Agenda

Shruti
Belliappa
& Kiraṇ Kumār

Department of Para Pedagogic Practices: Peça da India

 

The Department of Para-Pedagogic Practices is an eight-part series of installations/publications, critically engaged in contemporary alterities of the Indian Ocean region. The series responds to the planetary turn and its complex entanglements with the indigenous, the decolonial, the technological and its cosmo-aesthetic potentialities. The first installation/publication of the series, titled ‘Peça da India’, unweaves complex historiographies of textile making and trading in India c.17th-20th century, and constructs a para-pedagogy of the catastrophic legacy of European trade in India and its far reaching implications in the trans-Atlantic human trafficking.

 

Textiles had been the principal maritime trade commodity between India and the world up until the 17th century, when India was producing 25% of the world’s textiles. Yet, stories of how this figure fell to just 2% by the end of British colonial rule in 1947 too often remain silently spun into colonial historiography. Tapestries (white gold) woven across looms in India, were worn by Europeans or displayed on mantelpieces in their richer homes, and came to be called Peça da Índia or Boa Peça (trans. a Piece of India / good piece). This Portuguese phrase, which originated in the mid-17th century, infamously also transformed into the unit of value used in the trading of enslaved peoples by colonies in West Africa.

 

Enslavers in the African continent traded these bespoke Peça da India for millions of human bodies who voyaged across the Middle Passage. Tarnished unwittingly, yet indelibly with these ethical implications, over the course of the next century of colonial rule, the making and trading of textiles from India would suffer further violences motored by the complex pan-European emergence of industrialization and capitalism.

 

Situated at the Shedhalle, a former silk factory in Zürich’s centuries old Rote Fabrik, the work further relates to Switzerland’s own techno-financial entanglements with other European colonial nations. A large-scale industrial espionage took root in European textile factories (like the Rote Fabrik) where textiles were produced in unprecedented quantities, spiriting away the intricate know-how of Indian textile making and eventually rendering India entirely devoid of its main economic sustenance.

 

The present installation comprises a 24 metre long piece of un/woven cotton, a constellation of 7 pieces of ruptured and sutured silks measuring 1 Peça*, a custom-coded rendering of a speculative digitised fabric, and other fabric and paraphernalia from the colonial era trade, on loan from local Swiss public & private archives. A publication associated with this installation will follow in the next iteration of the work alongside further indigenously-made fabric pieces.

 

Cumulatively the constellation of text and textile works in the installation/publication ‘Peça da India’ asks how we may reconsider the binaries of the oppressor and the oppressed in decolonial practices and how we may uncover closed off narratives of the past and lay bare the knots of contemporary nation-states and wealth making.

 

 

* Each Peça, a fabric piece woven in India, measured seven palmos (palm’s breadth) and fetched one healthy enslaved male or female between the ages of 15 and 25 years; further deductions were made for physical variances and deviations of age.

 

as part of Protozone12: Syncretic Sites

 

Shruti Belliappa (born in Bangalore, based in London) is a writer, Post-war and Contemporary Art historian and theorist whose practice interrogates counter-cartographies, liminality and the technologies of belonging. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Goldsmiths (Visual Cultures), researching sonic epistemologies and spatial justice in the post-national borderlands of the Mekong. Since 2016, she is the Founding Editor of Hanuman Editions (a follow on from the cult Hanuman Books series) a forthcoming publication series on the planetary avant-garde, and is writing her first novel Home is the Place You Left.

 

Kiraṇ Kumār’s (born in Bangalore; based in Auroville/Berlin) practice lies at the intersection of dance, critical historiography and speculative computing. Drawing from embodied and conceptual inquiries into yogic & tāntrik practices, he articulates dis/continuities in contemporary thought through performance, writing and visual art. His works have shown at Jeu de Paume Paris, Singapore Biennial, Gessneralle Zürich; and published with Performance Research Books, transcript Verlag and Archive Books. He has held research fellowships at Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences (2016-18), Academy for Theatre and Digitality (2021), Akademie Schloss Solitude (2022/24) and Medienwerk.NRW (2023).

 

Credits:

by Shruti Belliappa & Kiraṇ Kumār

Research Consultant: Sourav Das, Textile designer & Revivalist
Weaver (cotton): Asif Ansari, 3rd-generation indigenous weaver from Maheshwar (India)

Seamster (silk): Malek, S K Abdul Saleem

Custom-coding: Matthias Härtig

 

with objects and loans from the collections of the Swiss National Museum, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum Zürich and Club zur Geduld Winterthur

We would like to thank for the kind loans of the SNM Swiss National Museum, Zurich

We would like to thank for the kind loan of Club zur Geduld, Winterthur

We would like to thank for the kind loan of focusTerra

Shedhalle – Shruti Belliappa & Kiraṇ Kumār

Sample of 18th-century gingham cotton fabric from Surat, India, from the Anders Berch Collection. With kind permission of: The Nordic Museum, Stockholm.