On the 20th anniversary of providing the USF community with innovative art, the Thacher Gallery has pulled out the stops and opened one of their most ambitious exhibitions yet: “Through the Black Country or The Sources of the Thames Around the Great Shires of Lower England and Down the Severn River to the Atlantic Ocean” by Bay Area-based artist Allan deSouza. His art will occupy the gallery space in Gleeson Library until Nov. 4.
DeSouza’s multimedia installation is an ambitious narrative project that combines sculpture, journals, photography and maps to tell the story of a fictional explorer named Hafeed Sidi Mubarak Mumbai who embarks on a journey to find the source of the River Thames in London. The story references the real quest to find the source of the Nile River by English explorers in the 19th century. DeSouza said in a Q&A session with Department Chair of International Studies John Zarobell that he seeks to “pervert the normalization of colonialism” by laying the framework of a quest onto England, the heart of colonialism.
DeSouza approaches this subject in several provocative ways. Most notable is the presence of the gigantic leopard-print raft that is part of the sculpture called “Base Camp.” The raft is constructed from a cat scratcher, duct tape, a tarpaulin and various other found objects. Absent from the previous displays of deSouza’s exhibition at private galleries and museums, the raft serves both the narrative of the exhibit and as a representation of the plight of modern-day migrants being forced away from the powers of the West. The leopard print featured in the raft shows how specific elements of the colonized culture are selected for appropriation and used in the West.
The most compelling piece is called “Trade Goods” –– a collection of stuffed animals with their material turned inside out to interpret how colonialists degraded entire societies just by their skin color. Often, deSouza’s works include materials from day-to-day life, and this exhibition uses these objects to intimately connect a fantastical narrative with reality.
In the exhibition, deSouza also uses several maps to show the impacts of colonialism on modern-day London. The piece “Borough Boogie Woogie” is a map of London flipped upside down so, to the viewer, north becomes south and attention is finally paid to the southern regions which suffered the weight of colonialism. “If we live on a globe, there is no up and down,” deSouza said. This inverted map is colored according to the skintones of the residents of each neighborhood as observed by deSouza’s fictional colonial observer. This is to represent the simplistic exploration of Africa which categorized people by skin color. Another map, “Navigation Chart,” explores the erasure of names and identities in colonialism by replacing the names of the London Underground stations with those of anti-colonialist icons, such as Vietnam’s former chairman Ho Chi Minh and civil rights icon James Baldwin.
DeSouza discussed the artistic opportunities that the University campus offers in comparison to a for- profit gallery or a museum. “It’s not so much a city that makes it different, but the space it is in,” he said, emphasizing that the many details of the exhibition require multiple visits.