Artist shares family’s struggle against colonialism in ‘Here the Earth Grows Gold’ at the Brooklyn Museum

photo of screens at here the earth grows gold at the brooklyn museum
Artist Suneil Sanzgiril tells the story of his family’s struggle against colonialism in “Here the Earth Grows Gold” at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

Multimedia artist Suneil Sanzgiri has a message to share from a very personal perspective — colonialism isn’t over, and it’s happening all over the world – just like it happened to his family back in the 60s in Gao, India. His latest body of work, “Here The Earth Grows Gold,” exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, touches on anti-colonialism, nationalism, and the identities that are created from displacement. 

Sanzgiri’s work is a testament to his family’s legacy of resistance in Goa, an area that was under Portuguese occupation for over 450 years until its independence in 1961. He creates films that explore the ideas of ancestry and heritage, using recordings from interviews with his father, footage from the times of fighting, scenes of Portuguese soldiers deployed in Goa to maintain colonial order, Indian cinema imagery and drone shots of modern-day Goa.

film at the brooklyn museum
The exhibit features a series of films created by the artist. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

“In 2017, on his 75th birthday, my father sat down with his three children and started narrating the story of his life, his childhood in Goa, India in-depth, what life was like under the grip of Portuguese colonialism in the region,” the artist wrote in a piece for the Brooklyn Museum. 

The occupation lasted for more than 450 years. Born in 1942, the Sanzgiri’s father witnessed both the independence and subsequent partition of India by the British— and the eventual liberation of Goa from Portugal in 1961. 

Women play a crucial part of the history the exhibit tells. The artist learned, through his father, that his family on his mother’s side were anti-colonial freedom fighters for generations.

exhibit at the brooklyn museum
“We have carried on our shoulders and in our flesh the thorn of thoughts and the unseen, unbroken thread,” reads one of the pieces at the exhibit. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

“They used poetry as a way to spread their opposition,” said Sanzgiri. “Some of them were poets, and they used poetry as a way to build national sentiment, so there’s a lot of poetry in the show.”

 The exhibit includes both still pieces, sculptural work and two projections that play simultaneously, one next to the other, completing each other’s narrative or presenting different points in time that are connected by history. 

“This is about a reminder of the kind of ways in which Colonialism hides in different places,” Sanzgiri said. “Portugal is an amazing place. They fought a liberation struggle against the dictatorship of Salazar, which lasted from the 30s until 74. So the Portuguese people also suffered under the fascist regime, but most certainly, the people in the Portuguese colonies in India, in Africa and also in Asia, specifically in Macau, which lasted until the 80s, they did too. This exhibit questions if solidarity is even possible. Who is doing the forgetting and who is doing the remembering?”

From the artist’s perspective, colonialism has taken many forms in actuality, from suppression of one’s freedom to war.

Footage from here the earth grows gold
The film tells the stories of the mutual struggle in India and Africa against Portuguese colonialism. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

“Here in the U.S., there is censorship going on,” he said. “The entire history of the foundation of this country is rooted in genocide and slavery trying to be erased. Palestinians and Ukrainians are getting colonized in very violent ways and the truth is, our lived experiences and inherited intergenerational trauma will be different to what textbooks say.”

In addition to Sanzgiri’s exhibit, titled, “Here the Earth Grows Gold,” the Brooklyn Museum has made more than 300 noteworthy acquisitions this year, adding to their historic collections representing 5,500 years of human creativity.

Here the Earth Grows Gold” is on show at the Brooklyn Museum through May 2024.