The Wanted Land by Renée Ridgway

February 15th-22nd 2012 | David Hall Gallery, Fort Cochin, India

The Wanted Land focuses on the cultural exchange that has occurred over the past 350 years on the Malabar Coast between the Dutch and the local population. During the late 17th century when the VOC (Dutch East India Company) controlled trade along the Malabar coast, the former Dutch governor Hendrik van Reede tot Drakenstein collaborated with local doctors, botanists, translators and artisans to produce a handbook of indigenous medicinal plants. This book was the Hortus Malabaricus. Printed in Amsterdam between 1678-1693, it is a 12-volume work illustrating around 700 indigenous plants that explains their medicinal properties, with captions in 5 different languages.

The production of the Hortus Malabaricus and the knowledge contained within it is still significant today. It also forms the conceptual focal point of the works that will be on display in the exact location where historians believe the Hortus Malabaricus was originally produced. This exhibition consists of 3 video installations, one in each of the main rooms at David Hall, combined with archival objects and indigenous plants contributed by the local community that are contained within the Hortus Malabaricus.

Commodore Odatha a.k.a. Hendrik van Reede tot Drakenstein is an 8-channel installation that brings the spectres of the past into the present and raises questions about the legacy of the Hortus Malabaricus in anno 2012. What is the contemporary value of the knowledge contained in this book, what do we really know about how and why it was produced, and in particular, what were the incentives of this particular man?

In A study into (un)becoming Dutch- Part I an Ayurvedic doctor tells a story about emigration, immigration, integration, and finally disintegration in regard to setting up his practice in the Netherlands, while driving through his neighborhood in Kerala, India. Conceptual ventriloquism in the form of an 'alter-ego', A study into (un)becoming Dutch- Part I deals with the various aspects of Dutch bureaucracy faced by immigrants and the decision to return to the country of origin. In A Study into Unbecoming Dutch Part lI, a flatscreen monitor positioned above a massage table reflects the perspective of a patient. This work addresses the treatment of migration trauma, the cure being obtained through Ayurveda massage, which uses many of the herbs and plants from the Hortus Malabaricus.

The Wanted Land (a 12-minute video) makes visible how local people have interpreted, understood and experienced the Dutch colonization of Fort Cochin. It gathers family genealogies, storytelling, and exchange of information as a re-viewing of history favoring oral traditions, participation and vox populi perspectives over the official written narrative of historians, social scientists, anthropologists and sociologists.

By mapping specific traces of colonial encounters still visible today, this exhibition examines the VOC’s taking, undertakings and un-doings that still form a part of Fort Cochin’s contemporary landscape. Like the Hortus Malabaricus these video installations work beyond their depicted material; they are a compendium of local knowledge and experience ordered and extended.


Submitted by SIVANANDA SHENOY on