The Lingering Shadow of Portuguese Colonization

“What mutual lines of struggle, companionship, if any, existed amid centuries of abject dispossession?” artist Suneil Sanzgiri asks in the essay “On World-Making amid Contradiction and Crisis” (2023).

The essay accompanies the exhibition Here the Earth Grows Gold at the Brooklyn Museum, which attempts to find those lines and join them. The connection is tender but also political, anti-colonial, and often violent.

Growing up in the western Indian state of Goa in the 1940s, the artist’s father, Shashi Sanzgiri, watched soldiers from Angola and Mozambique reluctantly police his community under Portuguese colonization. The young boy and the soldiers, the younger Sanzgiri notes in the essay, shared little except for the terrorizing oppression of a common colonizer. 

Here, Sanzgiri looks back from the vantage point of a diaspora, and examines how best to record stories of relationships never codified within academic History that were forged through colonization but nurtured through revolt and dissent. In doing so, he forges a solidarity across time and space with other artists who have fought historical erasure. 

In his looped video installation, “My Memory Is Again in the Way of Your History” (2023), Sanzgiri borrows a line from the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali: “Your history gets in the way of my memory.” In the video, the words appear in white lettering on a red banner that sways against an unnamed sky, amidst an unknown sea untouched by borders. 

In “Two Refusals (Would We Recognize Ourselves Unbroken?)” (2023), the two-channel centerpiece of the exhibition, the words of poet Sham-e-Ali Nayeem and the childhood memories of Shashi Sanzgiri find themselves enmeshed in the life story of Sharada Sawaikar, a Goan liberation fighter whose youth was spent in incarceration. Archival images, songs, and interviews then lead us to the story of the Portuguese revolutionary Sita Valles, who was born to Goan parents. With such invocations, Sanzgiri reminds us that we are all connected in our oppression and our fight against it.

Cutting through histories and geographies, Sanzgiri and Nayeem create a throughline that connects all our war-torn presents. By including clips from the deeply anti-colonial films of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ruy Guerra, Flora Gomes, and Sarah Maldoror, they pay homage to a rich filmic tradition of resetting the “official” version of history. 

Outside the screening room stands Sanzgiri’s sculpture “Red Clay, Stretched Water (Return to the Source)” (2023). Nestled between bamboo poles held together by coir ropes are family photos, iPhone screenshots, and photographs of and literature on freedom fighters who fought the Portuguese in Goa, Guinea-Bissau, Morocco, and beyond. Most people connected within this structure likely lived their lives without knowing of each other’s existence. But in this matrix of connecting solidarities, they all share space, grief, and the hope and joy of imminent victory.  

This work reminds me of pandals, the ad hoc venue stages built in open fields across South Asia, which are used for political events, weddings, and cultural performances. Much like Sanzgiri’s project of connectivity across time and place, they are continuously reconstructed for events that seem to have nothing in common. 

I recalled some words I heard the artist tell a visitor: “You have to move away and bend, and look closely. I like to imagine a comparison with the diaspora here. You have to move away to look closely, to see things clearly.” 

When I took a few steps back and bent down, I saw an image of the Catholic Saint Francis Xavier. The saint, who traveled from Portugal to India, led the 1561 Goan Inquisition. It resulted in the enforcement of Catholic orthodoxy and the burning of books written in the native Konkani language. The photo is of Xavier’s statue, crumbling and fallen to the ground — a silent document of a foregone empire, but a record, also, of a quiet rebellion.

Suneil Sanzgiri: Here the Earth Grows Gold continues at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, Brooklyn) through May 5. The exhibition was organized by is organized by Drew Sawyer, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art (formerly Phillip and Edith Leonian Curator of Photography, Brooklyn Museum), with Imani Williford, Curatorial Assistant, Photography, Fashion and Material Culture, Brooklyn Museum.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top