Allan deSouza is chair of the department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley, and the artist behind a fascinating new world map that premieres today at the Krannert Art Museum. Staff writer PAUL WOOD talked with him about his African re-imagining of English history.
Your work presents a fictional expedition to England and is presented through diaries, maps and sculpture. That sounds very imaginative. Why did you choose England as seen by Africa?
Revising historical accounts of British expeditions to Africa and turning their narratives around, the work presents an African leading an expedition to England. I've also lived in England for 25 years, and the work marks my own return there during the 2016 Brexit vote, to consider what this return to a "Great Britain" might mean in relation to its colonial history.
You've recently re-enacted and upended iconic colonial narratives of discovery in Africa.
The showing, "Through the Black Country, or, The Sources of the Thames Around the Great Shires of Lower England and Down the Severn River to the Atlantic Ocean," is based on the expedition diaries of the Zanzibari crypto-ethnologist Hafeed Sidi Mubarak Mumbai, the fictional great-grandson of the historic figure, Sidi Mubarak Bombay.
How did you discover that history?
While researching a number of British expeditions, I found that people like Henry Stanley and David Livingston referred by name to the same expedition guide, Sidi Mubarak Bombay. When researching him, I learned that he was the most widely traveled person in 19th century Africa, and that he always wanted to visit England. The character I created, his fictional great-grandson, Hafeed, fulfills his dying wish by leading this expedition to England.
What is your favorite thing about the creation of art of imaginative art?
That you can invent an entire narrative and set of circumstances with their own logic, much like writing a novel.
Tell us about your upcoming book project, 'How Art Can Be Thought.'
The book analyzes the popular language used to talk about art. It's available on Amazon.