Book launch, exhibition opening celebrates work of Prof. Amar Wahab

A new book by Amar Wahab, associate professor of gender and sexuality in the School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies at York University, will be celebrated at a book launch and accompanying exhibition opening on Oct. 24.

The event will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Canadian Language Museum in the Glendon Gallery on York’s Glendon Campus. Remarks by Wahab, the author and artist, will begin at 6:30 p.m.

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Amar Wahab

Despite an abundance of research on enslaved labour systems, there is an alarming paucity of research on indentured labour systems in the colonial Caribbean.

The exhibition Coolie Hauntings aims to address this resonating silence. It presents images and installations featured in the recently published monograph Disciplining Coolies: An Archival Footprint of Trinidad 1846 (Peter Lang Publishers, 2019).

The work critically investigates the violence of the British indentureship scheme – an experiment with contracted and trafficked Indian migrant labour in the immediate aftermath of the abolition of slavery – in the 19th-century colonial Caribbean. It critically and creatively engages with the transcripts of a British inquiry (in 1846, the very first year of the labour scheme) into the torture, misery and death of Indian indentured labourers, or “coolies,” as they were referred to in official colonial discourse.

The exhibition reflects on the question: How do we creatively reimagine the productive presences and voices of ghosts in the coolie archive? It offers a creative “archival ethnography” to think about questions around coolie transience (as “bonded migrant”) and the invisibility/visibility of absented presences in the official record by offering a visual language of the dead.

The exhibit appears the embodied coolie as a ghostly figure who hovers over and under history from a certain disruptive positionality and therefore performs a strategic fetishism of (post)colonial power relations. In doing so, it contemplates the “ghost world” of indentureship as a counter-archive of labour migration that haunts official knowledge through a language of haunting.

The event is sponsored by the Canadian Language Museum, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Events Fund, the Office of the Vie-President Research & Innovation, the Centre for Feminist Research, and the School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies.