five words: Can. You. See. Us. Now? This question of visibility and cultural memory beats like a drum through her work.

Jasmine Togo-Brisby was born in Murwillumbah, New South Wales in 1982 and is currently based in Brisbane. From 2018-2022 she lived in Wellington, where she completed an MFA at Massey University. Togo-Brisby has exhibited extensively across Aotearoa and Australia and made significant contributions to new dialogues in contemporary Pacific art in both countries. Her works have been exhibited by and collected by major institutions including Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, QAGOMA, Australian Museum and Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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Hastings Art Gallery, Hastings, Hawke's Bay / Gisborne

201 Eastbourne St East, Hastings