Love Tokens and the Heritage of the Indian Ocean

Florence Pellegry's picture
March 1, 2023 to April 5, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies, Historic Preservation, Humanities

International conference - University of Reunion Island and Reunion Island’s Fine Arts School, France


Call for papers


Love Tokens and the Heritage of the Indian Ocean 

Sponsored by the Observatory for Indian Ocean Societies (O.S.O.I.- FED 4127) and

DIRE (UR), OIES CRESOI (UR) et APILab (ESA) research laboratories


27th, 28th and 29th of November 2023

Moufia Campus, Arts and Social Sciences Faculty, Saint-Denis, Reunion Island (France)

Campus of Reunion Island’s Fine Arts School, Le Port, Reunion Island (France)



“The only gift is a portion of thyself.”



The research project entitled “Love Tokens and the Heritage of the Indian Ocean”[1] is centered on the general topic of tokens of love and the study of sensibilities in Indian Ocean societies. It follows an international conference which was held in 2018, entitled “From Tokens of Love to Archived Relics: Private Life and Material Culture in Indian Ocean Societies” and the publication in 2020 of the proceedings of this scientific event (see

In the age of social networks, in which private relationships are initiated or continued at a distance and become dematerialized, e-cards, bouquets and virtual kisses are replacing more traditional love tokens. Drawing from these changes and looking at a whole variety of reflections, representations and expressions of romantic and sentimental feelings and discourses over the centuries, the research project proposes two main fields of study:

- A first field dealing with the development of heritage funds in the Indian Ocean (press archives, museum funds, family archives...), whether they be linked to known or unknown groups, families or individuals, to artists, writers, and high profile or lower ranking personalities of Indian Oceanic societies.

- A second area of research which emerged from a partnership with Reunion Island’s Fine Arts School (École Supérieure d'Art de La Réunion) and its laboratory APILab, deals with the aesthetic notion of landscape as it relates to and reflects tokens and expressions of love.


Section 1: Archives, Love Tokens and Sensibilities

The discovery of fragments, of traces of emotional life which remain unexplored will be central to this first section. If objects can reveal private feelings, they can also come to symbolize a people’s soul, as demonstrated by an article on the totemic statues of Mozambique published in our 2020 volume on Love Tokens (PELLEGRY, SAAYMAN, SYLVOS 187). Whether we use the term “object”, “thing”, or “artifact”, the policies of conservation and development of these material elements will be considered (museums, libraries, archives) as well as the question of our relationship to history and the practice of historians. As emphasized by French historian Michel de Certeau, the “historiographic operation” is a “technical” operation through which the historian “sets apart, gathers, and turns objects into ‘documents’” (DE CERTEAU 84).

Located between the intimate and the public spheres, the textual archives of these love tokens will be showcased through the study of literary and poetic texts, press extracts or biographical writings.


Section 2: Tokens of Love and Landscapes of the Indian Ocean

For over two centuries, the notion of landscape, situated at the crossroads of several fields of thought and disciplines, has been the subject of theoretical speculations. The personified trees of Hudimesnil wave “desperate arms” at the Proustian narrator and remind him of his vanished friends (PROUST 145). Establishing a link between “territory” and “affection”, this perception of the surrounding world invites us to question “the nature of the gaze and of the representation” (BRIFFAUD 73).

This section will allow us to consider the notion of landscape - which can be perceived as an “essential component of the cultural heritage of the territories” (BOUCHE-FLORIN 43) - and its aesthetic representations, through the prism of feelings and emotions. We will consider material culture and material elements which mark the landscape with their presence, such as trees planted to commemorate lost ones, graffiti carved in the bark of trees, a variety of places of historical significance, with their system of echoes, their procession of rituals or offerings, their ephemeral testimonies which permeate the landscape but also a variety of other landscape representations in so far as they can be considered as love tokens. The focus will be put on the history of landscape heritage and its representation in artistic forms, its role and symbolism (culture, identity, etc.), but also on artistic expression as a means of giving value to and conserving cultural heritage.


We welcome a diversity of formats ranging from the visual and the written to the tactile and the three-dimensional, to the gustatory, the audible and the olfactory (photographs, texts, correspondence, food packaging, scented jasmine petals found in love letters…). Although the subject is centered on the societies of the Indian Ocean, studies linked to other geographical areas will not be excluded in so far as they offer a relevant comparative study with a country in the zone.


This call for papers is also meant for artistic proposals and will showcase an exhibition of artistic productions and a display of video works. We welcome digital work and/or printable artistic work.


Speech proposals (400 words max.)  along with a short biographical note are to be sent by email, before April 5th, 2023 to the organizers of the event:

Françoise Sylvos,

Florence Pellegry,

Research team of Reunion Island’s Fine Arts School (École Supérieure d'Art de La Réunion)



The selection of proposals will be communicated on May 1st, 2023.


All proposals will be studied by the scientific committee of the conference:


Pierre-Henri Aho (Bibliothèque Départementale de La Réunion)

Mounir Allaoui (ESA La Réunion)

Markus Arnold (University of Cape Town)

Serge Bouchet (University of Reunion)

César Cumbe (University of Maputo)

Diana Madeleine (ESA La Réunion)

Florence Pellegry, (University of Reunion)

Pedro Pombo (University of Mauritius)

Valentina Ponzetto (University of Lausanne)

Colette Pounia (ESA La Réunion)

Sandra Saayman (University of La Réunion)

Laurent Segelstein (ESA La Réunion)

Françoise Sylvos, (University of La Réunion)


Presentations in French or English will be 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. A selection of papers will be published in a collective book at the end of the conference.


Working languages: English, French


Keywords: Indian Ocean, love tokens, material culture, heritage, sensibilities, gift, archives, landscape


Works cited

  • BOUCHE-FLORIN Luc-Émile, « À quoi sert le paysage ? », Outre-Terre, vol. 33-34, n°3-4, 2012, pp. 43-52.
  • BRIFFAUT Serge, « Quand le paysage vint à l'image », Christian Germanaz, Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin, Florence Pellegry, Image et savoir. Interrogation transversale, PUI (Presses Universitaires Indianocéaniques), Saint Denis, 2019, pp.73-90.
  • DE CERTEAU Michel, L’Écriture de l’histoire, Paris, Gallimard, 1975.
  • EMERSON Ralph Walso, The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, New York, Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1929.
  • PELLEGRY Florence, SAAYMAN Sandra, SYLVOS Françoise eds., Gages d’affection, culture matérielle et domaine de l’intime dans les sociétés d’Europe et de l’océan Indien, Saint Denis, PUI, 2020.
  • PROUST Marcel, A la recherche du temps perdu, tome 4 : A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, Paris, Gallimard, 1919.


[1]   We will deal with the entire Indian Ocean region, which includes the islands in the south of the Indian Ocean (Comoros, Réunion, Mayotte, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rodrigues and Seychelles), the countries on the east coast of Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania etc.), but also India, Sri Lanka, Iran and Pakistan, the eastern part of the region (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, The Philippines etc.), without forgetting isolated island communities ( Maldives, Laccadive Islands etc.) and the Austral and Antarctic territories.

Contact Info: 

Speech proposals (400 words max.)  along with a short biographical note are to be sent by email, before March 20th, 2023 to the organizers of the event:

Françoise Sylvos,

Florence Pellegry,

Research team of Reunion Island’s Fine Arts School (École Supérieure d'Art de La Réunion)