‘Remnants of Another’ at Twelve Gates Arts

Vriddhi sees an important exhibition shedding light on the arts and cultural heritage of people brought from British India to the Caribbean islands in the 1800s to work as indentured laborers in the sugar cane and other plantations. The art in "Remnants of Another," by artists of Indo-Caribbean descent, carries forward and celebrates the lives and the arts and cultural traditions of their forbearers. The show was at Twelve Gates Arts and is now closed. We bring you Vriddhi's review to illuminate the Indo-Caribbean art that has not been exhibited here before.

Remnants of Another starts and ends cyclically, in a multi-media culmination of Indo-Caribbean ways of life, powered by the strength and ties of women and the cultural elements that bind them. On an afternoon at Twelve Gates Gallery, the light from the window illuminates the painted figures or those depicted through the digital image to evoke a neverending story of cultural preservation.

Three paintings of Indo-Caribbean women by Nazrina Rodjan. From right to left a portrait of a woman from chest up in blue clothes with silver jewelry adorning arms, neck, and ears the woman looks to her left. The middle painting shows a woman standing in a wood floored room, she stands with one hand on her hip and a jar atop her head. She wears a blue skirt with green top and beige head covering. To the very left a black and white of a woman in illustrious clothing with one hand on her hip and another on what appears to be a railing. Below each painting is an original image of the women depicted in the paintings, among the first laborers to arrive to the Caribbean from South Asia as laborers.
Paintings by Nazrina Rodjan, Left to Right, “TUM HAMAAR KE BAATE?/WHO ARE YOU TO ME?”, 2023, Oil on panel, 40 x 24 in.; “DUDHWALI/MILKMAID”, 2023, Oil on panel, 30 x 24 in.; “SOOKIA WITH THE PEARLS”, 2023, Oil on panel, 24 x 18 in. Courtesy Twelve Gates Arts. Postcards on pedestals: Pedestal 1: Sookia, Suriname (University of Pennsylvania Indo-Caribbean Collection); Pedestal 2: Milk vendor, Trinidad (University of Pennsylvania Indo-Caribbean Collection); Pedestal 3:
Eunoobia, Suriname  (Personal collection of Nazrina Rodjan) and Hindustani women, Suriname (University of Pennsylvania Indo-Caribbean Collection). Courtesy Twelve Gates Arts

Jahaji Indentured Laborers is the full official term for ethnic South Asian people primarily from the regions of Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and the then Madras presidency brought over from British India to the British, French, and Dutch-occupied colonies in the Caribbean. After the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act that halted the de jure functions of the Transatlantic Slave Trade from West Africa, the European colonial superpowers sought other official methods to bring subjugated laboring groups familiar with strenuous agrarian work in muggy wealth to tend to the Caribbean sugarcane cash crop plantations. Many ethnically South Asian British Raj subjects seeking survival from impoverished colonial conditions, especially caste-marginalized groups facing the brunt of poverty and colonial laws, were brought to the Caribbean with an indentured contract, to toil with no salary, to repay a stated loan given on their lives. The Indentured Laborers brought with them the cultural elements, varied from the diverse regions in South Asia they were from, and embarked on their quest for survival through cultural adaptation. Their descendants, like the artists in the exhibit, hone the cultural elements to create their work.

The Twelve Gates Arts gallery in Old City, is an art space dedicated to showcasing the prolific talents of artists of South, Central, and West Asian descent. This exhibit, in particular, involves the participation and curation of women, queer, and non-binary artists. From right to left in the gallery, the exhibit is staged to show a narrative story cut by two videos and a stalk of sugarcane brought by the curator Suzanne Persard.


In the first corner of the space, the viewer is invited to witness this historical journey, starting with three paintings of Indo-Caribbean women by Nazrina Rodjan arranged in descending size paired with the original archival photos they were referenced from courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Indo-Caribbean archives and the artist’s personal collection. Each painting reanimates and personifies images of some of the first women who arrived on the Caribbean islands as Indentured Laborers. Each figure is regal, their backgrounds and jewelry painted in gold and eyes painted with a lively, humanizing glint of white. The depictions colorize the historical photographs in the way they can be imagined and met in the gallery space as real people with real stories.

Next to Rodjan’s work, a short film titled “Body Subpoena” by Sarah Rohan Drepaul invokes slices of life in Richmond Hill, New York, a neighborhood heavily populated by Indo-Caribbean people. The video shows an older woman cooking for a younger one; follows the younger subject around their home; and shows her watching from many framed peepholes and snapshots as a grandmother prepares a meal. In snapshots of a hairbrush, a pastel mirror, some Hindu god idols, a busy street dotted by men wearing black kurtas (a long cultural tunic), flashy jewelry, and home decor, the viewer can piece together a childhood combined by as many complicated elements as a dually-diasporic identity that was formed out of adaption.

An image of two walls meeting to make a corner in the gallery space. On the left the curator installed Indo-Caribbean folk albums from their personal collection and a tablet with headphones for listening. To the right a short film titled Body Subpoena by Sarah Rohan Drepaul. In the shortfilm an older Indo-Caribbean woman cooks for a younger woman, and takes a look at the lives of these two people and the cultural artifacts and traditions that they engage with.
Left wall: Vinyl Records Installation along with a music player with headphones playing music from 4 of the Vinyls: Indian Folk Songs of the Caribbean vol 1,2,4, 5-7; Indian Folk Songs of the Caribbean vol 8; Indian Folk Songs of the Caribbean vol 3; Songs to Remember. Right wall: Right wall: Video display on projector. SARAH ROHANI DREPAUL, “BODY SUBPOENA”, 2020 Video

To its left, the curator installed many vinyl album covers of Indo-Caribbean folk songs on the wall from her personal collection with headphones attached to a tablet for listening. Indo-Caribbean music, combined of many South Asian musical structures like religious chants and Caribbean Hindi lyrics with Afro-Caribbean music forms and beats like soca, reinstates the importance of cultural preservation to highlight the descendants of Indentured Laborers. The covers of the albums lined the walls colorfully, an archival testament to the importance of Indo-Caribbean culture that has evolved over time, now safe-kept via physical copies of the vinyl records by the curator and now digitized copies to share with visitors. The sonic aspect of this exhibit felt like a blend of many different cultures to forge a new, unique identity similar to its ancestral art forms but rich in its own new history and traditions.


In a video installation by Vanessa Golden, titled “Ma”, perhaps dedicated as an ode to her mother and all she’s seen, an older woman sits and eats at a table adorned with snapshots of her sweet, thinning ponytail. A curtain floats above a sink near a breezy window, the same breeze drifting over a Trinidadian city from one still angle, and the familiar call of chatter of a loud family is heard as if it comes from another room in the distance. The sound carries over through the gallery in a perpetual family conversation. It adds a slice-of-life character to the entire exhibit, which continues to work together and tell a story of preservation and evolution.

“Ma” stands in contrast to “Body Subpoena”, which shows another relationship between womanhood and generations perceiving their own culture and family dynamics but in the backdrop of the Caribbean instead of an Indo-Caribbean community that has found belonging again on wholly different land mass.

A woven fabric with silk screen print of an Indo-Caribbean family celebrating a birthday. The colors blue, magenta, and yellow stick out in color blocks. The skin of the people and the light of the candle illuminating them are also in vivid color. The image itself and it's weaved material gives a pointillist effect to the photo. On the left a little bold holds his head in his hands with his elbows on a round table. The table has a single pastry with candle in it and two other dishes of food. To the right of the boy is an older woman she rests here left hand on the table near the flame. A younger girl is on the right side of the frame in a magenta top, she looks off the edge of the frame.
NICHOLAS D’ORNELLAS, “I COULD HEAR THE RINGING”, 2022. Stretched silkscreen on house-painted poly-cotton fabric, 50 x 38 in. Courtesy Twelve Gates Arts

Finally, Nicholas D’ornella’s artwork plays with how families, especially the Indo-Caribbean families from his experience, are woven together through the fabric of their own familiarity and comfort like in woven fabrics. His artworks on stretched silk screens are reminiscent of pointillism up close, the figures are almost unrecognizable, and become portraits of Indo-Caribbean people further away. His pieces, like in his piece “I could hear the ringing”, show day-to-day life for Indo-Caribbean people as a product of cultural community performing tasks like celebrating a birthday, up close becoming as many dots as the many complex, hard-won elements that shape Indo-Caribbean lives.


As the entire exhibit tells a story, part archival lesson and part glimpse into many perspectives, it unmistakably shows the relationship of how the ties between women and gender non-conforming people were crucial to cultural survival. From the portraits of Indentured Laboring women to the short films showing the relationships between women to the figures D’ornella depicted together, the exhibit highlights the strength of women between each other, no matter when or where their space and place in history.

While this exhibit is no longer on view, take the time to familiarize yourself with Indo-Caribbean history and the historical events surrounding Indentured Labor. Visit the Twelve Gates Arts website to learn more about each individual participating artist.