Change the world

Communication & Stakeholder Liaison

The Indian Ocean world is a vast and varied territory that bordered by three continents: Asia, Africa and Australia.

This photographic exhibition concerns research in the southwest Indian Ocean region, specifically the islands of Zanzibar, Mauritius and Madagascar. The photographer is a cultural anthropologist born in Mauritius and raised in Africa. For her, the Indian Ocean 'world' is both an ethnographic or research space of imagination. The islands consist of a population of diverse peoples from the four corners of the earth. The Zanzibari are descended from East African, Omani, Indian and European peoples. The Malagasy (of Madagascar) are of African and Indonesian ancestry, whilst the Mauritians have Indian, African, Malagasy and European ancestors. This heterogeneity has produced rich cultural practices and beliefs.

Another common feature of the islands is that they are all postcolonial societies. They have all experienced European colonization and were all once, plantation economies. Today the island societies are rapidly developing into tourism and business hubs. Their economic fortunes vary but there are cultural continuities between them. African descendants in the islands still revere their ancestors. Music and dance remain important to ritual and cultural life. There is a common language, Kreol which is spoken, especially in the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles and Rodrigues. Interestingly, a Kreol speaker can understand some Malagasy and Swahili because the language contains words from those mother tongues.

Doing research in the southwest Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar over a period of 20 years, Boswell has encountered a diversity of issues and people. Her work has predominantly focused on women and African diaspora experiences in these island societies and she has written on identity construction, racism, slavery, music, dance, scent use and dress. When recently asked by a fellow researcher in Europe why she has written on a diversity of topics, she answered that 'life is diverse and human beings are complex. Our lives consist of many experiences, a great deal of which is sensorial. I want to write authentically about human experience wherever I find it.'

Photographs are useful to writers because they help to evoke memory of places, people, sounds and other sensorial experiences. By gazing on an image, taken in an instant, the writer is able to remember the exact moment and feeling associated with the image and sometimes, to remember what led to the encounter and the photograph. Photographs however, cannot capture language, sounds, smells, movement or taste. These things live in the mind, and are expressed by the author's pen.

What is not photographed and presented here, is also meaningful. There are few photographs of Mauritius and none of Seychelles. This is because the ethnographic journey has its own pathways and significances. In the Seychelles, the author focused on sound, taste and atmosphere none of which can be exhibited. In Mauritius, the author has focused on oppression, the consequences of slavery and interpretations of heritage conservation.

The exhibition presented here offers a sample of photographic data collected by Boswell during anthropological field research from 2006 to 2017. During this time and whilst teaching and serving as a leader in higher education, she authored four books, 19 accredited articles and 6 accredited book chapters. The research has been funded by the: National Research Foundation, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Council for Research in East and Southern