Migrant Labour, 1987

Migrant Labour (1987) 2.5 x 4 ft oil on canvas, gifted


This is a painting of the labourers who helped build my house! You can see that they are dressed very simply. They only had small bundles of possessions. In this painting everyone looks without blinking because it was not usual for them be singled out for attention. Except for one person, there is no pretension or the glimmer of a smile.           

Such labourers move from construction site to construction site. They will do any work that can be done for a daily wage. The  women are paid less than men, that is still the case now. Things did progress to some extent since the time when I made this painting. They are better paid overall, have more possessions, are better dressed and fed than at the time when this painting was made. Still their insecurities and unstable life was on display in the year 2020 when there was a migrant crisis in India due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Like other contractors at that time, many years ago, the contractor only paid the wages of the hired labourers who built our house.  He did not do anything if anyone fell ill or had an accident.  Contractors did not do anything about the education of the children or about the fact that they were running around all over the place and at great risk on the construction site.

Every Sunday I would go to meet these labourers, give them medicines and food as needed. I gave the children candies and toys. I counselled the parents about safety and to try to get their children an education even though they were moving around a lot.  Some of the labourers actually listened to me and sent their children to school. I followed up with these children for several years.


In the background you can see a folded cloth that symbolises the instability of their home.  All they had over their head was this cloth to protect them from the rain and the sun.


This painting was presented to the contractor who did the building of our home and I think he did not appreciate the painting. He kept asking me to make another one.  I do not know what happened to this work, it was probably thrown in the trash!  I presented the painting to make a point which was that he could treat his workers much better than he did. They are humans, worthy of a painting.