“History cannot be washed away, the oceans whisper. Its waters are never only its own, each ocean a holder of the heritage of another,” this interpretation of our oceans on the invite of Goa- and Lisbon-based visual artist, Karishma D’Souza’s, art exhibition titled, ‘Ocean in Another’, which will be on display at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, from July 4, 2022 to July 6, 2022, prepares us to look at oceans like never before.
This exhibition is part of the ‘Oceans as Archives’ conference at Amsterdam, that contributes to the growing field of critical ocean studies, while intervening in the erasures and occlusions performed in scripting the field as a new terrain of inquiry. It brings together scholars, poets, artists and activists to share and discuss work that centres the ocean as a source of knowledge and a method for thinking, writing and critical praxis.
OCEANS THROUGH ART
Karishma D’Souza’s art exhibition is part of this inquiry to reveal some hidden truths, embedded in our oceans, through art. In this collection, she brings together the tides of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, wading through histories of inter-oceanic relations, especially as they relate to the Lusophonic world – Portugal, its colonies in Asia and Africa – their shared heritage.
“I see the paintings as conversations of encounters with the ocean and place-making,” says D’Souza while explaining about her exhibition. She adds, “‘Ocean Words’, a portrait of Lisbon looking out over the Atlantic, is an ambigram painting, based on the upside down nonsensical-world metaphors of the poet-saint, Kabir. ‘Rooting-1’ looks inward to Lisbon, but also across the sea towards Africa: Morocco/the desert, uprooted plants moved to new homes, and wind from the Sahara blowing dust over Lisbon, a reminder of its geographical location. ‘Origins: Mythology Propaganda’ is a kind of reverse-Parashuram painting, about a land inhabited by indigenous communities for millennia. In ‘Memory Holder’, the lights refer to lines in the poem ‘An October Morning’ by Jayanta Mahapatra:
‘…and we know we aren’t ready for answers or for the heart’s cries, as a web of light is flung across those dim places of the body where we hate to hide again.’”
This exhibition is curated by R Benedito Ferrão, who is an Asian Centennial Faculty Fellow, and Assistant Professor of English and Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies at William & Mary, and Fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies, 2022.
THE COLONIAL CONNECT
The seed of this exhibition was sowed in 2021, when Ferrão and D’Souza presented a paper at the conference ‘Africa*n Relations’, at Bayreuth University. She wrote of impressions of Lisbon, and Ferrão wrote a text as an ekphrastic response to Karishma’s paintings of ‘Lisbon: Ocean Words’ and ‘Rooting-1’. This was applied to this conference as an exhibition suggested by Benedito. The logistics were handled with the help of the organisers and Galerie Xippas, in Paris.
These selected five paintings, displayed in bright colours, speak of ecology in terms of leaves, trees, oceans, sand dunes, etc. “[These] motifs emerge from her interest in colonial botany and the transference of flora between parts of the world linked by sea voyages. In turn, these signal how wind currents and oceanic passages between continents aided the movement of people, merchandise and cultural influences across these pelagic expanses,” explains Benedito.
Karishma’s work also reflects the research that has gone into finding out Goa’s relationship with the Lusophone world and discovered some interesting facts about Portuguese history which is very much African and more. She says, “I was looking at Goa connected to the Lusophone world, really through Goans – the impact of the empire on the movement of people over centuries. I also thought about ancestors we don’t have photographs or know the names of, but whose physiognomies and features register in us. I was surprised to learn from my reading how Portuguese history is significantly African via their Islamic past. Similarly, from reading Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, I learned about African (Egyptian) sources of Greek mythology. Portugal and Goa, both, share an Islamic past, and this can be seen in surprising places, like traditional Portuguese jewellery designs, with filigree work, familiar here.”
While explaining about the colonial past and how it shaped our history and also present times, Ferrão says, “While we may think of globalization as being a relatively recent phenomenon, historical inter-oceanic travel suggests otherwise. That it resulted in the forced removal of enslaved African peoples to locations across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, simultaneously, begs larger questions about the avarice that underpins modernity. Some of these questions have to do with how, in the Lusophone world, mercantile networks were established collusively by European and South Asian actors who benefitted economically from the slave trade. In curating this exhibition with our partners at the ‘Oceans as Archives’ conference, it is with the view that D’Souza’s works will elicit conversations about historical confluences as seen through the watery legacies these paintings portray. Moreover, I would like viewers to think about how inter-oceanic pasts flow into the present and continue to influence our contemporary moment.”