(after the 1898 painting by José Veloso Salgado)
The Arrival of Vasco Da Gama (2014) is a photographic recreation that deconstructs an 1898 orientalist painting by Portuguese painter José Veloso Salgado – “Vasco da Gama perante o Samorim” – which depicts Vasco da Gama’s first meeting with the Zamorin of Calicut. Having discovered a direct sea route to India from Europe, da Gama disembarked on the shores of Calicut in May 1498. His meeting with the Zamorin to wrestle trading privileges was unsuccessful as the ruler, unimpressed by the goods Gama brought, refused to conclude a trading pact with him.
Salgado imagines da Gama addressing the Zamorin’s court: a nobly attired European visitor surrounded by the imagined decadence of an oriental court. The colonial painting reflects a time when non-European societies were seen as savage hordes who were ruled by despotic kings and awaiting Europe’s civilising touch.
Bangalore contemporary artist Pushpamala N.’s photographic tableau recreates Salgado’s painting with a significant twist in the tale – she plays the role of the celebrated explorer, her first male role amongst all her photo-performances. Turning Salgado’s conception on its head, Pushpamala returns what is effectively a work of imagination, one that had gained a degree of historical legitimacy over time, to the space of fiction and masquerade.