In this conversation, Léopold talks with Audrey Albert about the Chagossian struggle since the early 1960s deportation of the entire nation from its archipelago to make space for a British-owned, U.S. Air Force-leased military base. We discuss about the fight for reparations in Britain and Mauritius, the ambiguous outcome of the recent change of British citizenship legislation for Chagossians, the sovereignty claims of the Mauritian state, as well as the artist work Audrey has been undertaking around these questions.
Audrey Albert is a Mauritian-Chagossian, visual artist and creative facilitator. Based in Manchester, Audrey’s research-led practice enables her to consider and investigate themes of mixed identity, collective memory and displacement. Her work Matter Out of Place was part of the “Practise Til We Meet” exhibition at the ESEA Contemporary in Manchester earlier this year.
Matter out of place is about hidden truths, concealment and forced displacement. It sheds a light on an unfair and shameful page of Mauritian and British history in which the entire population of The Chagos Archipelago was forcefully displaced from their homeland due to political agendas between 1968 – 1973.
Building narratives around specific artifacts and around The Chagos Archipelago as an invisible location, Matter Out of Place draws attention to the aftermath of colonialism and the struggles of the Chagossian community.
Selected for the Future Fires 2020 programme at Contact and the 2021 Creative Fellowship for Manchester International Festival, Audrey is currently working on Chagossians of Manchester (CoM) and Ble Kouler Lakaz (Blue is the colour of Home), both socially-engaged art project about Chagossian culture and heritage.
Audrey’s work highlights stories of empowerment that celebrate Chagossian culture and heritage. Through these works, she pay homage to Chagossian ancestors, including her own, whose descendants are still affected by forceful displacement.
LINKS TOWARDS AUDREY’S WORK ///
- Her portfolio
- Her recent exhibition and workshop
- Ble Kouler Lakaz (Blue is the colour of home) youtube / instagram
- Her website
Léopold Lambert 00:01
Hello everyone. Today we’re coming back for a new episode of The Funambulist podcast, the main show of our podcast and my guest is Audrey Albert, who is Mauritian Chagossian, Manchester based visual artist in particular in photography, and a creative facilitator, as well as a contributor to The Funambulist number 38. She had written a gorgeous piece with Shane Ah-Siong, called “United States of Archipelagos: an intimate take on the shadow Chagossian struggle” and that’s precisely what we will talk about today. So, hi, Audrey. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
Audrey Albert 00:49
Hi. Hi, Léopold, thanks to you for having me.
Léopold Lambert 00:52
So yeah, I mean, as I mentioned, we’re going to talk about Chagossian struggle today. And, you know, I think I’m quite aware how our audience are maybe really on an entire spectrum of how much they know about the Chagossian struggles. So, I guess perhaps we should be generous with them, and perhaps go back a little bit to the sort of historical framework of what we will then discuss more specifically. And so perhaps my very first question might be a not so easy one to make, but if you don’t mind, perhaps telling us a little bit about the history of Chagos and Chagossians. For the last three centuries, that seems – such a ridiculous question to ask…
Audrey Albert 01:50
So, the Chagos and the Chagos archipelago, so initially, I’m from Mauritius and Mauritius used to be a British colony and as part of the Mauritian territory, there were lots of different islands that kind of in brackets belonged to Mauritius. And when Mauritius got its independence, so the Chagos archipelago also belonged to the Mauritian territory and so historically, some people believe that politicians back then were coerced and forced into giving the islands to the UK. And other historians believe that they willingly gave the islands to the UK so that they can be in power. So, what happened was, the Chagos was kind of given in exchange to the UK, as a result for Mauritius to be independent today, as a result of the Mauritian independence. And that happened in the late 60s, the UK then leased these islands to the US, and the US transformed the main island, which is Diego Garcia, into a military base. But what happened is, both the UK and the US kind of hid the fact that there were natives on the archipelago. And these natives were forcefully displaced, between the late 60s and early 70s. It was a gradual process when, for example, on the Chagos they used to, I think it was every six months they would receive, you know, whatever they would need or want to be able to live properly on the islands. That would be like rice or oil or different things that they would need to live and these ships started coming less than less than there were different things that were implemented to kind of make the lives harder on the islands before the actual big deportation happened, which basically was a bunch of military people that showed up and forced people on a ship and told them: “Your homeland has been sold. You have to get on this ship and go.” Natives back then weren’t even allowed or didn’t even have time to pack whatever they would need for what was to be a seven-day long journey at sea. And they were then taken to places like the Seychelles, and to Mauritius, but also some people who had already, for example, left the islands for different purposes. They were visiting family, or they had gone to hospitals, they were to the hospital back in Mauritius. They were told they couldn’t go back. So, it was like different ways of just either taking people from their home or just telling them they couldn’t go back home. It’s a fairly recent story: it only happened around 1968. So, since Mauritius got its independence really and since then, Chagossian natives and descendants haven’t been able to go back home or live back home, except from I think that’s what they’re called “heritage site visits”. So, it’s one day where you have to kind of fill in application, there’s a waiting list and everything. It’s a bit surreal and ironic, to be honest and you’re allowed to go and visit your homeland for one day, but you’re not allowed to stay on it. And obviously, you are kind of under the supervision of the British military, when that happens. When Chagossians were deported to Mauritius – were forcefully displaced to Mauritius or to the Seychelles – they had to face a completely different lifestyle, a completely different culture from theirs, and also because they didn’t have anything that they brought with them. So that kind of gave them not a lot of privileges and a huge step back already to kind of start living in a different country. Chagossians have, unfortunately back then, this has changed now, thank God, but back then they were racially discriminated against. A lot of Chagossians had to hide the fact that they were from the Chagos to be able to access different things in terms of health care, in terms of education. And they will also back then within the Mauritian populations amongst the members of the population who were living under the poverty, like the poorest members of the community. There’s been different community groups since then different ways of kind of protesting, different ways of making that struggle and that story and history known. Since then within different community groups, some people are fighting to go back on the Chagos, some people are fighting for some form of reparations from the UK. And other people just want to be recognized like that’s a nationality law, but I guess we’ll talk about that more as well, that was passed last year. And a lot of people within the community are really keen to want to be recognized as Chagossians but also as British citizen. Because I know I mentioned that the Chagos was part of the Mauritian territory, but there’s this whole discourse now about: was it really part of the Mauritian territory if it’s never been completely decolonized? So, it’s kind of, a lot of people from the community seem to think that it’s always been pardoned under the British government and that’s how they want it to stay and they identify as Chagossians but also as British. And now Chagossians are all over the world. There is a community in Mauritius, there is a community in the Seychelles. There’s a big community in Crawley near London and a smaller community in Wythenshawe in Manchester, but they’re also in different parts of the world. Yeah, I hope that kind of sums up. What happened?
Léopold Lambert 08:51
It does. Thanks, it almost feels like you answered all my questions at once. But I guess we’ll take it as an opening synthesis on what we’re about to go maybe a little bit more into details. Perhaps for people to realize also, I mean, you know, of course, people living in or around the Indian Ocean, will be acutely aware of this, but how far is Chagos from Mauritius, which is like about two thousand kilometers. If we were dealing with the same sort of distance in the continental context, I think many people would be a little bit more acutely understanding of this sort of drastic mess of being deported from a homeland, to somewhere else, even the Maldives, which is the closest country from Chagos is still like 500 kilometres. And some things that I also wanted to mention is the sort of the layering of European colonialism on Chagos. Because we got first Portuguese and the French and the British. Now, still the British but with, of course, the US Navy as the main presence on Chagossian homeland. This is some things that also, we can talk about in a very sort of, I don’t know, I mean, you know, very Wikipedia, kind of way, but I think one aspect of the text you had written with Shane was also how your own grandmother was part of the people who had been uprooted. And you were very keen in the text to really center her. So, I suppose we could do the same, right now if you want to do so.
Audrey Albert 11:16
Yeah, I’m happy to do that. Do you want me to elaborate and talk about? Yeah. So, within my own family, I guess it’s something that we’ve never really, what’s the word, been outspoken about. It’s something that we, I mean, within my mom’s side of the family, especially, it’s something that we all knew, and it was very normal for all of us. It was just a part of us and of our identity. But it’s something that was also shushed kind of thing. And something that we were told when I was younger, for example, like not to mention or not to talk about, or to only talk about within, you know, close family members context. And it was only when I started doing research and trying to just openly talk about this with my parents, my grandparents and my Auntie’s, for example, that I started to kind of put the pieces together and understand why kind of it was almost a taboo subject without being a taboo subject, if that makes sense. So, what for I was very naive, and I grew up more with immigration culture than Chagossians culture, for example. And I don’t think I realized the amount of discrimination that Chagossians faced, or that the very natural bias that people would have if you mentioned that you are a Chagossians descendant, or you’re Chagossian? And then I guess what kind of made me even more naive is that my family on my mom’s side is very kind of Indo-Mauritian passing, despite having Chagossian heritage. But they still faced, my grandmas still faced different forms of discrimination and it’s by doing the research that I understood why there were some things she didn’t want to necessarily talk about, or openly talk about in front of strangers or any other people. So, it kind of made sense to me, but also, to do with her own story, I guess and I wonder, it’s something she very rarely talks about. She very rarely talks about the deportation and she’s got very different stories about it as well. And I do feel since I started, like my own personal creative practice, which is to do with Chagossian culture and Chagossian history and stories. It’s only then that I started to get to know my grandparents, I guess, in a very different light, and in a very different way, even though I know them very well, but it was through other people who knew them back on Diego Garcia, for example, and who had grown up with them that I hope, kind of different stories and different aspects of who they are. Yeah, so my grandma lost her mom, after she came to Mauritius shortly after, and it’s something she doesn’t really talk about, and I don’t want to I mean, at the very beginning of my project, I don’t think I was aware of how to handle trauma with care yet and how to navigate different conversations. But I guess I still didn’t want to be insisting and just having people relive different things that didn’t necessarily want to relive. But I realized that the journey must have been traumatic and losing her Mom must have been traumatic. For example, now when asked, or even throughout the years since I started the project, when asked about what happened, how it was, she would always say that she was too young to remember. She doesn’t remember, or she remembers more of Mauritius than of the Chagos but then, so for example, I wanted to know more about the deportation. Once she told me that she wasn’t on the boat. She was already in Mauritius with her mom because they had come to the hospital. But then there was another time that – and once she told me that she was 12, another time she told me that she was 18 – and then I met someone here who I now called Uncle. He went to school with my grandma and he knows my granddad, they, it’s a really close family friend. And they kind of grew up well not grew up, they lived in the same area in Mauritius as well, after the deportation. And through this kind of Uncle slash granddad, he told me that they were all on the same boat when the deportation happened. So, I guess it kind of made sense to me about why she wouldn’t talk about it or wouldn’t want to talk about it. But for example, my granddad wasn’t born on the archipelago. And it’s still things, I feel like it’s this huge puzzle. There’s like, lots of pieces of information that I thought I had, but then it turns out it’s not that and I’m still learning about new things just being together. So, I always thought that my granddad grew up on the shadows that he went there when he was like a young man. But it turns out, he didn’t. He lost his parents, I think his grandparents, or maybe even parents were indentured laborers. And he lost them when he was really young, he was still a baby. And he was adopted by a Chagossian family who took him on Diego Garcia. So, he grew up there, he spent, and he used to work on coconut plantations there, and he is way more open to talk about his memories. And even very recently, I listened to an interview that Shane did with him. I think it was last year or the year before when Shane met my grandparents in Mauritius. And my granddad told him something that really stayed with me and he said: “Even if you took me back now, I would know exactly where everything is and I’d be able to take you wherever you want to go.” So, he’s very open to talk about his memories and work and the process, prior to the deportation and what happened? And yeah, it’s very interesting. I guess it’s through the both of them that I learned like that there are things that I didn’t really learn about, I just knew about them, like food, different foods, different types of music, Chagossian songs, and yeah, not even, I mean, musical instruments. And like, what the lives used to be like, on the islands, but because I grew up more in Mauritian culture than Chagossian culture, I guess, when I moved to the UK, that created some kind of even stronger bond, I guess, between me and home, and me and my cultural heritage. I was really curious about it and I always knew it’s something I wanted to learn more about and explore. That’s how I started the project and that’s how these conversations when my family started, and it was all very natural and very open as if it’s not something we’ve never not talked about, and everyone was willing to share their bit. Yeah, so that’s my experience.
Léopold Lambert 19:20
Thank you. I mean, if it was not clear enough, yet, I think perhaps I could restate that between 1968 and 1973, it is no less than 100% of the Chagossian nation that have been deported by the British, which makes it effectively a diasporic nation, like the entire nation. So, I wanted to talk a little bit about that diasporic dimension also, to us specifically, we will have at least two of those geographies of you know, you said the Seychelles, Mauritius and Britain being like the three main spaces, let’s say where Chagossian people have been deported to. Could you maybe tell us a little bit about the diasporic nature of that of that community and perhaps also address something you’ve wrote in the text using a word of Mauritian Creole or Chagossian Creole, actually to describe what people are going through that might be pronounced “la sagrin”, which I can recognize the French word “chagrin”, behind it, sorrow, and the continued trauma that people are experiencing.
Audrey Albert 21:04
Yes, so “la sagrin”, for example, was a term that I came across when I started doing my research, but it was something that I heard constantly whilst growing up because both of my grandparents were in different community groups, different Chagossian community groups. So, within the same family, for example, there was one community group that my grandad was in that wanted one thing, and another one that my grandma was in that wanted different things. So, within the same family, there can be different wants and needs. And I guess, I think that’s also reflective of the wider community, as well, just different people wanting and needing different things, which is, like absolutely normal. And “la sagrin” is a term that I heard, you know, from the different meetings or protests that my grandparents would go to all, from the different friends that they had that would come at home and my grandparents and you would always hear some like someone, it would be an elder or native that died from la sagrin. And this is kind of a phenomenon that happened also almost on mass shortly after the deportation happened, and people were just kind of thrown on the docks in Port Louis in Mauritius. But I guess, sorry, I forgot your question. It was about the diaspora, right. And I guess it’s something that as like a third generation or a descendant, I know of it through, it’s not my lived experience. I don’t have first-hand experience of it. But it’s something that we are in, like within. And we hear about, and it’s kind of like constant and it’s just around us. Within the families that I’ve worked with that I know now and that I also consider kind of my own families, because I’ve met so many people that I now call uncle, auntie or so many really close friends. I know these families for whom it was never an issue, to hide the fact that they were Chagossians, and they’re proudly Chagossians. I feel like it’s even more, it’s even deeper, if that makes sense that that kind of really deep sadness that is felt through all of the different people and that is almost transmitted from the figurehead, the elders, who has lived through the deportation. But what I think is the community is super resilient and super spread out and resilient in terms of people are very proud to be Chagossian and to still live their culture wherever they are, and whether that’s in Mauritius, or in the UK, and I think even in Mauritius now, there has been some kind of shift and change in terms of the racial discrimination that was faced by Chagossians before. There’re so many pejorative terms, there’s so many horrendous things that are said or have been done to Chagossians because they’ve always, like Chagossians don’t identify as Mauritians and even in Mauritius, they were always considered kind of second class citizens, if not worse than that. But I have seen a shift and I wonder why that is. And if it’s because people are more outspoken about who they are, and where their ancestors are from and also people are more aware now of the history and of what happened and want to know more and are curious about it. Like, for example, it’s not something that we’re taught in schools, like I never learned about where my grandparents were from in primary school or in high school, but it’s just something I knew, because it was, in my family. It’s a word that I’d heard it’s, you know, going to protest going to meetings, queuing up, because there was some major law that was being changed and all of those different things. But yeah, I don’t know if that answers your question, in terms of the diaspora?
Léopold Lambert 26:02
I think it does and specifically, I think it also leads us to the next point that I wanted to talk about, which is precisely the political organizing that has happened throughout since the 70s, of course, but more recently, and perhaps closer to our generation. The efforts to well, I guess you’ll tell, I mean, you already hinted at the fact that not everyone is fighting necessarily for the exact same thing with the same agenda with the same goals. But precisely, could you tell us a little bit about this political effort to claim reparation,s to claim return in particular in Britain, which of course is, I guess, a hint at the diasporic dimension of things, because it also means that there is a Chagossian community, in the eye of the empire, so to speak, that can actually fight from there as for some of them citizens, but I think you’ll tell us a little bit about the absurdity of that dimension of citizenship when it comes to Britain and Chagos.
Audrey Albert 27:52
I think it’s quite powerful and historical, what happened. So, for the people who might not be aware, back when she was Foreign Secretary, I think Priti Patel started a bill called the I think it’s called the “nationality bill”, something like that. And there was to be different reviews or new things to be implemented within the bill. Initially, it was to try to right the wrongs committed towards people from the Windrush generation. And then different Chagossian community groups really came together, which was amazing, like, it just shows how, you know, organization and people coming together to want to be seen and heard and included, can change so many things. So, all these organizations lobbied to be included to have Chagossians be included in that bill, because before that, I think the law stated that it was only Chagossians who were born between I don’t have the years on the top of my head, but it was for example, only Chagossians. You were born between x and x year, it would have been I think, my grandma’s generation.
Léopold Lambert 29:22
69 and 82.
Audrey Albert 29:24
There you go.
Léopold Lambert 29:25
I have your text in front of me. That’s really where I got them from.
Audrey Albert 29:33
So, it was only people who were born between 69 and 82, who could claim the British Nationality and the British passport. And when I moved to the UK, I was even researching that because that law wasn’t a thing then, so I was on a student visa when I moved to the UK and afterwards that visa had to change. And I was like, well, what is the solution for Chagossian descendants, what is available for us and I was trying to look it up. And I asked around, and I asked different people, and it just sounded like the most horrendous impractical process. I mean, even visa processes are slightly inhumane, horrendously expensive and it can be really triggering, they’re really heavy processes to go through just the normal one. And this one I was told that my grandma would have to apply for the citizenship or even move to the UK, my mum would have to do the same thing, do the application through my grandma and then I could potentially do that through them. But it’s not even a guarantee of, it’s going to be approved, it’s going to be a yes. So, it just sounded like a lot of faff a lot of just, and you still have to pay for it. So, what happened when the community came together and lobbied there was lots of kinds of petitions, there was lots of meetings with MPs and people that have done amazing work. There’s a community group called Chagossian Voices, who has been, you know, at the forefront since the very beginnings of wanting to be included and there’s an amazing young woman called Rosy Leveque. She also was yet one of I guess, like the main figureheads of this fight and there’s another really big community group called the BIOT Community or BIOT People. They’ve got a branch in Mauritius and in the UK. There’s the Chagos Refugee Group that also came together for this kind of lobbying to happen, and they managed to do it and the law changed last year. So, it’s historical, and what it means now is families can be reunited, because what the old law was doing was kind of perpetrating that separation, and that displacement within the same family. Some people from the same family could be in the UK, like the mum could be in the UK, but some of our kids could still be in Mauritius or somewhere else. And what it means now is anyone who can prove they are a Chagossian native gotten native or Chagossian descendant can apply for the BOTC I think it’s be BOT citizenship and apply to become a British citizen as well to get the British nationality. Which yeah, it’s free, it’s like a free process, I think it’s called the Chagossian pathway. I have gotten my own reservations about that. I mean, I still don’t know even now I don’t, it’s something that makes me happy, because of how, you know people who might be in situations of illegality is not the right word in the UK to just be able to be with their families, they didn’t have any other choice, they’ve lived here for their whole lives. So, it means that families can be reunited, it means that there’s not going to be financial strain on families who are already, you know, not necessarily in like, hardest socio economics and having to face the hardest socio economic conditions, because of their history and because of what happened. And because of just the accessibility of certain things, also in the UK, so that makes me really happy. It makes me happy for myself, not having to work for years just to save a lot of money and go through that really stressful anxiety inducing process of applying for a visa, but then pay that bill, that new nationality bill has also got some horrendous kind of clauses, towards asylum seekers towards refugees. So, it’s as if it’s like a right done to a certain community but then it’s taking also so many other things. So, it’s like, “au détriment” of I don’t know what the word would be in English. It’s of other people. So, again, it’s still perpetrating discrimination, it’s like what happened 53 or 54 years ago, Mauritius got its independence, but a whole community was forcefully displaced and traumatized, then. It’s kind of a continuation of that, of just horrendous things that would be enabled towards asylum seekers and refugees. So that puts me kind of like, yeah, I don’t really know how to feel about it. It’s very bittersweet. And then the other really big thing is, I don’t want to be British. Like to me, I don’t, of course, it’s very practical in terms of: it allows me to access, like, different things, it allows me to stay on this territory where I have started a life and where I have started, work, which I love, but it’s not my identity. It’s not who I want to be. And I have I’ve done the application, I’ve gone through it just because of convenience. But it’s never something that I would proudly say, it’s never something that I would, yeah. And I know that might shock a lot of people from the community, because there’s more people, and a lot of people from the community who identify as British who are, you know, really happy with the current British government, because it’s under this government that this law has been passed. But to me, a lot of the things done said or that have been done for the last 10 years, or for the last however many years I’ve been in the UK by the Tory government, it just doesn’t align with who I am. As a person, as an artist. And yeah, so it’s like a very; lots of conflicting emotions to me.
Léopold Lambert 37:18
It’s not me to say, of course, but you’ve already rendered the tension of this kind of legislation can trigger between – I mean, exactly like you said, like the whole horrendous process that one has to experience when trying to get a visa as simple as that, while also recognizing I think that if that particular clause, which, as you said, is a discriminatory clause for so many other people, is a form of reparations to the Chagossian community, it is very much like the most minimal kind of form of reparation. And one could even argue that it is sort of following historical paths of colonial powers trying to assimilate population that it had uprooted into their own society also, because we’re talking about a fraction of a population compared to the British society at large. But of course, it doesn’t matter how many Chagossians are, is like they are, who they are, and their house, as many as they are, and they’ve all 100% of them has been deported. So, could you maybe tell us a little bit about those political horizon that people have been also fighting for, with regards to either return, rendition of their country, or other forms of recreation that people have been fighting about?
Audrey Albert 39:15
Yeah, so that’s just from my opinion, and from what I’ve observed, it seems like and it’s so understandable that natives want to return to their homeland, because it’s, you know, they have like I mentioned before, they have that first hand lived experience and it’s only natural and normal for them to want to return. So, it’s a to me, I think it’s a majority of elders that do want to return and then with younger generations, maybe my generation or even generations after me, there is this kind of trying to seek for a better standard of living, like a better future from more career options. It’s what it seems to be happening also in Mauritius, with different families wanting to like within my own family, for example, my auntie and my uncle, they’ve got young children who haven’t finished high school, and they do want to potentially move to the UK, so that their kids can, you know, study whatever they want in uni. And so, there’s that prospect of like, career and a different lifestyle and maybe an improved lifestyle, but how much of that it would be true accessible? You know, it’s, yeah, so there’s different people wanting different things, I guess, to do, within, like, what they might need, like, individually. So yeah, and there would be, I guess, there’s this kind of want to return, but also, like fight to return, but also this whole process of coming to the UK as accessible as possible. And then when I was mentioning the whole visa process, as well, like, I completely understand why that new law is such a positive, because it’s not ever like, I get that applying for a visa and going for being able to save being able to do you know, multiple jobs, it’s still a privilege that not a lot of people within the community can afford to do, can’t afford to save up, can’t afford to do kind of different jobs. And yeah, so even with that, like going with that kind of visa, even if the process is horrendous, I kind of get why on the other hand, that must be such a positive and people would, I mean, I get it, but I also don’t get it in terms of like, why would the support to such a government that is so what’s the word? Harmful, I guess, to yeah, to people of color. If that makes sense, yeah, I think I’ve lost my stream of thought.
Léopold Lambert 42:58
I mean, perhaps if I may come to your support here. I think perhaps this whole question of visa is also can only be considered a sort of advancement or a sort of, yeah, form of reparation. If we situate ourselves within a framework that gives value and legitimacy to a system that authorize some people to live, where they live, and others not. So, in that case, that might be more the absence of state violence that we are sort of like looking at, than the usual state violence that states in European states in particular, are implementing through this visa process. Right. So that’s what I’m saying, it could not be more minimal. It’s literally the absence of violence and that still remains to be discussed, actually, if that’s true, but yeah.
Audrey Albert 44:13
Yeah and then, you know, in practical terms and implemented terms, what does that look like? How easy is the process? How long is it? Does it actually enable people to move here and access different things and improve their, you know, their future, the future of their children? I am also very like suspicious of the reasons of like, why now? What is the agent of the British government? Why is that happening now? And why does it seem to be? Why does there seem to be such a big Tory following in a huge part of the community? That’s something that I’m always kind of asking myself, and then on the Mauritian side as well, there’s the question that I’ve asked myself a few times. Why, you know, for the past 50ish years, Mauritius didn’t have, didn’t do anything for Chagossians. And I mean, the Mauritian government, I don’t mean Mauritians as; because that’s, yeah, like the Mauritian government hasn’t done anything for Chagossians. And then very recently, there’s been talks of the sovereignty of the islands. Does that go back to Mauritius? Does it go to the UK? There’s been the whole ICJ court case. And so it makes me question the agenda of both governments.
Léopold Lambert 46:22
Yeah, I mean, this was going to be my next question, essentially. Because, you know, we briefly talked about a potential return of Chagossian to the Chagos, essentially. And that, of course, ask the question of sovereignty and the one institutional actor that is claiming sovereignty at the moment is the Mauritian government which of course, is a sort of, fraught thing to consider. And also, perhaps, to think about it even at a larger scale, of the scale of the entire ocean itself, that I don’t really want to name Indian in that particular instance specifically, because I think that we’re of course talking about British and US colonialism here. But I think the Indian imperialism in the region as well as something to be considered and something you briefly mentioned in a sentence earlier, that I feel we could also perhaps try to talk a little bit more about. You mentioned the Indo-Mauritian sort of ethnic groups that is very much the one in power forever since 1967 and the independence of Mauritius. You can listen to the podcast episode we did with our good friends of Island Pieces. And also, you know, seeing also the sort of complicities that exist and, of course, non-symmetrical complicity but between Mauritian and Indian governments and the fact that the Indian Army might get a brand new military basis on Agalega, like one of the Northern archipelago under Mauritius sovereignty today. So, could we perhaps talk a little bit about that as well as the fact that; so, you know I said like, and brags, that goes back to the very first questions the history of Chagos as well. Although, of course, Chagossians are not like a homogeneous group, very easily identifiable for the migrations that it might have taken before indigenizing itself if I may say this, this way in the in the archipelago, but it is also a Black nation. I think we should probably say it this way. Nothing of all this is politically innocent, I feel so perhaps could you unpack this a little bit for us?
Audrey Albert 49:31
Yeah, so I guess it’s initially – and maybe that was to do with more so of like, years and years ago, where people had this very specific stereotype of what a Chagossian person looks like, or what, who a Chagossian person is and I’ve been to kind of Chagossian meetings where I can almost hear people whisper constantly when they see me and be like, oh, so there were Indo-Mauritians on the Chagos and there were Indo-Chagossians. And yeah, so what? Huh? I don’t really know what. But it’s definitely like an it’s an Afro descendant community. And it does seem that more, especially with like, the workshops that I’ve done, since last year, I’ve met so many people my age who also wouldn’t, you know, like the idea that you associate or attribute to, like, there isn’t any, there shouldn’t be any, but there’s still that kind of bias that people have of who is Chagossians is. I’ve met so many people who kind of resonated with my experience, or who also look like me and who are Afro descendants, but also Indo descendants and Chagossian, then yeah, sorry, I’m a bit scattered in my thoughts.
Léopold Lambert 51:18
No, no, I think that’s because my question was very, all over the place for sure. But also, not trying to be all over the place, but trying to describe the sort of various scales of politics that sort of engulf Chagos at the scale of the archipelago, at the scale of the relationship with Mauritius, but also at the scale of the entire ocean somehow, so I don’t know if that makes you want to react or?
Audrey Albert 51:56
Yeah, because we were also talking about the Indian imperialism right. And before that, in the previous question, I mentioned how I was very suspicious of the why now, of these governments wanting to all of a sudden, being interested by the fate of Chagossians or the fate of the actual land, and especially when thinking of what has been happening for years on Agalega and what is still happening on Agalega, which is now it’s been kind of openly said, decided, seen that it is the construction of an Indian military base. I think I speak for myself, but I, from what I’ve observed and seen as well, that a majority, if not all, of the Chagossian community, do not want that sovereignty, you know, to go back to Mauritius, to the Mauritian government because there is no trust there, especially when they’re seeing what has happened and what is happening to Agalega and very rightly so. People are asking themselves, well, what happens then? What happens if the sovereignty of the Chagos goes back to Mauritius? What do they do with it? And there’s also this thing of like, well, Mauritius has sold it once, it wouldn’t mind selling it again, selling it twice. And like, what? What does that imply? There’s all of that took in, like, geopolitical, like power dynamics to do with it too. Yeah.
Léopold Lambert 53:54
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s fair to imagine that the very minute that Mauritius would gain sovereignty over Chagos they would sign that contract with the US Navy and basically the same thing we would continue with a different… So up until now, and this is of course, towards the end of our conversation, but we’ve been somewhat separating you as an artist from what we’ve been talking about, but of course, it is very much central to your artistic practice everything we’ve been talking about. So, could you perhaps a little bit tell us about both your creative practice as an artist but also what you call creative facility facilitating that might also involve what we’ve been talking about.
Audrey Albert 55:42
So, I am a photographer, and I explore digital photography, analog photography, but also different photography process that involves making a photograph without using a camera and they’re called camera-less processes. I’m very interested in kind of consequences of colonialism, decolonization of the self, of, I guess, trying to do that through my work too, and in history, kind of anthropology, and then also interested in like culture and heritage. And I guess where all of that started was this trying to find home by being away from home and just being very intrigued and wanting to explore that notion of home and what it means. Then I started working on a photo series called “Matter Out of Place” since 2017 and “Matter Out of Place” is an exploration of Chagossian culture, a celebration of Chagossian culture as well, and kind of an investigation of Chagossian history and it kind of documents different objects that are directly connected to Chagossian culture. What I would do and the way I work is I would look at kind of historical research, or sociological or anthropological research, and then that would trigger different emotions or even different visuals that would make me to create something but with “Matter Out of Place”, a lot of the images and a lot of the objects used are symbolic and it’s almost like trying to reclaim different terms that I came across that were written. Some of them were kind of part of the WikiLeaks scandal that happened, that was about the Chagos as well. Yeah, so it’s about reclaiming those terms and making them Chagossians again, or just making them Chagossians to begin with. And then also retribute to the coconut, which is a very powerful Chagossian food, staple food, object. And then very organically, this project also became a creative community project, which is where the creative facilitating kind of came in. My creative community project started in 2020 and it’s called “Chagossians of Manchester” and basically in “Chagossians of Manchester”, it’s intergenerational workshops, where people are encouraged to come together, get to know each other. So, I facilitate conversations during these workshops, that would then help people create, make their own visual representations of what they want to say, or of memories to do with their elders, their parents, their grandparents, their ancestors, or with their own memories. So, in “Chagossians of Manchester”, we have two workshops. In one of them, we make photos without using a camera, it’s called a cyanotype process, or sun printing and that’s around food memories. So, it’s about using our senses to kind of trigger specific food memories and explore that and what it means to be in between all of these different kinds of countries and identities. And then in the second workshop, I explore oral history because I realized that – so the Chagossians society is a matriarchal society and not only within my own family, but I’ve noticed the similarities within other families as well, where it’s the matriarch, the grandma, that would kind of transmit the histories and the stories of her own family or her own elders all over the islands. And I noticed that within the community, a lot of people did that where you would gather around grandma doing that. So, I’ve tried to use that as a method to start conversations between people, where they’re asked a series of questions. They ask it to each other, they only have a limited amount of time to answer, they record themselves and then they pick their favorite answer, or their favorite question, and I have a studio setup and I help them with it and then make their own visual representation of these answers. That’s what we do in the workshops. So, the workshops are by Chagossians, for Chagossians only. And at the end of them, I’m looking to have kind of Chagos open days where people can come and discover the artworks that we’ve made or discover Chagossian food, Chagossian culture. I’ve not done that yet, kind of as part of “Chagossians of Manchester” on its own, but then last year, I worked on a project that “Chagossians of Manchester” was a partner on, it was called “Ble Kouler Lakaz”, which means “blue is the color of home”. And we did workshops and then as a result of the workshops, we had two exhibitions that were open to the public, and people could come and discover who are Chagossians and I worked mainly with Chagossians women during the workshop, so, and then they made their own kind of visual representations of who they are, then yeah, memories connected with their ancestors. Yeah, so the kind of like the events are open to the public, for people to come in, discover and find out more. And that’s what I do, that’s kind of what my work is about.
Léopold Lambert 1:02:28
Great. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for joining. Merci beaucoup! I might say, is that a good complement of this conversation for those of us who understand Mauritian Creole, they might want to listen to the conversation you had with again, friends of “Island Pieces” that have like a full episode in Creole with you and once again, there’s also this beautiful text you wrote with Shane in The Funambulist number 38, which is in open access on the website. So, thanks again, so much for everything.
Audrey Albert 1:03:02
Oh, thanks to you. Thanks for having me.