top of page

"Mother Tongue" 2020

Wall text

Wall text

Jasmine Togo-Brisby   

Born 1982, Murwillumbah, Bundjalung Country. South Sea Islander. Lives and works in Brisbane, Yuggera and Turrbul Country.

Pronouns: she/her

"Mother Tongue" 2020


single-channel video, colour, sound, 16:9

9:30 minutes

Courtesy of the artist, Brisbane.

In Mother Tongue, Jasmine Togo-Brisby brings together three generations of Australian South Sea Islander women: the artist, her mother, and her daughter. Together, they negotiate the space between the physical remains of colonial histories and the generations thereafter, whose lives were irrevocably impacted by ‘blackbirding,’ a term that refers to the widespread forced displacement and enslavement of Indigenous peoples from and across the Great Ocean to sugarcane and cotton plantation regions, including Queensland.

Here, the artist and her kin approach the shipwreck of the Don Juan, where it rests in Kōpūtai/Port Chalmers, Ōtepoti/Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand. As a known blackbirding ship, the anniversary of its 1863 arrival into Brisbane continues to be observed by the Australian South Sea Islander community. The shipwreck is evidence of countless other vessels connected to Great Ocean slaving trades. Once a tool and agent for colonial capitalist violence, the ship is now submerged in the water. In the video, the artist and her mother circle the wreck in a small vessel—the artist rows, her mother sings—while her daughter watches from the shore. The slave ship is thus symbolically repossessed by Togo-Brisby and her family, who embody their narrative agency as South Sea Islanders whose history is bound to and held by the ocean. 

Shipwrecks such as the Don Juan are sites of rupture for South Sea Islander people, but in turn are also sites of enduring kinship. Black Canadian poet Dionne Brand writes of the door of a ship as the ‘Door of No Return,’ through which the enslaved were transported across oceans. Brand writes:

There is the sense in the mind of not being here or there, of no way out or in. As if the door had set up its own reflection. Caught between the two [worlds] we live in the Diaspora, in the sea in between.         


Listen to the wall text

bottom of page