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Leverhulme Research Fellowship 2017-20

Further information

 

Plants have been a ‘currency’ of empires, their collection and distribution having had huge social, cultural and political implications. Hortus Malabaricus took nearly thirty years to compile. One of the earliest and most comprehensive accounts of Asian flora, it remained largely inaccessible until 2003, when it was finally published in English. Indian taxonomist K.S. Manilal spent over three decades to complete this ground-breaking translation from Latin - together with his accompanying commentary on the current status of each plant in the region formerly known as Malabar.

Supported by experts in the UK and India, I sought to find the rarest plants described in Hortus Malabaricus – both as preserved historical specimens in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (RBGE) and as living plants in protected areas of Northern Kerala. In search of living specimens, I carried out an artist’s residency at the remote Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, set in the bio-diverse moist deciduous rainforest. Travelling through mangrove swamps in a small wooden boat, I also made a number of sound pieces and video works at Kadalundi, a community nature reserve.

 

The resulting drawings, artist’s books, videos, models, sound works and casts are brought together as a range of temporary ‘collections’. These seek to prompt consideration of the fragile nature of plant life, the significance of a herbarium and the urgent need to protect our natural world – and make present the imperceptible nature of the vulnerabilities and resiliences of rare plants through the language of visual art.

 

These works formed a solo exhibition at Inverleith House, RBGE, Edinburgh in 2020, which also provided the focus for an accompanying micro-conference that considered aspects of fine art practice-led research through papers delivered by speakers Dr Sarah Casey, (LICA), artist Joel Fisher, Dr Henry Noltie (RBGE), Dr Ian Patterson (University of Cambridge) and Professor Andrew Patrizio (Edinburgh College of Art).

After Hortus Malabaricus: Sensing and Presencing Rare Plants through Contemporary Drawing Practice opened up possibilities to work with botanists, ecologists, cultural geographers, taxonomists and curators. Plants brought from India to Edinburgh during the 19th century by Scottish surgeons; the extraordinary 17th-century illustrated treatise on plants of Malabar (current-day Kerala), Hortus Malabaricus, and living specimens in remote forests and coastal regions of Kerala,all offered sources for enquiry. The project thus allowed encounters with rare plants in darkened herbaria and light-filled South Indian forests and swamps – and sensory differences between plants’ live and preserved states.

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