Lucelle. B. Pillay. ‘Kūli’ 2023. Red, Laser-cut Acrylic, Mirror, Wood, LED's (1.5x1m)
The artwork entitled, ‘Kūli’, references the name allotted to a low-grade worker. Its local derivative, spelt as, ‘Coolie’, is a pejorative term used for low-wage labourers, typically of Indian descent. The word ‘Coolie’ was first used in the sixteenth century by European traders across Asia. By the eighteenth century the term would refer to migrant Indian indentured labourers. The artist relegates the word 'Coolie' to a mere ‘sign’ whose meaning is verbally and visually fluid. Written within the Hindu regional dialect of Tamil, spoken predominantly in Southern India, the sign of ‘Kūli’ subverts its derogatory implication. It becomes an inaccessible linear rhythm of code that speaks to lost traditions, language and culture. As most people of Indian descent in South Africa, have ceased learning to read and write in vernacular Indian languages for generations. The sleek laser-cut lines of the layered acrylic script is illuminated by LED lights embedded into its base. The negative shapes from which it was cut, becomes a reflective mirror, in conversation with its positive forms and the viewer. The translucent materials and light elevates the meaning of the word 'Coolie' within a public space, which subverts its derogatory connotations.