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Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art

What is a Trade: Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India

December 14, 2009

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    Donald Fels and his collaborators, Appetite, 2005. Oil enamel on aluminum, 8 × 12 feet. Courtesy of the artists and Davidson Galleries, Seattle, Washington.

The spring exhibition at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art, What is a Trade? Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India, exhibits 16 large-scale paintings that explore trade and globalization in India.

Fels’ conceptual starting point for this exhibition was Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage to Malabar, India, in search of a direct sea route for the spice trade. This exhibition explores the historic and modern-day legacy of that expedition more than 500 years later.

See some highlights of the exhibition in the following slideshow:

The collection stems from Fels’ 2004 trip to Kerala, India; a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, Fels worked with local commercial signboard painters on a body of work examining globalization in India and tracing its roots to Vasco’s voyage. Most of the signboard painters had formerly worked as billboard painters—until recently, all billboards in India were hand-painted, but cheaper and more efficient inkjet printers are making the painters obsolete. In light of this trend, Fels and his collaborators created work in the style of traditional hand-painted billboards and Bollywood advertising. The bright colors and strong graphic narratives make visually arresting statements about the historic and contemporary effects of trade and globalization.

Exhibition Details:

What is a Trade? Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India will be on display at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art from January 21 to March 14. The exhibit is free and open to the public; the gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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What is a Trade? Donald Fels and Signboard Painters of South India is organized by the Tacoma Art Museum.

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