Metroplus

The Garden of Malabar blooms again

After three years of extensive research that engaged visual artist Renee Ridgway to ferret through several archives and meet related people across countries, the Dutch American artist is ready with her collated material in a show called, ‘The Wanted Land', which is on at David Hall, Fort Kochi. The show, which comprises three video installations along with archival objects and indigenous plants contained in the Hortus Malabaricus, will address subjects like Dutch colonisation, migration, trade, traditional knowledge of Ayurveda and bio patents.

Showcasing heritage

One of the highlights of the show will be the showcasing of the Latin version of the Hortus Malabaricus (meaning Garden of Malabar), which is a broad tome that deals with the medicinal properties of the flora of Kerala. Originally written in Latin, it was compiled over a period of 30 years and published from Amsterdam during 1678-1693. The book was conceived by the then Governor of Malabar, Hendrik van Rheede aka Commodore Odatha.

‘The Wanted Land', says Renee, “Is my personal interpretation and usage of the word. I am not a botanist but an artist, a cultural activist. I am using it as a historical reference.”

Renee has followed closely the Dutch colonial history in America, South Africa, Indonesia and has now zoomed in on the Dutch presence in India. Last year she held the show at Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague, titling it, ‘The Unwanted Land'.

Renee adumbrates David Hall, the venue, to be a perfect setting for the subject, of Van Rheede having compiled the historic work at this spot. She is doing a re-run of that imagined time when doctors, translators and botanists worked in tandem to bring out the book. On February 18, Saturday, David Hall will turn into a similar space where open discussion will encourage anybody interested in the Hortus Malabaricus, “to take part in the discussion and even bring plants”.

K.J. Sohan, former mayor and a contributor to the research, has arranged for a hundred plants to be brought to the venue, says Renee. The session will be opened by Ms. Mariella van Miltenburg, Head of the Department of Political Affairs and Public Diplomacy of the Netherlands Embassy in New Delhi. It h will also mark the launch of the website, hortusmalabaricus.net.

“The website will be there to collate everybody's knowledge regarding the subject.”

As an artist, Renee has put together a multi-channel installation consisting of local images and views of people from the Netherlands. “It is a kind of vox populi and scholarly knowledge on the subject”, she elucidates, adding that questions such as why Van Rheede commissioned the Hortus Malabaricus will be addressed.

The main hall of the venue will focus on Dutch colonial history in Cochin, as told by the local people from the area. The video will feature Kochiites of Dutch lineage and perspectives of research scholars like Anjana Singh.

Personal touch

In one of the other halls of the venue, two videos will reveal Renee's personal usage of Hortus Malabaricus as told “by my Ayurvedic doctor, Thomas Punnen.”

He cured Renee from her bad attacks of migraine through Ayurveda. While traditional knowledge is one dimension of the research the others are varied perspectives on migration, emigration, integration and finally disintegration.

“I am an American emigrant. My doctor, who migrated to Amsterdam, has come back to India. We have the same emigration lawyers,” discloses Renee and in these shifting lives, touching Dutch history, she has built up the story of ‘The Wanted Land'.

The video production has been done by filmmaker Rick Van Amersfoot and the show is sponsored by the Dutch Embassy and cghearth group. The show is on till Feb 22.

(The public discussion will be held on February 18 at David Hall at 5 p.m.)

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 12:46:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-garden-of-malabar-blooms-again/article2903684.ece

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