The past is ahead, don’t look back

Guest blogger: Jasmine Togo Brisby

My interest in photography started from my first memories of looking at the South Sea archival collections. As kids we grew up looking at these images as the place that started our culture, I don’t ever recall being shown images from before that time, before the abductions and plantations. These images are complicated, beautiful and painful yet treasured immensely by us.

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a fourth-generation Australian South Sea Islander, with ancestral lineage to Ambae and Santo Islands of Vanuatu. Now based in Wellington, New Zealand, Togo-Brisby is one of the few artists delving into the cultural memory and shared histories of plantation colonisation across the Pacific, her practice encompassing early photographic techniques and processes, installation and sculpture.

Every year the institutions hold events for South Sea Islanders to search our collections. The images and documents are sprawled out over the elongated tables, often tutorials are given by the curators to teach us how to use the search engines and how the images and documents are categorized. The archives are part of our cultural practice.

We put on our white gloves and begin to sift through our archive. We transcend to them and them to us, time is no barrier. Our community spend countless hours researching and searching for our ancestral links, piecing together the missing links of our history and locating loved ones. When the day is over the images go back into the draws and we must leave them there. Through my work I’m trying to create another space for our ancestors to exist within.

Photography is inherently entangled with witnessing…these images were not created for us…our people were subjects, we were not ever intended to be the viewer. Yet these images of our ancestors are often all that we have, they inform all that we love and all that we despise, our identity and our sense of belonging or not belonging.

To produce the images, I use the collodion wetplate photographic process, commonly used in the mid-19th century, employing a glass plate coated with iodized collodion which is then dipped in a silver nitrate solution immediately before use.

South Sea Islander women on a sugar cane plantation, 2018.The past is ahead, don’t look back series. Collodion on glass. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Accession 31843

I insert myself and my daughter into the image using projection, we then step into the archive, we stand with them and them with us, we are creating a space that we hold together, past, present and future.  I’m appropriating the archival image then reinserting it back into the collection. 

Jasmine Togo-Brisby with her daughter at Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand. Photo courtesy Jasmine Togo-Brisby

Recently I finished a solo exhibition with Page Blackie, Wellington and a residency at Dunedin in partnership with Tautai Pacific Arts Trust. I’m currently doing a MFA at Massey University and looking forward to exhibiting in the Courtney Place Light Box project towards the end of the year, I will also undertake a 2 month residency over the summer in Vanuatu at the Suzanne Bastien Foundation Port Vila. I will continue to explore analogue photographic processes and experiment with material culture and installation.

Jasmine Togo-Brisby solo exhibition at Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Togo-Brisby

Jasmine Togo Brisby

Jasmine’s artwork features in State Library of Queensland’s exhibition, Plantation Voices: Contemporary conversations with Australian South Sea Islanders which runs until 8 September 2019.