The history and culture of the oppressed are rarely embodied in material objects. Through his research, Yassine Ben Abdallah looks over the disappearance of archival materials regarding the enslaved and indentured laborers of the sugar plantations of La Réunion. The cultural identity of the former French colony has been shaped by the monoculture of sugarcane. However, the only objects left of this history pertained to that of the white masters. Most of the material culture of the ‘othered’ communities have disappeared, or have been made to disappear, through the wear of colonial times.
In the historical plantation estate of Villèle sits the plantation museum of la Réunion, where only the master’s artefacts are displayed. How can the stories of the enslaved and indentured laborers be narrated when there is no object testifying to their existence or experience? Through the concept of Creole museography, Ben Abdallah’s work calls for an intervention that subverts the current curatorial approach of the institution. Situated in the museum, his project creates a confrontational space where dripping sugar machetes oppose the master’s artefacts begging the question: whose heritage and history are allowed to be preserved, narrated, and immortalized in a museum?
For the context of the Netherlands, a former colonial empire, the project The Bittersweet Memory of the Plantation has been altered in order to address the broader institutional hoarding and collection of non-western artefacts in Dutch museum archives.