What Is a Trade?: Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India
What Is a Trade? Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India presents sixteen large-scale paintings that explore trade and globalization in India. Fels' conceptual starting point for this exhibition was Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's 1498 voyage to Malabar, India, in search of a direct sea route for the spice trade. What is a Trade? explores the historic and modern-day legacy of that expedition more than 500 years later. In 2004 and 2005, Fels traveled to Kerala (formerly Malabar), India, as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, to work with local commercial signboard painters on a body of work that examines globalization in India and traces its roots to Vasco's voyage. Most of the signboard painters had formerly worked as billboard painters -- until recently, all billboards in India were hand-painted, but cheaper and more efficient inkjet printers are making the painters obsolete. In light of this trend, Fels and his collaborators created work in the style of traditional hand-painted billboards and Bollywood advertising. The bright colors and strong graphic narratives make visually arresting statements about the historic and contemporary effects of trade and globalization. Greg Bell is curator and collection coordinator, 4Culture; Samuel K. Parker is associate professor, Interdisciplinary arts and sciences, University of Washington, Tacoma.
Tacoma Art Museum