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Lives of the Girmit Women



3 days ago, Sun 19 May 2024, 10:00 am


Academy Galleries
1 Queens Wharf


Exhibitions, Arts Culture, Drawing, Painting, Storytelling




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NZ Academy of Fine Arts

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19 - 26 May 2024

Led by Seema Singh and supported by Nirmala Balram and Sunita Narayan, this project is an exhibition, a remembrance, and a tribute to the lives of the Indian women (our Taonga) who were brought from India to Fiji under British Rule during the Indian Indenture Period there (1879 to 1916) to work on the sugarcane plantations. The exhibition includes artefacts used on the farms and in homes, historical documents and photographs, poems and paintings. There are many long-silent stories and traditional practices about these strong women that need to be shared with New Zealanders.

Indentured labour, also called & 'indentured servitude', was a form of labour in which a person (an indenture) agreed to work for a specific amount of time, by signing a contract for eventual compensation, or for repayment of a debt. This agreement became known as a girmit. More than 1.6 million workers from British India were transported to labour in European colonies, including 60,965 sent to Fiji, to meet labour demands after slavery was abolished. These girmit labourers carried their rich cultural heritage with them.

The East India Company first introduced regulations setting conditions for the dispatch of Indian labour overseas in 1837. The would-be emigrant and his emigration agent were required to appear before an officer with a written contract.  The length of service was to be five years, renewable for further five-year terms. The emigrant was to be returned at the end of his service to the port of departure.

Abuses quickly saw overseas manual labour prohibited in 1839, but authorised again in 1845 to the West Indies, where importing indentured labour became viable for plantation owners because newly emancipated slaves refused to work for low wages. The Indian workers diminished the bargaining power of the freed slaves in the West Indian colonies.

Plantation owners everywhere consistently sought longer indentures. To persuade labourers to stay on, in 1856 the Secretary for the Colonies determined that women must form 25 percent of the total and males must not exceed three times the number of females dispatched. From 1868 the proportion of 40 women to 100 men was in force.

The export of indentured labour to Natal (present day South Africa) ended in 1911 and the indenture system for all other colonies was ended in 1917. This is the background to this exhibition.

Bahut kata dukh, lekin ab shanti hai (Fijian Hindi)

(Endured the hardships, but at peace now)




Autumn Open Theme
3 May – 26 May 2024




Looking at ourselves

Portraits and nudes READ MORE

EXHIBITION: 31 May30 June 2024

Jacky Pearson Workshop 

A one day workshop - "Perspective in Watercolour"  READ MORE

EVENT: 16 June 2024

Jane-Loiuse Kellahan Workshop 

2 one day painting workshops.  READ MORE

EVENT: 6 & 7 July 2024

Parkin Drawing Prize

Aotearoa New Zealand’s premier award for drawing  READ MORE


ENTRIES CLOSE: Friday 31 May 2024
EXHIBITION: 6 August1 September 2024

LightSpace Gallery

As we move to a firm programme of exhibitions in the main gallery, LightSpace Gallery becomes our venue for smaller exhibitions, individual artist hires and solo shows. We are offering 12-day hires giving two weekends – Wednesday through Sunday of the following week – at $160 per day including GST.

Shared between two artists, $80 per day for about 10m of gallery wall each is a cost-effective opportunity for artists to exhibit a group of works.

Contact if you are interested in any of these dates.

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