Her native northern Tasmania may be thousands of miles away from Kerala, but there is an ocean that connects the two places. No matter, its different names at different places. And, then there are the crows. Thousands of them that you think are your ancestors reborn.
“ Kakka is Kartener in the language of our ancestors. We also consider their voice as that of our ancestors. That they speak to us through these birds,” says noted Australian artist Julie Gough, who has created nine crows using coconut wood and fibre, as part of her installation ‘Distance is a state of mind’ at Pepper House in Fort Kochi.
“They represent the nine tribes of Tasmania, the original inhabitants of the island, almost annihilated by colonisation, by the mid 1800s,” she says. As she walked about the byways of Fort Kochi with her brother in November, a strange connection between the place and her homeland from her mother’s side unfolded before her.
“We have eaten and drunk coconut and watched ropes being made, and so we began dyeing coconut fibre black to create the crows, that watch us all, whether here in Kochi or in Tasmania. When the British shot our old people, they discussed and described how many ‘black crows’ they had killed that day. We are those birds. We have thought about the shellfish that we, and our ancestors and yours, ate. Your Kakka , black cockle shells, and your oysters of old times we found in a building-site garden in week one, that look so much like ours,” she says.
The crows she made have alighted by the open windows of the Pepper House’s upper floor room where a mélange of voices, of their crowing back in her homeland and voices talking about crows, the sky, the sea, shellfish, etc., in several languages such as Malayalam, Konkani and Gujarati, loop in an audio every 15 minutes.
“We don’t have sounds of Kochi crows, as they can come through the open window. I hope they can hear our crows and some strange connection can be made,” says the artist. “We are people with the same concerns. Two worlds, but the distance is just a state of our minds,” says Dr. Gough.
“One of our key cultural objects that continues to be made are shell necklaces, and so we bound one here, with help, with shells. This giant shell necklace in the space, in the shape of our island home, also speaks about the single ocean we all share. Demarcated as different seas, it really is only one – just as we humans are one, one blood, one people. Endless parallels,” says the artist.
Four of her old works are also on show at Pepper House. Dr. Gough and Brook Andrew are the Aussie artists at the biennale – both supported by the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts.