Chagos: stripped bare and subverted

Author: Kinnari Bhatt Solicitor, Teaching Fellow and PhD candidate University of Greenwich

Clement Siatous, Isle Perhos Banhos abandonnees en 1973 2006 acrylic on linen 29.5 x 44 in

About the image

Source: Simon Preston Gallery, New York
Title: Isle Perhos Banhos abandonnees en 1973
Creator(s): Clement Siatous
Date: 2006
Medium: Acrylic on linen.

collection of artwork by Chagossian artist Clement Siatous displayed at the Simon Preston Gallery in New York in 2015 speaks to the treatment of Chagos, the islands and its inhabitants, as ‘enduring post-colonialism’ in the taking of the islands and deportation of inhabitants as imperial ‘property’.

Three images in particular (canvases 13, 16 and 19)  engage directly with the forced deportations of the indigenous Chagossian population in the 1970s at the hands of the British.  Look at the stark contrast of the immense Nordver boat and on board British agents dressed in formal clothes of executive authority ominously appearing into view and piercing, what to me looks like, a poignant and idyllic island background scene depicting traditional indigenous livelihoods, soon to be destroyed.

Canvas 13 is the only one in the collection that is devoid of any indigenous inhabitants and tells the story of the deportations in 1973 and 2006 in striking ‘pictorial parallel’.  The close up view taken in 2006 in which the islands look overgrown and ‘jungle like’ to me resonates the creation of the fictitious marine protection area around the islands by the UK to prevent resettlement; and the solitary jetty on which boats might dock I think drives home the emptying of those islands of their indigenous people with their uniquely plural social and cultural relations to land – leaving the islands stripped of ‘bare’ life and subverted to US and UK imperial power.

To find out more about the experiences of the Chagossian people see UK Chagos Support Association.