Social Showcasing and the Image in contemporary Indian Ocean Societies

Marie-Annick Lamy-Giner, Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin and Hélène Pongérard-Payet


Electronic reference

Marie-Annick Lamy-Giner, Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin and Hélène Pongérard-Payet, « Avant-Propos », Carnets de recherches de l'océan Indien [Online], 10 | 2024, Online since 01 June 2024, connection on 23 July 2024. URL : https://carnets-oi.univ-reunion.fr/1051

DOI : 10.61736/YFKO9691

Within the broader framework of research on visual studies, this issue of CROI focuses on the question of cultural industries in the Indian Ocean and offers critical works by specialists from a diversity of disciplines ranging from Geography, History and Sociolinguistics to British Cultural Studies.

A number of countries in the Indian Ocean region, of varying scale and strength, are today fully positioned at the heart of the production of images. Either in the midst of change, or confronted with socio-political or economic crises of varying magnitude, they offer a diversity of themes and questions to researchers through written and visual representations either through individual or collective works. Be they comic strips, photography, advertising posters, theater, cinema in its multiple functions, or any other form of artistic, iconographic, pictorial or scenic expression, what is the role of the image in its multiple variations, in Indian Ocean societies? For example, the cinema industries in India, such as Bollywood and Kollywood, are simply booming despite Nollywood, the largest cinema industry in Africa, based in Nigeria. With their nerve centers in Mumbai and Kodambakkam (district of Chennai), they show relentless dynamism, deploying technological, human and financial resources worthy of Hollywood, its American equivalent. Indian cinemas, ultimately, attract millions of international spectators who bring in the necessary revenues for the industry to thrive.

More modest are the cinema of Sri Lanka and South Africa, which bring to the screen diverse issues which affect their societies. If their audiences are lower in number, they nevertheless manage to draw the attention of international juries, through documentaries, realistic or fiction films. In the case of Sri Lanka, a number of such cinematic works, released around 2020, have been inspired by the health crisis, whose authors shot their films during the pandemic, in spite of the restrictions of lockdown. Sri Lankan Covid cinema comes in the wake of Sri Lankan war films by directors who explored themes related to a previous crisis, - the horrendous and futile ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Filming was likewise carried out, this time, during curfew and despite bomb scares and terrorist attacks. To which one may add the sometimes, ruthless censorship by the Sri Lankan state, worried that this cinema would tarnish the image of an island considered as a paradise island. In the South African case, we note films dealing with Apartheid, whose scars are still visible in the country. The studies in this collection, rich and nuanced, not only reflect the advanced scientific knowledge and first-hand experience of their signatories, but are also proof of their passion and commitment, joined by a critical approach, keeping that distance essential to any academic exercise. The authors in this volume hail from many horizons from those whose research focuses on their countries of birth or adoption to specialists of the country where their research is grounded, or even both at the same time. Finally, whether it is their principal or secondary area of research, they are experts and demonstrate a strong link with “their field”. Through their analyses carried out with clarity, finesse and efficiency, they offer us the opportunity to understand, through the prism of the fixed or animated image, the complexity, but also the singularity of the societies of the Indian Ocean, seen from "the inside”.

The issue opens with an article by Sanjay Kumar, entitled, “Echoes of Aesthetic Silence in Photograph (2019), a Hindi Film”. The film, directed by Ritesh Batra, highlights issues of segregation, class and religious distinctions and even inter-generational gaps, that are characteristic of Indian society. Drawing on the notions of sound and silence, Kumar questions the techniques used by the director to reinforce the aesthetic experience and allow spectators to participate in the story. Fabrice Folio's study takes us to the African shores, those of the Rainbow Nation, to discuss post-apartheid cinema that focus on new, sometimes controversial, not to say taboo, issues. The themes of yesteryear, HIV-AIDS, inequality and crime are joined by those related to male homosexuality and xenophobia. While exposing the tensions of South African society and gaining recognition at both national, African and international levels, do not necessarily achieve consensus. All in all, as Fabrice Folio argues, South African cinema questions the current country more freely and with maturity.

Two other contributions bring us back to the sub-region of the Indian continent, but this time on the other side of the Palk Strait. As the title indicates, film director Udan Fernando draws on his lock-down experience to show the astonishing creativity that grew from a critical situation. "Covid cinema in Sri Lanka: connecting a personal story to a broader picture" focuses on Covid-inspired films in Sri Lanka. Udan Fernando makes us discover how cinema first developed its own strategies to survive the restrictions of the pandemic, ranging from lockdowns to social distancing, and subsequently used the horrors of the moment to create a Covid cinema. The reflection offers both personal and collective perspectives, centered around the cinematic achievements of Sri Lankan filmmakers, including Udan Fernando himself. The author also shares his experience and practice of cinema as a lockdown spectator, in a context which undeniably has profoundly changed the fashions and morals of the inhabitants in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere.

Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin questions the evolution of the film industry in Sri Lanka over the three decades, marked by the ethnic civil war (1983-2000) followed by the economic and health crisis. In her article “Sri Lankan cinema in the context of war and post-conflict (1983-2010)”, she highlights the combined efforts by both the Sri Lankan state as well as cinema professionals, to enable the cinema art and industry of this Indian Ocean Island to survive. Beyond that, she points out that Sri Lanka has even produced a number of worthy films which received international awards inspired by the unprecedented militarized context, defying the government ban on the media and artistic expressions. Astonishingly, the Sri Lankan public evinces a singularity in audience tastes and preferences by continuing appreciate the realist movie, despite the ubiquity of the grand Bollywood spectacle.

Anne Peiter gives pride of place to a collection of 25 photographs by the German colonialist Max Weiss and addresses the question of ethnic categorizations, their instrumentalization, excesses and repercussions in Rwanda, based on this corpus preserved in the image archive of the former “German Colonial Society” in Frankfurt. Furthermore, the author analyses the metadata used to reference his photographs, within the iconographic archive. Ultimately, she raises the question of the identification and description of “these images” without propagating or engaging in ethnic classifications that are unacceptable today.

In a socio-linguistic approach, Audrey Noël proposes a comparative study of images and texts. She questions the objectives, strategies and policies used on social networks by two companies established in La Reunion, one local and the other global: Burger King Réunion, a franchise belonging to a group with a global base, and Cafés Le Lion, with a strong local anchorage. Nevertheless, both companies have adopted advertising strategies which have recourse to strategies such as the extensive use of the local (“péi”) means of communication, the creole spoken in Reunion. The author concerns herself with the linguistic form of the message delivered, the choice of graphics as well as the way the written and the visual combine to obtain the desired effect. In a comparative approach, this article implicitly questions the process of creolization at work today in commercial communication campaigns that target the Reunionese consumers.

The last article by Marc Tomas falls into the miscellaneous category and concentrates on 18th and 19th century dwellings and their gardens in Reunion island and the dual functions of production (export crops) and sustenance (food) . From this perspective, the home garden may be considered as precursors, paving the way for the colonial botanical garden, which targeted the gathering scientific knowledge on agriculture in the French colony.

Indeed, as revealed in this issue, the cultural industries of the border countries in the Indian Ocean, as elsewhere, are imbued with the historical, social, economic and political contexts in which they evolve. Photographers, painters, filmmakers, designers, playwrights instrumentalize artistic expressions to convey messages and symbols and constitute the breeding ground for hatred, division and further conflict. But behind the dark hours of the history of these countries, artistic creation also encourages peace and reconciliation, bring clarity and arouses hope, becoming intercultural bridges, and counterweights to violent or bloody “theaters”. Whatever the case, cultural industries accompany economic, social and cultural changes in societies (Ithurbide and Rivron, 2018), influence our behavior, assist us in enriching our knowledge and our understanding of the world.

The second article in varia revisits the question of international agreements that legally bind certain Indian Ocean States to those beyond this vast ocean, at the crossroads of several continents, open to international relations. Daniel Dormoy's article concentrates on the revision of the 1975 Georgetown Agreement, the founding instrument of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) Group of States.  Indeed, the question raised in the article resonates with the CROI’s inter-and trans-disciplinary and multi-scalar approach to the rules of law applicable to States in the Indian Ocean and their partners around the world and more precisely, the Georgetown Agreement to which several countries in the first and second circles of the Indian Ocean are party. To shed light on the reasons behind the third revision of the Agreement in 2019 as well as the transformation of the Group into an Organization of ACP States (OEACP) in 2020, Dormoy takes us back fifty years to examine the origins, birth and development of the Group and its relations with the Communities before moving on to the European Union, through the Lomé, Cotonou and post-Cotonou Conventions.

In order to identify the scope of the revision of the Georgetown Agreement, which aims to strengthen the unity of the ACP States and to diversify their partnership with a multitude of players other than the European Union, the author subsequently examines the characteristics of the OEACP as an international organization, as systematized in the Revision Agreement: Participation in the organization, the rights and obligations of members, institutional law. This article highlights the importance for Indian Ocean societies to be able to grasp the reasons and scope of the revision of the Agreement, which links several Indian Ocean states with other African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

Marie-Annick Lamy-Giner

Professor of Geography, OIES, University of La Réunion

By this author

Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin

Professor of British and Commonwealth Civilization, DIRE, University of La Réunion

By this author

Hélène Pongérard-Payet

Senior Lecturer in Public Law, University of La Réunion

By this author