Visualising Migration at Sea

Our Story in this Ocean: Visualising Historic and Contemporary Migration at Sea

Meghna Singh – visual artist and researcher

Using the remains of the recently discovered São José Paquete Africa slave ship in Cape Town, the project spans from an archival world of slave ship records to underwater archaeology to the world of a moving container ship, international ports, seafarers onboard, trade routes, culture of Afro-Mozambicans citizens in north Brazil and Lisbon and much more.

The project aims to throw light on the world of oceanic mobilities and subaltern populations who get contained in states of suspension or drown in order to find a better life. Starting at Ilha de Mozambique, the site of the selling of slaves in Mozambique as an epicentre of the East African slave trade to Brazil and the Americas, the work will trace the designated planed route of the sunken ship from Ilha de Mozambique to Cape Town to Prenambuco and end in Lisbon, the capital of an old oceanic slave empire.

The project consists of a site-specific public display of multi-media works creating an immersive environment. This includes multiple video projections of variable dimensions, surround sound, time-based sculpture (in this case ice sculpture slowly melting). Besides the films made for display in the different public sites of Cape Town, South Africa, Recife, Brazil and Lisbon, Portugal, there will be one end product in the form of a video project that will include the entire documentation of the journey across four countries. The visual project will be supplemented by a publication and an online presence.


Positioned at the intersection of virtual reality and installation art, the project invites people into a surreal maze like world of containers, where they witness the truth behind the ‘invisiblized’. It uses the hidden world of goods crisscrossing the globe in anonymous shipping containers to highlight the lives of the invisible millions that continue to be enslaved in new forms of modern day slavery. Our journey begins at Clifton beach that hides the secret of the drowned slaves of San Jose paquette de Africa, a working Portuguese slave ship that sank with 212 slaves on board in 1794. The experience is about unraveling this secret. The viewer is taken on a cyclic journey that ends where it once started. A mix of documentary and constructed reality we show black bodies trapped in an endless historical cycle of servitude.

About Meghna Singh

Meghna Singh is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cape Town and a research associate at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University Johannesburg. Hailing from New Delhi (India) Meghna is currently pursuing visual art practice and a research project on the theme of oceanic migrations in South Africa.

Working with mediums of video and installation, blurring boundaries between documentary and fiction, she creates immersive environments highlighting issues of ‘humanism’ through the tool of the imaginary. Her current focus is on the theme of critical mobilities, migration and the invisible class of mobile population that move around the world as a consequence of the capitalist globalized world we inhabit.

Meghna’s blog Our Story in this Ocean: Visualizing Historic and Contemporary Migration at Sea is a visual diary of the ongoing research and visual artwork for the final immersive video installation project expected to finish in July 2017. The blog is also used to document her travels in the four countries where the work is grounded (Mozambique, Cape Town, Lisbon and North Brazil).

Along with the grant from Wellcome Trust, she is also a recipient of a short-term visual arts grant from the Oriental Foundation (Lisbon), and will be based at the Hangar art residency and research institute while engaging with the Department of Comparative Literature (at the University of Lisbon in August-October 2016).