Searching for Libertalia is a pseudo- archive presented by artist Shiraz Bayjoo linking three historical narratives about the island of Madagascar. The exhibition intertwines the island’s history of piracy with the fictional story of Captain Misson, slave trading by the French East India Company between the 17th and 19th centuries and the Malagasy fight for independence from France’s Vichy government during the Second World War. The interlinking between these distinct narratives reveals the repetitive nature of history. Searching for Libertalia also underlines histories of liberation and anti-colonial movements in African post-colonies such as Pan- Africanism and Négritude, and their unavoidable relationship to questions of race and identity for Africans and the African diaspora today.
In addition to the video works, Searching for Libertalia also includes paintings and archive materials which the artist researched and sourced from across Europe. These items are displayed in luxurious frames, magnificent wall cabinets, and an imposing wooden vitrine alluding to the influence of domestic, religious and institutional spaces in which the creation of historical narratives takes place. The assemblage of archival photographs makes visible the characters and stories that
were, and are still, marginalised by Western history. Consequently, the exhibition celebrates and cherishes individuals such as slaves and queens of Madagascar, within a context of violent conquest and oppressive Governors – Diptych (2018) Courtesy of Shiraz Bayjoo and Ed Cross Fine Art colonisation. The exhibition seeks to shift dominant narratives, bringing to the fore the histories of the oppressed, the marginalised and colonised peoples to be more visible within history, challenging the dominant gaze.
The island of Madagascar is believed
to have been first settled around 2,000 years ago by Indonesians, followed by Arab traders up until modern European colonisation, by the Portuguese in
the 15th century and finally the French in the 17th century. Each wave of settlement built the island’s population and its infrastructure whilst also defining the cultural, social, economic and political systems until the island’s independence in 1960