Tiny, black spindly figures carrying large loads on their heads, set amidst floating clouds of rust and blue acrylic paint: this is Daniel Dodin’s 3 metre long painting in the Seychelles Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. I saw the painting in Dodin’s studio at the Seychelles College of Art where he is a lecturer, while it was still unfinished.
Seychelles is determined to put its art on the world map. While Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan are exhibiting at the Biennale for the first time, this is Seychelles’ third appearance. George Camille is also representing Seychelles, for the third time.

Miserable Joy

Dodin chooses a subject he believes has not been covered before: the men (mostly young, around his age, 32) who collect empty PET (plastic) bottles in gunny bags and walk miles to recycling centres to redeem them for a few rupees. Some would say this is their employment, that they are performing an essential service. They take risks – I have seen them putting their bare hands into rubbish bins, searching for their means to buy food, alcohol or drugs. Filled gunny bags form part of Dodin’s installation, along with projections of his images onto archival film, showing Seychellois also going about their day to day business 60 years ago. Then and now….
Dodin is not judging these men. He portrays them. The title of the Seychelles Pavilion is “Drift”; the men (and they always are men) are drifting around a white void, not going through it, not facing the pain or emptiness within which lead to their predicament. The medium matches the subject. To me their massive loads are reminiscent of wings; there is a resigned dignity about them. This is their path and something helps them get through each day. Carl Jung believed that we produce in art and story the inner images which the soul needs in order to see itself and to allow its own transformation. There is great potential here to hold up a mirror to others.

Victoria Howard

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