Bernard Appassamy



Archipelagic Illumination

Shortlisted for the 2016 Blake Prize Director's Cut

Now part of the Art Gallery of NSW National Art Archive's artists' book collection

On 6 March 1615, when Mauritius was still uninhabited, a cyclone thrust three tall ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) against the coral reef. Seventy-five men, including Admiral Pieter Both, the first governor-general of the VOC and leader of the fleet, drowned. Thousands of Ming porcelain pieces on board smashed. Both was returning home after his tenure in the Indonesian port of Bantam.

In the 1980s, word spread that Ming shards from one of Both's shipwrecks were washing up at Albion beach. My mother and I then collected a box of shards that I have been caring for for the last 30 years.

Besides that ravaging night, the shards stand as a metaphor for the destructive practices of the VOC in and beyond Mauritius, and the eventual implosion of the VOC. To claim and maintain their monopoly and colonies, the VOC, as well as their European competitors, resorted sometimes to harrowing massacres against established indigenous populations.

My assemblage is an interpretation of those violent events. The bound shards reference the VOC slave trade and disempowerment of the indigenous in Indonesia and elsewhere, as well as the patterns of marine ropes on the tall ships. The golden yellow alludes to the spice trade and the enriching of the VOC.

I drew from the Japanese Kintsugi, literally 'joining in gold', which refers to the art of reassembling broken pieces of the same item with a mixture of lacquer and gold. The cracks in the repaired vessel are thus highlighted not camouflaged; the gold honours the breakage which is seen as part of the object's life, not ending it.

The composition reflects an aerial view of islets swept in place by tidal waves and time, and ultimately of the universal big bang and the illuminating circle of birth, life and death.


Ceramic shards from the 1615 shipwreck of Dutch Admiral Pieter Both's fleet off the coast of Mauritius, cotton thread and museum wax.

Felicity Jenkins.

Warren Macris from High Res Digital.

With thanks to Peter Guo, Lisa Giles, Bruce Adams, Sue Paull, Louise Haigh, Margaret McKenna, and the Sydney BAG (Book Art Group).

Trying a few ideas and coming literally full circle.