2nd Kochi-Muziris Biennale

By Dieter Roelstraete | Frieze

On 20 May 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first set foot ashore south-west India’s Malabar Coast in search of ‘Christians and spices’, most notably pepper. (It was the ruinous price of piper nigrum, in particular, that had forced the Portuguese to find a sea route to India, thus bypassing the rapacious Italian middlemen who controlled overland trade.) This fateful date in the history of East/West relations – as momentous a milestone marking the dawn of the modern era as the more widely cited 1492, the year Christopher Columbus reached the ‘New World’ – was immortalized, 400 years later, in a painting by the Portuguese artist Jose Maria Veloso Salgado, celebrating Da Gama’s arrival in the Keralan port of Calicut and his meeting with the city’s Hindu ruler, Zamorin. That painting’s crude Orientalist fantasy cast a curiously long shadow over the 2nd Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the subcontinent’s leading contemporary art event, which is organized in the city of Kochi, the one-time Portuguese colony south of Calicut where Vasco da Gama was buried in 1524, before his remains were returned to his native Portugal in 1539.

16 March 2015