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Donald Fels and his collaborators, First Sight

Donald Fels and his collaborators, First Sight (2005), oil enamel on aluminum [Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma WA, Sep 13-Jan 18]

What Is a Trade? Donald Fels
and Signboard Painters of South India

Tacoma Art Museum
Tacoma WA – Sept 13, 2008 – Jan 18, 2009


Donald Fels and his collaborators, Appetite (2005), oil enamel on aluminum [Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma WA, Sep 13-Jan 18]

Donald Fels and collaborators, Billboardamatic

Donald Fels and collaborators, Billboardamatic (2005), oil enamel on aluminum [Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma WA, Sep 13-Jan 18]

From 2004-2005 Washington artist Donald Fels travelled to Kerala, India as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar. In India, Fels, who has been creating work based on themes of trade and culture for two decades, collaborated with local commercial signboard painters.

Most of them had painted billboards by hand until cheaper and more efficient computers and inkjet printers made their craft obsolete.

For this exhibition, Fels and his collaborators created 16 large-scale paintings in the style of traditional billboards and Bollywood advertising. The works delve into India’s history in the spice trade, and specifically into the 1498 expedition of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama who sought a direct sea route to Malabar, (now Kerala) India.

The effects of globalization are examined from a perspective that fuses a mass media aesthetic with history and parody. The compelling visual statements combine the lost profession of signboard painting with a complex critique of consumer culture. Highlighting the relevance of early global economic expansion, the contemporary effects of multinational corporations are brought to the forefront by reinventing this dislocated provincial art.

Through stylized graphic narratives, Fels and his counterparts have shared a unique insight into the long history of East-West trade and provided an unusual insight into the all-pervasive nature of modern capitalism.

www.tacomaartmuseum.org

Allyn Cantor

 Fri, Sep 5, 2008